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Date published: 11th February 2010 | Type: Media release

New Zealand’s drug law has been rejected as obsolete and out-of-touch by the Law Commission in its review - Controlling and Regulating Drugs - released for pubic consultation today.

“The Act no longer provides a coherent and effective legislative framework for responding to the misuse of psychoactive drugs… The Act is now outdated and does not reflect current knowledge and understanding about drug use and related health, social and economic harms.” – New Zealand Law Commission.

The New Zealand Drug Foundation supported that assessment and said the Commission’s proposals for reform are a major step towards modernising and rebalancing New Zealand’s obsolete, 35-year-old drug control legislation.

“The Law Commission has completed two years of careful analysis and consultation, and should be congratulated on its balanced and comprehensive review of this highly complex law,” said Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell.

Mr Bell said the problem with the current law is its absolute focus on controlling New Zealand’s drug problem by concentrating solely on drug supply.

“This has resulted in bottom of the cliff stuff, with a heavy reliance on Police, Customs, courts and prisons to solve what is largely a health and social issue. The lion’s share of limited resources has been spent on helicopter raids on cannabis plantations and high tech scanners at ports and airports. Meanwhile, drug information, early intervention and treatment services struggle along.

“Despite calls for a more balanced approach, successive governments have embedded a legacy of under-investment in treatment, prevention and education,” said Mr Bell.

The Law Commission has proposed amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act that focus law enforcement resources on high level offending, such as drug trafficking, manufacture and large scale dealing. While at the same time recommend changes to ensure people using drugs are given appropriate levels of help, including referring people to drug treatment.

“Those who profit from the drug trade will find no joy in this review. The Law Commission’s proposals reinforce the important role of Police and others in targeting high-level drug offences. We endorse the Commission’s call for continued, strong and targeted law enforcement,” said Mr Bell.

“At the same time we welcome its progressive recommendations relating to personal use, including cautioning, infringement and diversion schemes that are proving effective alternatives to conviction in other countries.

“We also welcome the Commission’s proposals for shifting the burden of proof so that manufacturers of new substances, such as BZP and other so-called ‘legal highs’ must prove they are safe before they are sold under new regulations.”

The Commission’s review covers substantial ground including: how drugs should be classified; a new control regime over medicinal cannabis; and principles around compulsory admission for addiction treatment.

The Drug Foundation has urged politicians and the wider public to engage constructively with the review and to avoid pointless ideological grandstanding.

“Let’s not be scared by the Commission’s proposals. They are not radical, but they do reflect an up-to-date understanding of what New Zealand needs to find a better balance in reducing drug harm and helping those in need,” said Mr Bell.

The Drug Foundation is urging people to have their say in the review by the due date of 30 April. Anyone can make a submission on the drug law review by writing to the Law Commission, or providing feedback on the Commission’s website.

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