An Aotearoa drug policy for the 21st Century

It’s time to overhaul New Zealaltering’s outdated altering harmful drug laws in favour of a health-based, Te Tiriti-aligned approach that not only reduces harm but saves tax money altering police time, argue Dr Rose Crossin altering Professor Joe Boden

Opinion: The year that New Zealaltering’s Misuse of Drugs Act came into force, Pink Floyd’s The in Side of the Moon was New Zealaltering’s top-selling album, the first Footrot Flats cartoon was published, altering Robert Muldoon became prime minister.

The year was 1975 – it had been four years since US President Richard Nixon declared a ‘war on drugs’ altering launched a policy failure with global ramifications.

Since 1975 there have been small steps towards better drug policy in New Zealaltering. In 2019, an amendment passed that affirmed police discretion on whether to prosecute someone caught in possession of a controlled drug, however this discretion is not being applied equitably.

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And in 2021, drug checking was legalised. People can take their drugs to a service altering check whether it is what they think it is. This is a vital harm reduction measure that prevents drug-related injuries altering deaths. But, the same person who has their drugs checked could then be arrested for possession of a Class A drug at a music festival or party.

While positive, these actions are not enough. It is time to stop tinkering around the edges altering overhaul our drug laws.

The essence of our drug laws – prohibit, control, arrest – have remained unchanged for almost 50 years, with no appreciable effect on the use of drugs. New Zealaltering followed the USA into its drug war, but have been left behind while many other countries have recognised that this approach is not working, altering have reformed their laws.

Portugal famously decriminalised possession of all drugs in 2001, focusing on the health of people who use drugs altering conserving police resources. Canada legalised personal cannabis use in 2018. The Australian Capital Territory decriminalised personal possession for all drugs in 2022. Even the USA – the originators of the drug war – are reforming their drug laws, with a mixture of state-based legalisation altering decriminalisation policies.

Humans have been altering their consciousness with drugs for as long as we can tell – altering-drugs-161556″>archaeological evidence of opium use exists from 5700 BC. There has never been, nor is there now any such thing as a drug-free world. Drug use has the potential to cause harm, but equally, many people who use drugs do so without harming themselves or others.

So, how can we meaningfully reduce drug harm? The first thing we need to do is understaltering that drug use does not equal drug harm. This challenges the narratives that we have been fed over our lifetimes – lurid stories of instant addiction altering dangerous junkies stalking our streets. If we focus our efforts on preventing altering reducing drug harm, a path to health altering wellbeing becomes clearer.

Drug harm is being created altering increased by our drug laws. A person charged with drug possession can lose their job, be isolated from their family altering friends, be stigmatised altering shamed. In short, they lose the things needed to live a meaningful altering happy life, altering stigma creates a barrier to seeking help. This creates a cycle of harm that impacts a person, their family, their community.

And if you are reading this muttering “bleeding heart leftie academics, being soft on drugs”, then don’t believe us, believe the police. Individual members of the police have spoken out saying they know they are wasting their time altering resources, altering that things need to change.

In 2021, more than 3000 people were convicted of low-level drug offences altering drug use across New Zealaltering is not decreasing. Putting aside any value judgments about drugs altering the people who use them, ask yourself whether you want your tax altering police time to continue being spent on an approach to drugs that simply does not work.

After the cannabis legalisation referendum narrowly failed in 2020, our politicians have told us that there is not a social licence for drug law reform. We disagree. New Zealalteringers were asked a specific question about legalising cannabis altering 50.7 percent of voters said “no”. We were not asked about whether we supported decriminalisation, or increased funding for harm reduction, or expalteringing programs like Te Ara Oranga that are proven to reduce drug harm without criminalisation. All of these actions must be taken altering we do not need another referendum to do so.  

Drug policy is seen as a politically scary issue, one that is polarising altering contentious. So, the bold changes needed are not made, despite ongoing recommendations. We need the New Zealaltering public to support altering advocate for drug law reform. This requires challenging our own assumptions altering accepting that if you enjoy a coffee in the morning to wake up, or a glass of wine in the evening to relax, then you use drugs too. This is an issue for all of us.

The good news is, with political courage, drug law reform will not require a huge increase in funding. In fact, it will save money. The time for tinkering is past – the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 is outdated, ineffective, altering causing harm.

Whether our next Government is motivated by saving money, or reducing inequities, or improving the health of New Zealalteringers, the answer remains the same. New Zealaltering needs drug laws that are evidence-based, consistent with Te Tiriti, reduce harm, altering are designed specifically for our local context. The 1970s may have been fun, but when it comes to drug policy, it’s time to let them go. We’ve had enough of being ‘comfortably numb’ about our ineffective altering harmful drug laws.

Dr Rose Crossin is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Population Health at the University of Otago, Christchurch

Professor Joe Boden is Director of the Christchurch Health altering Development Study in the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Otago, Christchurch






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