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1-day symposium: Cannabis Conundrums and Other Drug Policy Challenge

19 Nov 2018
This article was published 5 years ago. Content may no longer be relevant.
Feb 26, 2019

Cannabis Conundrums and Other Drug Policy Challenges: What it will take to reduce drug harms in Aote

Location: University of Otago, Wellington, Mein Street, Newtown
Organiser: Department of Public Health, University of Otago, & NZ Drug Foundation

As part of the 26th University of Otago Public Health Summer School, the Drug Foundation is convening a full-day symposium on what it'll take to move to a public health approach to drugs in Aotearoa New Zealand. Register now - early bird registrations end Thursday 20 December!

The need for drug law reform has never been more stark. In the last year, over 45 deaths were attributed to dangerous synthetic cannabinoids. The scars from readily available methamphetamine are visible in many communities. Māori are more likely to be stopped, arrested and convicted of drug-related offences than non-Māori.

New Zealand is on the cusp of making some big decisions about drugs. A referendum about whether to permit adult use of cannabis within a regulated market is one part of this. Politicians are also debating what the government can best do to reduce harms from other drugs. Changes to groundbreaking Psychoactive substances legislation are already being considered, with other law change possibly on the way. Public health and human rights principles should be at the heart of a comprehensive response.

Using real-world examples of successful public health approaches from Portugal and Canada, this symposium will address the questions: What does a public health approach to drugs and reducing drug-related harm for Aotearoa New Zealand actually look like? and How do we overcome the political conundrums to make progress a reality?

Topics covered

  1. Current drug law and how we ended up where we are now
  2. International examples of drug law change that promote health and human rights, including Portugal and Canada
  3. A model for a public health approach to drug law reform, including perspectives on Māori equity, human rights and protecting vulnerable populations from harm
  4. How we can protect and enhance wellbeing through drug-related education, prevention, treatment and regulation.

Who should attend?

This course is aimed at:

  • Policy makers from central government, DHBs, local bodies
  • Staff from health, social service and youth development NGOs
  • Iwi, hāpu, and Māori organisation representatives keen to explore other options to reduce harm in Māori communities
  • Advocates for drug law reform
  • Health professionals
  • Members of the public interested in health, social justice and human rights

Teaching staff

Ross Bell, Executive Director, NZ Drug Foundation

Ross has been leading the work of the Drug Foundation since 2004. His role spans public health advocacy at local, national and international levels, with an emphasis on bringing key players together. He has been instrumental in ensuring a community voice on alcohol and other drugs to the decision-makers table. Ross has supported the work of the International Drug Policy Consortium in advisory and governance roles since 2006. 

Prior positions Ross has filled include university researcher, foreign affairs adviser, and social justice advocate. He studied geography and Māori studies for a Bachelor of Arts before going on to complete a MA in Development Studies, both from Auckland University.

Kali Mercier, Policy and Advocacy Manager, NZ Drug Foundation

Kali’s extensive background in international human rights has taken her to Berlin, London, Mexico City and Botswana. A highlight of that period was helping Survival International to run a high-profile campaign on behalf of the Kalahari ‘Bushmen’, seeing their land rights case successfully through the High Court of Botswana. She has BA LLB (Hons); MdevStud

Before starting at the Drug Foundation, Kali helped develop youth crime policy at the Ministry of Justice. Now she works on a range of policy issues including drug law reform, methamphetamine-contaminated houses and emergency overdose harm reduction.

Guest speakers

Chlöe Swarbrick is a Member of Parliament and Green Party spokesperson for for Mental Health and Drug Law Reform. Despite being New Zealand’s youngest MP, she has been making a splash, pushing hard for regulation of cannabis, decriminalisation of drug use and the rights of patients to access affordable and effective cannabis-based medicine.

Eric Costen is currently the Associate Assistant Deputy Minister of Health Canada's Controlled Substances and Cannabis Branch. In this role he is responsible for the department's opioid response and controlled substances policies and programs. Previously, he was Director General, Strategic Policy for cannabis legalization and regulation, where he was responsible for leading the development of the Cannabis Act, Cannabis Regulations, and for establishing and maintaining intergovernmental, Indigenous, and global partnerships. Eric has held a range of health policy positions over his 14 years in the federal government. 

Dr João Goulão is often called the architect of Portugal’s health-based drug policy. He played a key role in both developing and implementing the recommendations that led to the decriminalisation of the use of all drugs in the country in 2001. Since 2005, he has been Director-General of SICAD, a government agency that promotes the reduction of the use of licit and illicit substances and the decrease of addictions. He is also chairman of Portugal's Institute on Drugs and Drug Addiction, and former chair of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. 

Khylee Quince, Ngāpuhi and Ngati Poroum, is Senior Lecturer and Associate Head of School at AUT School of Law. She is a Senior Lecturer and Associate Head of School at AUT School of Law, and has nearly 20 years’ experience teaching and researching criminal law, youth justice, and Māori and the criminal justice system. 

Warren Young, Warren is General Manager at the Independent Police Conduct Authority, and a member of the criminal justice reform advisory group, Hāpaitia te Oranga Tangata. During his time as Deputy President of the NZ Law Commission, Warren led the Commission’s review of the Misuse of Drugs Act. He was formerly Deputy Secretary for Justice, a Professor of Law and Director of the Institute of Criminology at Victoria University of Wellington.

Symposium contents

The morning session:

  • Overview of drug law and drug use in Aotearoa New Zealand (history and current day). How has our approach affected people, especially our most vulnerable? Are people still being arrested for drug use?
  • Outline of Law Commission proposal for a comprehensive overhaul of our drug law in 2011. What were they aiming to achieve? What’s changed since then?
  • Taking stock: what is the purpose of drug law? what does it mean to take a ‘public health approach’ to drugs?
  • Case Study: Portugal. Exploring why the European country removed criminal penalties for drug use in 2001. What has been the effect on public health and criminal justice? (TBC: Joāo Goulāo, national drug coordinator for Portugal and architect of their drug policy, has been invited to make a guest appearance.)
  • How can these learnings be applied in Aotearoa? How are we distinct?

The afternoon sessions:

  • Case Study: Canada’s new legal cannabis market. The architect of Canada’s cannabis reforms will take us through the highs and the lows of taking a public health approach in their design of the new legislation. What were they trying to achieve, and how did they balance the different priorities? It’s early days, but has it worked?
  • A survey of what strictly regulated cannabis could look like in NZ. What pitfalls do we need to look out for? What are some of the policy solutions to curly public health issues such as ensuring equity for Māori, minimising youth use, reducing cannabis dependence, and more?
  • Introducing the cannabis referendum process. What are the next steps? How does it look from a political perspective?

Symposium cost and registration

$300 early bird, $400 after 20 December 2018.

A 50% discount is available to full-time students, those unwaged and University of Otago staff.

Register now





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