New polling shows most New Zealanders support changing the country’s drug laws to remove criminal penalties and instead offer education, treatment, and other health-based approaches.
The new polling, conducted by The Navigators for the NZ Drug Foundation, shows 68% of New Zealanders support replacing the country’s 1975 Misuse of Drugs Act with a health-based approach. 61% supported the removal of penalties for drug use and putting in place more support for education and treatment.
The Drug Foundation’s Executive Director, Sarah Helm, says the polling shows New Zealanders know the current approach to drugs isn’t working and it’s time to shift to an evidence-based approach.
“These numbers are really heartening – it shows that Kiwis know locking people up isn’t the answer to reducing drug harm,” she says.
“The public increasingly understands that criminal penalties get in the way of people seeking help, and that Police time would be better spent on more serious crime.”
Helm says that in most other countries where criminal penalties have been removed, drug use hasn’t increased, but there has been a huge decrease in harms such as overdoses.
“The public get it, and we know most politicians get it too. But drugs have been a convenient political football trotted out to score points. Political leaders across Parliament know the current approach is letting New Zealanders down. It is time to work together on the health-based approaches to drugs that New Zealanders want.”
The Drug Foundation is releasing the new polling on the Global Day of Action for #SupportDontPunish, an international campaign calling for drug policies based on health and human rights.
“Drug policy is often highly politicised, but we know that there is appetite right across Parliament for the types of health-based approaches that will actually work,” says Helm.
“For example, there is cross-party support for Te Ara Oranga, the highly successful methamphetamine programme, which has proven a health-based approach can work here in New Zealand on one of our more difficult drug issues. Te Ara Oranga was started by the former National Government and expanded by the current Labour Government.”
The polling also showed there is strong support for more funding to be provided for treatment and education (82%) and harm reduction initiatives like drug checking (74%).
“New Zealanders know it’s not just about changing the law – it’s about shifting the money we spend on punitive measures into treatment, harm reduction initiatives, and programmes like Te Ara Oranga that struggle for funding at present.”
“Drug policy shouldn’t be an area to score points or play games – we’re talking about people’s lives and the wellbeing of our communities. What New Zealand needs is a constructive approach from our political leaders to fix our broken, outdated drug laws.”
Survey participants also reported that barriers to accessing services, resources and information were high.
A group of powerful synthetic opioids that were first detected in the country just a year ago may have already been linked to several deaths.
95% of respondents reported positive effects, in a study that looked at both prescription and black market cannabis use.