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Replace drug convictions with health referrals: Drug Foundation launches new model drug law

5 Jul 2017
This article was published 7 years ago. Content may no longer be relevant.


A complete overhaul of our drug laws is being proposed today. The new model aims to replace conviction with treatment and prohibition with regulation.

The Drug Foundation released its “Model drug law to 2020 and beyond”, at today’s Parliamentary Drug Policy Symposium “Through the maze: Healthy drug law.” It recommends that referrals to health services should replace criminal convictions for drug possession, cannabis should be strictly regulated, and government spending on drug education and treatment should be increased.

“Our 42-year-old drug law is based on the flawed but well-intentioned assumption that a punitive response will keep drug use low. By any measure that hasn’t worked,” said Ross Bell, Executive Director of the NZ Drug Foundation.

“We spend millions of dollars to convict thousands of people every year for using drugs but are left with some of the highest rates of drug use in the world, particularly among young people. Our harsh drug law prevents people accessing help when they need it, and leaves thousands every year with a conviction that impacts on employment, relationships and travel.”

The Drug Foundation has released the model drug law to inform political parties’ election manifestos.

“Drug use is first-and-foremost a health issue not a criminal justice issue. Many other countries have realised this and have reformed their drug laws with a health focus. New Zealand should learn from those countries and copy the good things others have done,” Bell said.

“We like the Portugal model, where drugs were decriminalised in 2001 and the government invested heavily in prevention, treatment and harm reduction. This approach has worked, with decreases in drug use, fewer offenders in prison and a reduction in HIV infections and drug overdoses.”

“Under our model, people who are caught with drugs for their own use would not face criminal penalties. Instead, they would be offered health information and advice, along with assessment and treatment where needed.”

The Drug Foundation also wants New Zealand to learn from other countries and develop a regulated cannabis market, which would see the drug grown by licensed suppliers or in small amounts at home. It would be sold at licensed outlets and from a single, regulated website, with a minimum purchase age of 18.

“Our current law encourages sellers to target those who use most frequently and heavily, increasing social and health harms. In contrast, a regulated market would keep health as a central focus and would protect young people by making it harder for them to access cannabis.”

Other details:

  • Consumption would only be permitted in people’s homes or at licensed events. 
  • Advertising and sponsorship would be strictly regulated, and packaging would include prominent health warnings. 
  • Cannabis would be taxed and funding earmarked for education, prevention, harm reduction and treatment programmes.

The Drug Foundation model drug law is available to download at http://nzdrug.org/drug-law-2020

The 2-day Parliamentary Drug Policy Symposium “Through the maze: Healthy drug law” is hosted by Associate Health Minister Hon Peter Dunne. It brings together an expert panel of speakers to share health-based approaches to drug policy from Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Aotearoa. More information on the Symposium is available on nzdrug.org/drug-law-symposium


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