There is a saying; ‘If its not broken, then why fix it’ & in the context of Drug policy in Aotearoa/NZ this is still the contentious issue. Well I say it is definitely BROKEN & it is time it was fixed. I base this on the following things:
1) There are legal drugs in Aotearoa/NZ & most of the world; Pharmaceuticals, Alcohol, Tobacco & those deemed to be of a ‘cultural’ nature eg kava
2) The rest of the substances, often considered to be ‘other drugs’ are almost, all ILLEGAL under the outdated, punitive current law, we have; ‘The Misuse of Drugs Act 1975’ which includes: Cannabis, LSD, Amphetamines, Opiates, Ecstasy etc.
3) Whilst there is, recently moves towards Police ‘using discretion‘ around the possession & personal use of ‘soft drugs’, there is still a general Zero-tolerance perception, of arrest, prosecute & punish !
4) This often is tainted along ‘racial lines’, with Indigenous Maori, making up 15% of the general population, but about 50% of the prison population.. regular claims that they are more likely to be arrested & imprisoned for ‘minor drug offences’ than non-maori/pakeha
5) If all drugs are put on a ‘level playing field; it clearly shows the ‘double standard’ that occurs, with; Alcohol considered equivalent to a ‘Class B’ drug, Tobacco ‘Class A’, Cannabis is ‘Class C’ (supposedly less harmful, on this scale), Opiates & amphetamines ‘Class A’ & LSD/hallucinogens ‘Class B’. Yet, the law deems Cannabis more harmful than Alcohol/Tobacco, purely because it is ‘an illegal drug’ under the current law, regardless of the actual facts.
6) According to the stats. about 5,000 people die annually from tobacco use & over 1,000 from alcohol in Aotearoa/NZ. There is still no official death toll attributed directly to cannabis use. It is likely that some do die, on the roads, in motor accidents, but not from the actual use of the drug.
7) Since USA President Nixon; declared ‘WAR on DRUGS’ in 1970 & the implementation of the MODA ’75 in Aotearoa/NZ, a massive ‘Prohibition Industry‘ has been formed, including; Police, Courts, Customs, Lawyers & Prisons. Estimates are that around 30% of all their work is ‘Drug related’, meaning at the front-lines of the Drug War. Many of the prosecutions result in fines &/or community service, but about 10-15% of all prison inmates are incarcerated in this country for ‘Drug Offences’ usually manufacture & supply, BUT also recidivist users/reoffenders too. It currently costs the Tax-payers >$90k/year to keep a person in prison. Surely this would be better spent on Education, Treatment/Rehab. (for addiction/problem use) ?
8) There is a misconception that Drug reform; Cannabis regulation/Decrim. would see a huge increase in use, but this is NOT born out in other OECD countries that have reformed their drug laws. Many seeing a spike in the first instance, but once the novelty wears off, use rates often drop to similar levels or even lower. This fear-mongering has been one of the main reasons why, reform has effectively stalled here. NZ has amongst the highest cannabis/other illegal drug use rates in the world (UN office Drug/crime stats.). If truth be known, it is the ‘forbidden fruit mystique’ that attracts most youth to first try these illegal drugs.
9) NZ still takes the ‘ambulance or Cop car at the bottom of the cliff’ approach to drug use, rather than the ‘fence at the top’
10) The current drug laws create a division in society; loss of job opportunity (drug testing) & travel opportunity. We also have broad use of DRUG-dogs at NZ airports & customs.
* I do not promote ‘illegal drug use’ BUT I see Zero-tolerance/Prohibition as the biggest ‘Drug related HARM’. The laws in this land are BROKEN, but the ‘power brokers’ seem hesitant to move forward.. Why is this so ?
** In 2011 the NZ Law Commission, issued their review document on the Misuse of Drugs act 1975. They did recommend drug reform, more in line with the changes occurring overseas; Canada, Australia, some USA states, Holland, Portugal & other countries of EU, Uruguay etc. etc. BUT it was just ‘brushed under the carpet’ by the current Right-wing Govt.
We just had a General Election.. the final outcome is still ‘up in the air’ (with Special votes still being counted) BUT fingers crossed, we will get a change. Also the NZ Green party have a Med-Cannabis bill due for 1st reading in 2018..