Marijuana is a prohibited drug in New Zealand and it is likely to remain so after the election this year. A fundamental premise of marijuana’s status as prohibited is that any discussion around this illegal drug is a criminal justice issue, not a health issue. To remove marijuana from the Misuse of Drugs Act would no longer class marijuana as a prohibited drug and this is simply wrong. We should continue to treat marijuana use as a criminal justice issue under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
If there is any doubt about whether this should be the case, I suggest you visit an emergency ward on a Friday or Saturday night. It is clear to the health professionals there that marijuana is not a medical treatment. The carnage that they see every weekend of young lives being ruined by drug and alcohol misuse is a sobering lesson for us all. Alcohol is already a legalised drug in New Zealand, we don’t need to add marijuana to the list. Especially when we are seeking to have our communities smoke free by 2025.
The Psychoactive Substances Bill is here to stay. I believe that there will be a “no” vote in the upcoming referendum and there seems to be no need to change this at this stage. The Psychoactive Substances Bill has its origins in Hamilton with the legal high store on Grey Street becoming the poster child for the legislation a number of years ago. The ensuing public uproar and opposition to these legal sales led central and local Government to work together to eradicate these types of stores. Since then there has been no shift in public opinion and so I can’t see any reason to change the legislation.
The Misuse of Drugs Act regulates controlled drugs in New Zealand and establishes offences and penalties for everything from possession to the manufacturing of classified drugs.
Until the public has its say on legalising the personal use of cannabis at the next election, I believe cannabis should remain in the Misuse of Drugs Act. Cannabis is the most commonly used illegal drug in New Zealand, for both medicinal and recreational purposes. It might be commonly used, but it can still cause harm. However New Zealanders vote in the upcoming referendum, we should take an approach that first and foremost seeks to reduce drug-related harm. The Ministry of Health reported on its Review of the Psychoactive Substances Act just over a year ago. In summary, officials determined that the Psychoactive Substances Act had not achieved its purpose of protecting health and minimising harm because:
a) It had not enabled the availability of low-risk psychoactive substances through a regulated market (primarily because animal testing provisions limited the ability to prove that products were low risk, and could, therefore, be approved);
b) The continued supply and use of unregulated products had arguably made monitoring and management of associated risks more difficult, and c) Offences and penalties may have been disproportionate to the harm posed by the increasing availability of high-risk products. The Ministry suggested that amending the Psychoactive Substances Act would better enable it to meet its intended purpose, but any changes should be considered as part of a wider drug legislation reform work programme. The Government has since passed the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill, which aimed to crackdown on synthetic drug dealers while taking a health-based approach with drug users often caught in the web of addiction. We’ve also commissioned research into drug checking at festivals, to find out whether it helps keep people safe and reduces harm.