An Aotearoa/New Zealand drug policy for the 21st Century

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An Aotearoa/New Zealand drug policy for the 21st Century

8 June 2023
Rose Crossin
Joe Boden
Newsroom - New Zealand

It’s time to overhaul New Zealand’s outdated and harmful drug laws in favour of a health-based, Te Tiriti-aligned approach that not only reduces harm but saves tax money and police time, argue Dr Rose Crossin and Professor Joe Boden

Opinion: The year that New Zealand’s Misuse of Drugs Act came into force, Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon was New Zealand’s top-selling album, the first Footrot Flats cartoon was published, and Robert Muldoon became prime minister.

The year was 1975 – it had been four years since US President Richard Nixon declared a 'war on drugs' and launched a policy failure with global ramifications.

Since 1975 there have been small steps towards better drug policy in New Zealand. In 2019, an amendment passed that affirmed police discretion on whether to prosecute someone caught in possession of a controlled drug, however this discretion is not being applied equitably.

And in 2021, drug checking was legalised. People can take their drugs to a service and check whether it is what they think it is. This is a vital harm reduction measure that prevents drug-related injuries and deaths. But, the same person who has their drugs checked could then be arrested for possession of a Class A drug at a music festival or party.

While positive, these actions are not enough. It is time to stop tinkering around the edges and overhaul our drug laws.