Tēnā koe
The New Zealand Drug Foundation’s vision is for an
Aotearoa free from drug harm.

This State of the Nation is the first of what will be an annual report. It’s intended to track how New Zealand is dealing with alcohol and other drugs, and show a starting point against which we can assess the impact of any policy changes.

While we are doing well in some areas, there is massive room for improvement. Top of the list is the horrifying number of deaths (as many as 50) linked to synthetic cannabinoids since mid-2017.

There is room for hope, though, with some welcome announcements from the government in December. They plan to ensure Police no longer prosecute people for possession and personal use of any drug “where a therapeutic approach would be more beneficial, or there is no public interest in a prosecution”. This could be a game-changer for ensuring people can get the help they need.

Also in December, the government passed new medicinal cannabis legislation and declared the 2020 cannabis referendum will be binding. And already this year, the Police Minister acknowledged the importance of drug checking at festivals.

However there is no room for complacency. Illicit drug convictions are creeping up again after falling for many years, with 5,710 people convicted in 2017. It’s concerning that 61% of those convictions were for low-level offences, such as possessing or using drugs. And Māori continue to suffer disproportionate harm both from drugs and our drug laws.

And a note on drug statistics: New Zealand does not have adequate ones. With all that is going on, it’s essential we rectify this in a hurry. How else will we know what’s working and what’s not working?

Ngā mihi nui, and best wishes for 2019,

Kali Mercier
Policy & Advocacy Manager