This is the second edition of our annual report on how New Zealand is dealing with alcohol and other drugs. While we are doing well in some areas, in others there is significant room for improvement.

More than 70 deaths have been linked with synthetic cannabinoids since mid-2017. The death rate has dropped in recent months, but there is no room for complacency. Synthetic cannabinoids continue to cause significant harm across the country, and dangerous new substances still regularly enter the market.

Alcohol is still the most harmful drug in New Zealand. Twenty percent of New Zealanders drink hazardously, and it’s the substance most people seek help for. Alarmingly, alcohol is more affordable now than in the 1980s. The Government must prioritise minimum prices, and phase out alcohol advertising and sponsorship.

Methamphetamine use is an ongoing issue: August 2019 saw the biggest methamphetamine seizure on record. While overall use remains low, across the total population methamphetamine causes huge amounts of harm in some communities.

Māori continue to suffer disproportionately from the harms caused by alcohol and other drugs, bearing the brunt of our criminal justice approach to drug use, with high rates of arrest and conviction.

However, there is a lot to be hopeful about.

A new amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act, passed in August, means Police may only prosecute for possession and use of drugs if it is ‘required in the public interest’. They must determine whether a health-centred or therapeutic approach would be more beneficial to the public interest than a prosecution. How this will affect prosecution rates remains to be seen, but we’re hopeful low-level drug offences will decrease, or be eliminated altogether.

We’d like to see a massive overhaul of our outdated drug laws. Next year’s cannabis referendum is a great opportunity: people are still being arrested and convicted for cannabis. In the past decade 45,665 people were convicted of a cannabis offence, and 6,583 of those were sent to prison. We look forward to moving towards health-focused legal regulation.