Could this be the beginning of the end of the failed War on Drugs?

Earlier this week, the Law Commission released its final report on Controlling and Regulating Drugs.  Green Co-Leader Metiria Tūrei issued a media release supporting the Commission’s report at the time, but I thought I’d provide a bit more information about it here. The report is a weighty tome – 350 pages, including 144 recommendations, so I can only highlight a few of the key recommendations:

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 should be repealed and replaced by a new Act, which should be administered by the Ministry of Health.

This makes sense.  The current Act is a shambles.  It is 35 years old, has been amended countless times, and directs resources into criminalising drug users.  More emphasis on treating drug abuse and dependency as a health and social issue, rather than a criminal one, should be welcomed.

There should be a statutory presumption against imprisonment in cases of social dealing.

The presumption should apply to all dealing offences and all drug classes, but should not apply when the dealing is to a person under the age of 18 years.

It is ridiculous that someone can be sent to prison for giving or selling a joint to a friend out the back of the pub.  Imprisonment should be reserved for those who seek to make a profit out of dealing in controlled drugs, or who deal to minors.

There should be a new regime with its own criteria and approval process for regulating new psychoactive substances.

The chemists are always going to several steps ahead of the regulators, so this makes sense too.  The potential of a new recreational drug to cause harm should be assessed before it goes on the market, and appropriate restrictions or prohibition imposed. It will treat recreational drugs more like medicines, with the onus on the manufacturer to demonstrate their safety.

All the criteria [for statutory drug classification], including those which measure social harm, should be applied and considered at the individual level and not at the aggregate level to better reflect the intrinsic harm of each substance rather than the prevalence of their use.

A full scale review should be undertaken to determine the appropriate classification of all drugs currently scheduled in order to address existing inconsistencies.

The current classifications of particular drugs bear little relationship to the harm caused by them.  There is no evidential basis, for example, to support LSD which has relatively minor intrinsic harm potential being categorised in Class A along with methamphetamine and heroin which have very serious intrinsic harm potential.

It should no longer be an offence to possess utensils for the purpose of using drugs.

The current prohibition on possession of utensils increases the potential for harm by encouraging more unsafe methods of drug use, e.g. needle sharing. And water pipes remove much of the harmful tar and particulates from cannabis smoke. The current law causes harm, rather than prevents it.

The current warrantless power to search places if there is reasonable cause to suspect an offence involving a Class C drug should be limited to dealing offences.

This would remove the ability of Police to raid properties, sometimes when the real reason is completely unrelated to drugs, on the basis that they “could smell cannabis smoke”.  Another good proposal!

A mandatory cautioning scheme should be established for personal possession and use offences. … Police would be required to issue a caution notice when a personal possession and use offence was detected, with limited exceptions. … A caution notice would only be issued with the user’s consent and when the user acknowledged responsibility for the offence. Otherwise, the user would be prosecuted. …  A user who came to police attention for a personal possession and use offence for the second time for a Class A drug, the third time for a Class B drug, or the fourth time for a Class C drug, would be prosecuted.

This would certainly be an improvement on the current law, in that it would avoid the criminalisation of many occasional recreational users of controlled drugs, and the cautions system involves provision of contact details of support services and treatment providers.

However, it does seem to depart from the principle of harm minimisation that underpins much of the rest of the Law Commission’s report.  It is not evidence based policy to suggest that someone who smokes a joint on a lazy Sunday afternoon or has an ecstasy tablet in their purse in anticipation of Friday night’s dance party is causing any more harm to themselves or anyone else than someone who drinks a bottle of wine with their dinner occasionally.

In the case of simple possession or use of Class C controlled drugs (and ecstasy would almost certainly be reclassified as Class C, if classified at all, under the Law Commission’s classification proposal), a harm minimisation approach doesn’t seem to warrant the intervention of the criminal law.

Despite that last reservation, Government should give serious consideration to implementing the Law Commission’s report.  Given Justice Minister Simon Power’s cursory dismissal of the Commission’s earlier discussion document on drug law reform, I’m not optimistic of any progress before November’s General Election though.

36 Comments Posted

  1. I’m fascinated to read about the ‘war on drugs’ in various countries. Legislators, advocacy groups, and scientists in many parts of the world seem to be intensely analyzing the ‘war on drugs’ in the past decade and coming up with many ideas for reform. Cannabis legislative reform seems to be one of the priorities of all these considerations. For example, cannabis law in Thailand makes it an illegal substance, for medicinal purposes included; special attention has recently turned to heroin, methamphetamines and amphetamines as being extremely threatening narcotics that deserve additional attention and concern from legislators. Reports covering most of Southeast Asia have brought greater awareness to the growing threat of these narcotics, indicating that cannabis could be on the backburner for now. It’ll be interesting to see if the various ‘wars on drugs’ around the world start to develop similar trends regarding cannabis and other classes of drugs.

  2. I think it’s only a bottom line if it’s written down in the agreement. If the “they” you refer to is UF and National, it could be that Key’s word on that matter was enough, but that still doesn’t explain 2005-2008.

    Agree with the rest of your comment.

  3. I can understand what your saying Valis but I’m unaware of him rescinding his ‘bottem line’, my impression was that they’d already sorted out that issue ( no change to cannabis laws ), and that was that …….

    I’m surprised more shit has not stuck to Peter Dunne and UF over their setting up pokkie machine regultations so that charities have suffered fraud and missed out on millions and millions of grants while pub owners and scammers have made out like bandits.

    Dunne and UF actually scuttled sensible and fair Greens policy on how to give out pokkies profits.

    Instead they gave us a system where pub owners dish out the money.

    The result?…. millions stolen through fraud.

  4. I don’t mean to say Dunne supports change in this area; he would probably vote against. But that is different to making it such a core policy that he would use his support agreement to ensure the govt wouldn’t even consider changes. This is what he did 2002-2005, but not 2005-2008, both while working with Labour. I assume the change mirrored the change in the make up of his party.

  5. p.s the religous wing or should I say religous voters deserted Peter Dunne and UF because of UF’s support for booze, gambling and fags.

    I’ve not much time for religous people but I will grant them that they stuck by their principles by not voteing for Dunny and his pro-booze, pro-gambling party. The hypocrisy was to great for them and Dunne lost their votes.

    The Nats will never de-crim cannabis users so Dunny does not have to be the hard man ………… for the moment.

    But if the same circumstances arose he’d pull the same shit again.

    ……… and maybe he’d get invited to speak at an American university where Margret Thatcher and Ronald regan had previously spoken …..again.

    He’s so cheap 😉

  6. Valis, I’m not aware of Dunny boy ever dropping his ‘ no change to cannabis laws’ stance.

    His recent mutterings about legal ‘synthetic’ cannabis substances and how he’d like to ban them would seem to show that he’s the same as he’s ever been.

    Peter Dunne is a friend of the booze, fags and gambling industry.

    He has been a constant enemey of cannabis law reform.

    I’d like to see real proof apart from pre-election sound bites that Peter Dunne has switched from being a punative prohibitionist to some-one sensible.

    He dont fool me ………………………

  7. It has nothing to do with the Nats. Dunne dropped that part of his deal with Labour in 2005, which is when the religious wing got tossed out of Parliament.

  8. “The Government should consider undertaking or supporting clinical trials into the efficacy of raw cannabis by comparison to synthetic cannabis-based products as a treatment for pain relief.”

    there also needs to be research into the variation between different strains of cannabis in treating pain, which I suspect is due to differences in the relative quantities of the active ingredients.

  9. Peter Dunne or United Future if we want to call him that are not making a fuss because the Nats have that ground covered, Dunny can afford to sound moderate and make the ignorant forget his “bottem line “, ‘no change to cannabis laws’ coalition condition.

    The little slime would probably pull the same stunt again in the same circumstances.

    I’ve long held a theory that the american embassy have got a ‘very good friend’ in Peter Dunne. ………. and so cheap.

    Maybe someday some NZ Wikileaks will come to light 😉

  10. You are right, hence frog’s “beginning of the end” only. Even United Future no longer make the same fuss since they shed their religious wing. Nothing substantial will happen until the Nats are no longer in govt.

  11. I see no reason that this Govt. should ignore this report & not introduce law reform based on the recommendations, other than there are those who actually benefit from maintaining the staus quo. e.g. Black-marketeers, job protection for those involved in prosecuting ‘drug offenders’. Then there is the issue of proposed private prisons, what will be the main ‘business’ ? probably drug offenders ?? not wishing to sound too cynical..

    Good on the Greens for at least taking this report seriously ! Kia-ora

  12. @Mark 3:33 PM

    The classification of LSD as Class A is simply ridiculous. It was more a reaction of the establishment in the 1970s to what they perceived as the threat of “hippy culture”, including its anti-war, pro-environment, and anti-authoritarian messaging, than to any evidence-based assessment of LSD’s risk of harm.

  13. Many Specialists would like to use LSD as a Medicine – but someone threw out the baby with the bathwater!


    “…Hemp has been generating a lot of buzz recently, and it’s not because of marijuana. Hemp food products, which contain no THC, are hailed by many in the mainstream as being good for your health.

    Case in point: On a recent episode of “The Doctor Oz Show,” the medical celeb (and HuffPost contributor) touted the health benefits of hemp milk, which is made by crushing the seeds of the cannabis plant and mixing them with water.

    Oz himself singled out hemp as his favorite milk alternative, while Samantha Heller, R.D., spoke about some of its reported benefits. “Hemp milk is a good source of Omega 3 fatty acids, which have been found to be good for both the heart and brain,” she said.

    In addition to Omega 3, which studies have shown can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, hemp is said to be high in Omega 6 fatty acids – and also contains all of the essential amino acids.

    Amino acids help form protein in the body and are key to tissue repair as well as overall growth..” (cont..)


  15. As a sufferer of recurrent pain I feel it is not good to rely on any one formula for a solution – as tolerance to any one substance increases usage, so the “side effects” grow.

    The side effects of untreated pain are on the Six O’Clock news nightly.

    There is no ‘magic pill’.

    However – as this is such a widespread problem I also feel there can be no moral argument against bringing as many solutions as possible to the table.

    What Phil U says about ‘booze barons’ is germane to the conversation. The old school way for people caught in this trap was to catch the 9:15 to Hamilton (head on) or simply drink.

    Neither option can be termed workable humane or moral.

    NZ has a tremendous problem in separating the Legal from the Medical anyway….the longer we refuse to move forward, the more we move backward (ie; are overtaken by inertia).

    As in so many other areas we need to think for ourselves – the very term ‘War On Drugs’ is so weighted with prejudice, it makes a balanced discussion impossible.

    Many Medical Specialists I know in Australia feel entirely frustrated, knowing there are efficient treatments available – that are surrounded by a kind of voodoo taboo – that the ugly question of Euthanasia becomes the only topic to discuss (very quietly).

    Remember, everyone dies, how mercifull is up to us….NZ is stuck somewhere in the 19th century.

  16. @SPC 9:29 PM

    I wonder how much binge drinking would reduce if e was still around?

    Um, probably not much while McCully is still a Minister.

  17. I can’t be here for a wee while, quite busy, but this is a good thing and it is a good opening for us to position ourselves in favor of the medicinal marijuana.

    I’ve had more than my fill of the drug war. It creates so many more reasons why people can get arrested, pumps so much money into the gangs and does so little good for all the harm it creates (as my Brother observed to me once, he could as a perfect stranger, in any city in the USA, score within less than an hour). That’s the availability of heroin. Just a little less easy to find than a Big Mac… the drug war has been on almost my entire life… and Mexico is turning into a failed state because of it.

    Anyone supporting such stupidity has some seriously delusional thought processes. Which makes it a natural for National.

    Got to go. Back on Wednesday I think.


  18. as has already been shown by their refusal to lower the alcohol limit…

    ..this govt is owned by the booze-barons..

    ..and the booze barons don’t want pot legalised..…


  19. family guy is the brian gets pot legalised one..

    ..with the big production number..’a bag of weed’…

    ‘a bag of weed…

    ..a bag of weed…

    all you need is a bag of weed…

    a bag of weed..

    ..a bag of weed..

    ..everything goes better with a bag of weed’…


  20. Totally agree with you there Frog. It’s good to see the Greens posting on this. The thing is that many long-term pain sufferers turn to marijuana because of the adverse side effects of prescription medicines. Compared to detrimental prescribed painkillers that are often addictive, marijuana has very negligible side effects, which can be negated depending on how the drug is administered.

    Rich, the safety aspects of the drug are well known. Despite around one in seven New Zealanders using cannabis on a regular basis, there have been no recorded deaths as far as I know from any country in the entire World. There is a lot of research done into the drug already. The reason drug companies are not interested in providing funds is that the drug is easily grown. The drug company’s profit margins, as well as any tax available to the Government is minimal.

    I do not subscribe to your belief that many doctors will prescribe the drug outside of its designated use. Most Doctors abide by the rules and marijuana would not be an exception. To presume there will not be a safe product derived from marijuana to mitigate pain is rather naive. England has recently undertaken an extensive research phase and there are many countries throughout the World that utilise marijuana in the way that is recommended. There are derivatives available already.

    Not only is marijuana helpful in the ways Phil U has described, it is most effective in reducing pain for cancer sufferers when other drugs fail to reduce their suffering. New Zealand has one of the highest cancer rates in the World, not that such considerations will ever be made by those in National. Their profit motive will continue to mean people will suffer needlessly under their corporate idealism.

  21. I think it’s safe to say this report will be completely ignored.

    I think that is an optimistic statement.

    “Evidence based” and “recreational drugs” are two things you’ll almost never hear a minister in a government (any government) use in the same sentence.

  22. and of course then there is ..the recently legalised for medical use..african herbal drug ibogaine…

    i have been fortunate in speaking to both a doctor using it as a cure for heroin/methadone addicts..

    ..and to one of those who has taken his cure…

    ..and it sounds somewhat miraculous…

    ..because one dose…(where/when you apparantly go and talk with your ancestors..whoar..!..who knew..!

    ..cures the heroin addict of their physical 24 hrs.. seven days/nights of withdrawals..

    ..(methadone takes a bit longer…it being a much more malignant/addictive drug than heroin..but it works for that too…)

    …and it not only stops/negates any also provides a natural euphoriant..and a natural anti-anxiety property…both of which last for about three months… clear..that the addict has to want to stop…has to have had enough..

    ..(it’s a very tiring life..being a heroin addict..)

    ..but if that will is there…

    ..the way is now also here..

    ..(you just have to be prepared for a bit of a chat with the ancestors..)

    ..the recovering-addict i spoke to had been hammering away at it for about six was no weekend-warrior..(slang-term for part-time junkies..)

    ..and he is now staying with some vegan friends of mine…

    ..discovering the joys/highs of that lifestyle..

    ..and with that qualification of wanting to stop..confirmed it works..

    ..(and the ancestor-chat..)

    ..the therapist also told me they had taken the ibogaine..

    ..(wanting to know what their patients would experience)

    ..and confirmed the chatting with the ancestors…

    ..whoar..! the question is..

    ..why the fuck are the govt dishing out this poisonous/super-addictive-muck methadone..

    ..enslaving people for their lives…

    ..(methadone is much harder to kick than heroin…cold-turkey withdrawals from methadone can kill you..)

    ..when there are these other options..that work…out there…?

    ..ya gotta ask/


  23. so i know that pot is a gateway-drug..

    ..a gateway out…

    ..why aren’t addicts being offered it…?


  24. and of course medical-cannabis should be offered to all those attempting to kick habits..

    ..i found it most effective when kicking both heroin and cocaine…


  25. btw..i still think the most effective anti-speed/’p’agit-prop i have ever seen is those ‘speed kills’ posters done by robert crumb in the 60’s/70’s…

    ..his depictions of what actually goes on in a speed-freaks head…

    ..sez it all really…


  26. @Rich 2:14 PM

    Then again, I doubt there would be much of a demand for new generation party pills if MDMA (ecstasy) which has already been demonstrated to have a very low risk of harm were taken out of the classification scheme and made available for R18 commercial sale.

  27. i am cheered by the commonsense shown in this report…

    ..but i do think it is the most optimistic headline ever written by frog..

    ..and i can’t see this crew doing anything about it…

    ..don’t you remember what simon ‘all the way with bush’ power said when the commission flew a flag a little while back…?

    ..he almost gagged/vomited when asked if he wd implement the commission recommendations..

    …and said there was no way this government would reform the drug laws…

    …the legal/economic rationality of it all seems to have passed him/them by…


  28. in america the prison industry is one of the main lobbyists against drug law reform… has been very good for them..

    (and here…i laughed the other day when i saw the now national party candidate..and founder of the pressure-group ‘meth-con’…

    ..had ‘sold’ his meth-con gig…. the illegal drug industry was good for/to him too…eh..?..)


  29. There should be a new regime with its own criteria and approval process for regulating new psychoactive substances.

    This all sounds very well in theory, but I have a bit of an issue.

    Testing a “therapeutic” pharmaceutical costs millions of dollars. Even if the regulation process doesn’t consider efficacy (that being left to users to decide) it’s still going to be very expensive to determine the safety of a new recreational substance.

    If this process is short-cutted, doesn’t that leave the state with a moral, if not a legal, responsibility for any problems that occur?

    So you’d either have a situation where limited testing leaves a substance that’s endorsed by the state, but might have unknown hazards. Or we create a process that’s prohibitively expensive and results in all new substances being banned.

    Which would mean that with nothing available over the counter, users will resort to either illegal drugs (of unknown composition) or to a grey market where substances are sold as research chemicals or for (mostly bogus) technical uses.

    It would be better to maintain the status quo, but have new substances researched (possibly through funds raised from taxing sales) and either information made available or (if it is found to be actively dangerous) the substance banned.

  30. Todd, since you mention people using marijuana for medical reasons, another of the Law Commission’s recommendations is:

    The Government should consider undertaking or supporting clinical trials into the efficacy of raw cannabis by comparison to synthetic cannabis-based products as a treatment for pain relief.

    Again, a good evidence-based approach, but this will probably be ignored too.

  31. Not to mention it costs on average $90,936 per year to keep somebody who was using marijuana for medical reasons in jail. Incarceration for drugs and anti social offences makes up 10% of sentences and New Zealand has the third highest international incarceration rate. Anything that helps reduce these horrendous figures would be a good move.

    Being that National intends to privatize prisons, it is unlikely that they will undertake any measures to reduce incarceration rates.

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