by Kevin Hague
Today Parliament debated a proposal from Peter Dunne to change the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill to allow him to ban any substance that might cause harm, essentially by decree. The original bill — which went through the health select committee in November last year — was flawed to begin with.
The original bill was already doing some daft things — significantly expanding offences relating hardware that could be drug-taking utensils, and making medicines containing pseudoephedrine ‘prescription only’ in the name of the war against P.
Now Dunne has abused the parliamentary process to introduce an amendment that has no real relationship with the original Bill, except that it too is connected with drugs. If we had tried doing this it would’ve been ruled out of order, because people who submitted on the Bill could not have anticipated that this might become part of it and so won’t have commented about it.
I maintain that if the Government wanted to add in this whole new set of provisions, they should have used the recent two week recess to give the public the opportunity to have a say about the plans. I challenged them to do this three weeks ago, but to no avail. There has been enough time to run an acceptable process, but Government has simply chosen not to do so.
Along with this poor process, the amendment itself is rather bad.
Under the proposed law, the minister could gazette pretty much any substance that could result in harm — salt, caffeine, icing sugar — therefore making it a class C substance. There would be no public scrutiny or medical/scientific advice.
The “herbal high” industry has done a very poor job since the issue of synthetic cannabis turned into a public debate. There have been problems with the quality of their product and they have acted irresponsibly when criticised.
We do want regulation of synthetic cannabis, but the move to outright ban it is not the right direction.
The Law Commission issued a report last year which recommends that we move away from the ineffective and dangerous criminalisation of drugs to a model that minimises harm.
The best lifestyle is a drug free lifestyle, but banning synthetic cannabis and criminalising users is not the answer. Regulating the industry and providing addiction support services is a better option.
Peter Dunne has circumvented the democratic process by not letting this issue that — judging from the media coverage — is of great public interest, go to select committee.