Julian Buchanan PHD, MA, DIPSW

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New Zealand’s Progressive Drug Policy Spin


Delighted that Aotearoa New Zealand looks set to regulate new legal highs – in theory – but don’t led that mislead you about drug policy here in NZ – the drug policy is anything but progressive! And indeed regulation is only regulation if the principle can be put into practice. I hope it will be, but I fear that the requirements to test drugs will be so stringent, and the threshold to prove the drug is ‘safe’ too high that no legal highs will be approved. Can anything we eat or drink prove to be totally safe?

This much hailed progressive move in New Zealand drug policy needs to be seen in the wider context. The same NZ government who are apparently progressive on drug policy are also introducing legislation to stop benefits for people who repeatedly test positive for any illicit drugs, have rolled out a five year US styled abstinence based Drug Court, stepping up workplace drug testing, have rejected a Bill to allow people with life limiting illnesses to self medicate with marihuana, and it has one of the highest prison populations in the world – incarcerating lots of people for drug defined (possession/supply) crime. 11% of young people convicted for possession of illicit drugs/utilensils go to prison.

So called regulation will be little different to prohibition if the standards required to become ‘regulated’ are unreasonably and prohibited high. The principle of regulation is great – but it needs to be genuinely delivered in good faith – and it’s hard to see (given other drug policy developments) this move here in NZ as an act in good faith towards regulation.

The NZ Law Commission carried out a major review of the 1975 Misuse of Drugs Act and that was published in 2011 but the minister Peter Dunne has strongly rejected the Law Commission proposal to introduce cautioning for drug possession and most of the other recommendations have been sidelined, so abstinence and prohibition continue.


1 Comment

  1. tatjna says:

    I have often wondered how New Zealand can claim to have ‘progressive’ drug policy while politicians are able to brag publicly about the number of people incarcerated for drug offences, and where the current situation regarding legal highs arose from the prohibition of piperazines on scanty evidence and despite having the legal framework and industry will to support regulation.


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