We have spent forty years on the ‘War on Drugs’ in this country, and not a single positive outcome has occurred.
It is the same around the world and is leading countries to look at alternatives. Portugal is a classic example, that shows that contrary to the nay-sayers, decriminalisation can actually work in addressing the harm of drugs.
So, in New Zealand people are now having to re-think our approach…the problem though is just a single, old fashioned old fool can hold up any real progress.
Drug law reform. Is there any better example of a heart versus head issue? Logic and rationality tells you that the system does not work, that drugs are a medical issue not a criminal one. But your gut says lock all the junkies and potheads up.
It is Ross Bell’s job to wrestle with these dilemmas. For 11 years he has been chief executive of the New Zealand Drug Foundation, a charitable trust charged with preventing and reducing harms caused by drug use.
The irony is that decriminalisation of drugs can reduce harms more effectively than prohibition. This is where the Drug Foundation now finds itself. Bell’s current angle is that our drug law turns 40 this year and is showing its age. Time for an overhaul.
The Misuse of Drugs Act became law in 1975, during the last days of Bill Rowling’s Labour government. It was that long ago, a time of dancing cossacks, disco and Fleetwood Mac. The big drug scares were heroin and LSD.
During the parliamentary debate, Rowling-era police minister Michael Connelly aired the then-fashionable view that cannabis was a gateway drug. Pot smokers would naturally “graduate” to harder drugs.
But New Zealand was really being a follower and getting behind the United States, Bell says. President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs in 1971. The United Nations agreed on a new drugs treaty in the same year. New Zealand had to keep up. Read more »