Wednesday, July 05, 2017

A better way to deal with drugs

There's a major symposium on drug laws happening at Parliament this week. As part of this, the New Zealand Drug Foundation has stepped up where politicians fear to tread, and proposed a major reform of our drug laws: one based on harm-minimisation and treating drugs as a public health problem, rather than a crime:

The first part of our model drug law is based on the Law Commission’s 2011 recommendations – which proposed a model of health referral instead of criminal convictions and of removing any legal barriers to innovative harm-reduction practices – and the Portuguese model of reform. All currently illegal drugs would be decriminalised. If police find a person in possession of drugs, they would issue a ‘mandatory caution’ which includes health information and legal advice.

After one, two or three cautions (depending on the drug), the person would be required to attend a brief intervention session to assess whether further health assessment and treatment is needed. If so, a range of non-compulsory treatment options would be available. To ensure the focus remains on improving health outcomes, any legal penalty for not attending the intervention session would be restricted to an option to reschedule or a low fine.

They're also proposing a regulated cannabis market, a commercial supply model aimed at preventing the formation of a powerful industry lobby group (as has happened with alcohol and tobacco), and much more money for drug-related health issues (funded by the savings on the current pointless enforcement costs). All together, it seems like a much better way to deal with drugs than at present: one which recognises the reality of the failure of the war on drugs, respects freedom (at least much moreso than at present), and ensures that people who need help get it (while those who don't don't get harassed and criminalised). The question is whether our politicians will take this opportunity to fix a law which obviously isn't working - or whether their prejudices will cause them to keep on making the same cruel and expensive mistakes they are at present. Sadly, I think we all know which option they'll choose.