Policy report

Whakawātea te Huarahi: a model drug law to 2020 and beyond

Clearing the pathway forward
Drugs and alcohol Drug abuse and crime Criminal law New Zealand

The Drug Foundation proposes a complete overhaul of new Zealand drug laws. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 came into force more than 40 years ago. It sets out harsh criminal penalties for possession and use of drugs in an attempt to stop people taking them. This is an approach that has proved both ineffective and harmful. Research and experience around the world shows that criminal penalties have surprisingly little impact on whether people take drugs. Our high drug use in New Zealand is proof of that. Even though we convict thousands of people each year for using drugs, we have some of the highest use rates in the world. Our laws prevent people accessing help when they need it, and they leave thousands every year with a conviction that impacts on employment, relationships and travel. It’s a simple fix. We need to repeal the Misuse of Drugs Act and replace it with a new Act that treats drug use as a health issue, not a criminal issue.

The Drug Foundation proposes a complete overhaul of new Zealand drug laws. The new model aims to replace conviction with treatment and prohibition with regulation. Under the model, people who are caught with drugs for their own use would not face criminal penalties. Instead, they would be offered health information and advice, along with assessment and treatment where needed. The Foundation also wants New Zealand to learn from other countries and develop a regulated cannabis market, which would see the drug grown by licensed suppliers or in small amounts at home. It would be sold at licensed outlets and from a single, regulated website, with a minimum purchase age of 18. Current law encourages sellers to target those who use most frequently and heavily, increasing social and health harms. In contrast, a regulated market would keep health as a central focus and would protect young people by making it harder for them to access cannabis.

Other details:

  • Consumption would only be permitted in people’s homes or at licensed events. 
  • Advertising and sponsorship would be strictly regulated, and packaging would include prominent health warnings. 
  • Cannabis would be taxed and funding earmarked for education, prevention, harm reduction and treatment programmes.
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