What's wrong with the current law? Why change it?
Well, lots of reasons, but here's a biggie: in the past 10 years, over 60,000 people have been convicted for drug offences in our little ole' country. Over 60% of the convictions were for low-level drug offences such as possession, use, or use of a drug utensil. And who is bearing the brunt of all this? You guessed it - young people and Māori. Both groups get way more than their fair share of police attention, as do our menfolk.
A conviction can really upset your life, affecting your chances of getting a job, traveling overseas, or getting credit at the bank. It can also mess with your relationships, and with your mental health.
If that weren't enough to convince you, there are way better ways to deal with drug use: ones that will leave New Zealanders both healthier and happier.
Wouldn't changing our drug law send the 'wrong message' to kids?
Put it this way - criminalising drug use doesn't stop young people using drugs. For some, it even becomes a way to rebel. Here's something revolutionary - instead of waving a big stick, we could provide young people with honest information and engage in respectful conversations about drug use.
Our take on it is that moving to treat drug use as a health and social issue sends the message that adults actually care. Slapping on a conviction and making life even harder, doesn't.
If we remove criminal penalties for drug use, how would that look in practise?
Back in 2011 the Law Commission set out how things could work under a new system. A person found in possession of drugs for personal use would be offered a health referral and wouldn't get a criminal charge. Drug manufacture and dealing would remain illegal. The idea is that people get help if they need it, with everyone else kept out of the system entirely.
Would all drugs be treated the same way?
Yes. Even methamphetamine. Prohibition doesn't stop people using drugs, and it puts more barriers in place for people getting help. Instead, a health referral system would get people the help they need, much sooner than they can at the moment.
Why not just provide more treatment services?
Our current drug laws create stigma. People are often fearful of being prosecuted if they try and seek help. Providing treatment by itself isn’t enough – we need a supportive legal framework as well. Plus, just upping our treatment budget won't deal with all those convictions.