The idea that we should stop taking a punitive approach to drug use is not a new one for Māori.
It's easy to see why. The evidence is clear that the negative consequences of drug use fall heavily and disproportionately on tangata whenua. Most Māori have seen the human cost of our drug law first-hand. It could be an uncle in prison, or a nephew wasting their life away on the couch because their criminal record stops them getting a job. Or it could be a favourite cousin unable to get mental health and addiction support.
Drug law reform is a Māori issue
Statistics can be abstract, but behind each number lies a person and their whānau. When it comes to the effects of our drug law, it's clear that Māori are unfairly carrying the burden. It's a triple whammy, because Māori are more likely to suffer harm from drug use, less likely to be able to access health treatment, and more likely to be convicted than other groups:
- 41% of those charged for minor drug offences are Māori. And more than 50 percent of people imprisoned for those same offences are Māori.
- In 2017, 1577 Māori were convicted for low level drug use.
- Māori are around twice as likely to have used cannabis in the last 12 months than other groups, and three times as likely to have used amphetamines.
- Māori adults seek treatment from alcohol and other drug services at more than twice the rate of non-Māori.
People who struggle with drugs need a cloak of support and care, not punishment and stigma.
Currently the Government spends around three times more on drug-related enforcement than they do on health interventions. Frontline organisations in the addictions treatment sector are stretched far beyond what they are resourced to do. Everyone knows someone who has struggled to get help when they needed it.
Meanwhile, we continue to prosecute Māori for drug use in huge numbers every year. Shifting resources away from police, prisons, and the courts and into health, treatment and prevention is one of the best things we can do to reduce the harm caused by drugs in Māori communities.
We are calling on the Prime Minister to stop convicting people for drug use and instead offer them health and social assistance if they need it. We're also asking her to double our investment in alcohol and other drug-related prevention, harm reduction and treatment.
Drug law reform needs a strong Māori voice
Drug law reform should be about true and enduring justice for the people who are the survivors of the war on drugs. In Aotearoa that means ensuring that Māori voices, and solutions, are at the forefront of conversations about drug law reform. That's going to be especially important as we head towards the cannabis referendum this Septemeber.
Whānau, hapū and iwi Māori should be central in designing the regulatory model for legal cannabis. It’s important we advocate for a tightly regulated market and much greater resources for the Māori health sector, as well as investigating ways to ensure that there is economic justice for Māori communities.
Help us ensure tangata whenua are leading the debate by sharing a reason why we should change our drug laws or by checking out our guide on how to have convincing kōrero on cannabis law reform with whānau and friends.