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The TSS Earnslaw Steamship on Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown (Photo by Julian Buchanan)

At the beginning of the decade the New Zealand Law Commission delivered a comprehensive and authoritative 350 page report reviewing New Zealand drug policy. Most significantly the Law Commission recommended that the Misuse of Drug Act be rescinded and replaced with a new law that would be managed by Health not the Criminal Justice System. The report recommended that all personal drug possession be dealt with by way of a caution and social dealing should not result in imprisonment. How has so much ground has been lost over the past decade.

In January 2011 New Zealand was on the cusp of transformational drug reform. Coinciding with my arrival to the country, the comprehensive and bold reform recommendations by the 2011 Law Commission Review of the Misuse of Drugs Act had just been published. It was a major and carefully considered study carried out by a well respected team. The three year independent report carried gravitas and authority. …

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It would be easy to imagine the cannabis referendum hinges on whether or not we think cannabis should be introduced to New Zealand, but this would be so misguided.

Cannabis is already widely available and used in New Zealand. Indeed, data from the Christchurch longitudinal study indicates 80% of Kiwis have used cannabis under the current regime of prohibition, criminalisation and strict law enforcement.

The latest World Drug Report from the UNODC indicates that despite tough law enforcement, globally the demand, and indeed the supply of illicit drugs, has not reduced. To the contrary, both the supply and demand for illicit drugs have gradually been increasing. …

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Image Courtesy of Gregg O’Connell

Every system of oppression is sustained by misinformation, propaganda and misrepresentation it serves to prevent people from realising the truth. The lies and fallacies that underpin prohibition are misleading received ideas that urgently need exposing and challenging. Reform will founder if it colludes with these prohibition paradigms:

1. “There is a war on drugs” — there has never been a war on drugs, or a war on drug users — what we have is a war on certain sections of society who use unapproved drugs.

2. “There is global drug problem” — there is no global drug problem, what we have is a devastating global drug policy problem caused by prohibitionist policies. …

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The global drug policy problem

International ‘drug’ prohibition is an archaic system rooted in the 1950s that was consolidated in the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. It has had a devastating global impact on individuals, families, communities and countries. In decades to come, it will be remembered as one of the most arbitrary, barbaric and brutal systems of oppression in recent history.

Offensive prejudices and beliefs prevalent in the 1950s directed towards indigenous people, homosexuality, black people, women, mental illness and learning disabilities resulted in institutionalised oppression of these groups. State sanctioned discrimination legitimised and normalised oppression of these groups at a structural, cultural and at an individual level. Thankfully, seven decades later these offensive prejudices, nurtured by ignorance, misinformation and lies, have been successfully exposed and challenged, and such attitudes are no longer socially acceptable or state-sanctioned, however, the legacy of oppression still pervades and there remains much work to be done. …


Julian Buchanan DipSW, MA, PhD

Retired Professor, international expert in drug policy, researcher, public speaker, writer and ex UN advisor.

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