New Zealand Psychoactive Substance Act 2013 unites prohibitionists & drug law reformers - how?
Is this a sensible and long overdue move towards drug regulation or is just a clever pragmatic way to end the legalhighs cat and mouse game by prohibiting all unapproved legal highs in one single legislative move?
Does promoting & taxing government approved drugs while policing and punishing government unapproved drugs - sound a familiar model to you? Is that what you'd call regulation? It seems worryingly similar to the present divide between alcohol and cannabis.
This NZ model of 'regulation' was passed with overwhelming support 119 votes to 1. This must reflect a progressive and forward thinking country? I'm afraid not, it reflects a messy Act that has become a bit of a 'pig in a poke'. Prohibitionists supported the Act believing they were banning drugs and keeping nasty legalhighs away from young people while drug reformers thought they were moving forward with regulation. Hear Peter Dunne the Health Minister explain the rationale for Act http://sco.lt/8iv5AP
Here is the small print identifying worrying clauses in the NZ Psychoactive Substance Bill that despite a number of protestations (including my written https://www.academia.edu/3487019/Submission_to_Health_Select_Committee_on_NZ_Psychoactive_Substances_Bill_Regulating_Legal_Highs_ and oral submission) were kept in the Act:
Supply of unapproved substance is an offence subject to a max of 2 years prison
Personal possession of any unapproved substance is an offence subject to a max. penalty of $500
Empowers the police or appointed 'Enforcement Officers' to enter premises without a warrant on suspicion of possess with intent to supply an unapproved substances
The Advisory Committee to oversee new approved and unapproved 'legalhighs' specifies only medical personnel 'pharmacology, toxicology, neuroscience & medicine' not mention of drug workers, drug user, sociologist, criminologist etc.
It is worth understanding the context of this drug policy to understand how it might be interpreted and delivered. This model of 'regulation' sits alongside New Zealand's 'progressive and forward thinking harm reduction drug policy' that:
a) Has rolled out drug testing people on benefits and will stop the benefit of those who repeatedly test positive
b) Will not prescribe injectable substitute drugs,
c) Has no naloxone distribution
d) Has no drug consumption rooms
e) Promotes employer drug testing
f) Has just invested $2m on US styled Drug Abstinence Courts.
g) Refuses to allow self medication with raw cannabis and only support pharmaceutical cannabis spray in exceptional cases for patients with Multiple Sclerosis.
h) Increased arrests for cannabis by 75% between 2011 to 2012
Faced with frustration and cost over endlessly adding new legal highs to the New Zealand Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 has the government pulled off a prohibitionist master stroke and prohibited all legal highs in one move placing the onus (and cost) on the industry?
Of course the government may actually approve and tax some low risk substances which then allows them to sit alongside other government approved drugs (alcohol and tobacco), but this 'regulation' model perpetuates the current failed model - in that possession of anything not approved by the state is prohibited and will be policed and punished.
Regulating drugs is much needed and welcomed but policing and punishing people for using substances that are not approved by the State is a retrograde and worrying move. Imagine if the logic was extended to alcohol, food, vitamins and minerals? It should be a human right for people to consume what they want without get busted by the police.
We need to decouple drugs from the control of law enforcement agencies, we need drug regulation but this is not the sort of regulation I welcome nor one to shout about or adopt elsewhere.