An emotional Chloe Swarbrick has called on fellow MPs across the political spectrum to decriminalise drug use in New Zealand, "to see harm reduced" and "to stop unnecessary deaths".
Her comments to a largely empty Parliament last night came hours after a Drug Foundation report explained how a "health-approach" to drugs - rather than a criminal approach - would benefit New Zealand by at least $450m a year.
The report, produced by economist Shamubeel Eaqub, suggested a net social benefit of $34m to $83m from replacing the Misuse of Drugs Act with a health-based approach, figures Swarbrick quoted in her speech.
"I am calling on MPs across this house in all parties today to support sensible drug regulation that stops harm and prevents unnecessary deaths.
"If politicians are not willing to do that …we cannot pretend we are treating this as a health issue," Ms Swarbrick said.
"And let's be honest with ourselves, the increasing penalties, the punishment pathway, the war on drugs simply has not worked."
She continued: "Every few months MPs in this house are asked by the media when they last smoked cannabis.
"There's a wee chuckle and a few ums and ahs and then we all gaze off into the distance and refer back to our university days.
"But what about our fellow New Zealanders, what about those who weren't so fortunate to go to university.
"What if you can’t choose to leave illegal drug consumption in the midst of time.
"What if those drugs had killed us.
"What if we were strapped with drug convictions.
"What if it took away our future.
"But it didn't – for us.
"And we’re here – a substantial number of us who have personally admitted to breaking the law and consuming illegal drugs.
"And now we preside over that law, which penalises people who engaged in exactly the same behaviour for doing what we did.
"I am calling on MPs across this house to move to support an end to punishment for people who use drugs and provide them with resourcing and support.
"Because if politicians are not willing to do that, we cannot pretend we are treating this as a health issue.
"We cannot pretend that we care about people who use drugs and the harm that they experience.
"If we continue to criminalise drug users we are condemning them for not living up to the moral standards that we ourselves admit that we are not able to meet."
Proposals in the report
The Drug Foundation's report proposals include decriminalising the use and possession of all illicit drugs with supply remaining illegal, legalising cannabis (both use and supply) and increasing treatment and reduction services and education around drugs.
Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said New Zealand had been struggling with it's drug issues, "trying to get treatment, all of the lack of support in communities, the fact that we have waiting lists, the fact we only provide services to 50,000 New Zealanders a year when we know there's another 100,000 New Zealanders who want help".
"Wishing drug use away, by banning it, rather than accepting many people use drugs regardless, doesn't work," the report states.
"Worse, exposing people who use drugs to the criminal world and prisons because of drug use, or not providing sufficient help with complex health and social issues, can lead to further compounding problems."
The Government is preparing a referendum on legalising cannabis for personal use by the next election.