It’s time to replace NZ’s ‘Frankenstein’ drug laws after years of ‘hacking’ at it — Chlöe Swarbrick

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick says New Zealand’s “Frankenstein” drug laws had been “hacked at” enough, and that it is time to overhaul it because it lacks clarity.  

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The Greens’ drug law reform spokesperson says a health-based approach is needed to tackle substance abuse and addiction. Source: 1 NEWS

The party’s drug law reform spokesperson told 1 NEWS a “repeal and replace” of the Misuse of Drugs Act is needed because it has become outdated to the point it requires a number of amendments to incrementally change it.

For example, provisions for accessing medical cannabis were introduced in 2018, police discretion for personal drug possession was affirmed in law in 2019, and permanent festival drug checking legislation is expected to pass this year.

“We have a Frankenstein of law that even the police on the ground are sometimes saying they don’t know how to appropriately enforce.

“There needs to be clarity on a health-based approach to solving these problems of drug abuse and addiction,” Swarbrick said. 

Her comments come as dozens of social service providers and health experts called on the Government to treat drug use as a health issue in an open letter. 

The National Hauora Coalition’s Dr Rawiri Jansen told Breakfast today he wanted to see an end to prosecutions from low-level drug offences, and move towards a "compassionate stance" on drug use. 

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Now is the right time for change, Dr Rawiri Jansen told Breakfast. Source: Breakfast

Swarbrick also pointed to the findings of the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry and expert Justice Advisory Group, both of which were commissioned by the Government and recommended a health-based approach to tackling drug addiction and use. 

“Both of those [reports] say, at a baseline, we need an approach to substances that no longer places people on a pathway of the criminal justice system and actually treats the core root of the problem," Swarbrick said.

For example, drug use might be driven by a sense of hopelessness, a lack of opportunity or poverty, she said. 

She said it is “incredibly important” there is cross-party collaboration on the issue, with even many conservative-leaning MPs disagreeing with criminalisation. 

Swarbrick said the debate about drug laws should continue, even after last year’s cannabis referendum failed, because the results were very close and the vote was specific to that proposed piece of legislation. 

On Breakfast earlier today, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she wants police to take a health-based approach to drug possession, so long as it doesn't go against the public's interest.

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The Prime Minister says the criminal justice system should focus on the supply of drugs. Source: Breakfast

That's why the amendment on police discretion was made, she said.

"We do want to continue to take a really focused ... criminal justice approach on supply. That's different." 

But Ardern acknowledged police discretion is subjective. So she has asked the Police Minister if there needs to be an investigation into how the law is working on the ground.