Drug reformers to converge on New Zealand

SHABNAM DASTGHEIB
Last updated 14:50 01/03/2014

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A pioneering act which scientifically regulates legal highs rather than banning them has attracted global drug reformers to New Zealand.

The reformers meet in Auckland this month to discuss the Psychoactive Substances Act and advocate further drug reform.

The act offers a world-first scientific and health-oriented approach to legal highs. The British Government was reportedly looking to New Zealand as a positive model.

Speaker Rick Doblin, a long-time drug advocate and founder of the US-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, said it was a basic right that people be able to access their own states of consciousness.

''While these are substances which people use for recreation, they also use them for spirituality," he said. I hope we learn in the United States that we should focus on reduction of harm and purity of drugs.''

Many were looking to New Zealand as a pioneer after the enactment of the act last year, Star Trust general manager Grant Hall said.

A key part of the new legislation has been the ability to remove products from the market that cause harm. Five have already been removed.

Before the act came into force about 200 legal high products were sold from 4000 outlets throughout the country to people of all ages. This has dropped to 47 products sold from 170 outlets and it's now illegal to sell or give these products to anyone under 18.

Hall said regulation meant there would be a minimal black market for the drugs and that many substances would be safer than alcohol and tobacco.

''We don't want to make the same mistakes as big tobacco and big alcohol. We would ask the critics to look at the evidence and show us where prohibition has ever worked.''

Doblin said policing costs and back-logs in the justice system for illegal drugs made no sense when alcohol and tobacco were legal. He said prohibition as a concept was counter-productive and there was a contradiction in New Zealand in banning drugs which were safer than some legal highs.

The Law Commission estimated the annual total social costs from the harmful consumption of illegal drugs in New Zealand was $1,585 billion. Most of this cost encompassed crime costs, justice resources. Medical treatment was $1,191.7 billion.

The Commission said in its 2011 report that people were frequently processed through the criminal justice system without having the underlying issues of their drug and alcohol addiction addressed.

Hall said the act set up a world first model for scientific drug regulation: ''The world is looking at our model to see if it works. There are broader issues around drug policy reform we are also looking at.''

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Speakers include Ethan Nadelmann of New York's Drug Policy Alliance and Amanda Fielding of Britain's Beckley Foundation.

MPs from National, Labour and the Greens will debate drug regulation on the day.

The conference will be held on March 20.

- Fairfax Media

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