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Drug Law Reform Policy - Towards a Harm Reduction Model

Kevin Hague MP
Kevin Hague MP
kevin [dot] hague [at] parliament [dot] govt [dot] nz (Email)

Download the Drug Law Reform Policy as PDF

Principles

The Green Party recognises that:

  • A rational drug policy is important for society as a whole;
  • A drug-free lifestyle is the healthiest;
  • Some individuals in society will choose to use alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other drugs regardless of their legal status;
  • Current Government policies in relation to alcohol, cannabis and other drugs are failing to minimise harm and are instead creating a further set of problems;
  • There are adverse health, social and economic consequences from the use of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other drugs for both individuals and society;
  • Dependence on prescription drugs is also a problem;
  • Not all drug use is abusive or problematic

Goals

The specific goals of this policy are to:

  • Reduce the size and profits of the illicit drug market by the greatest amount; and
  • Provide the greatest level of harm reduction for society and for users of legal and illegal drugs; and
  • Reduce alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other drug abuse.

Defining Harm Reduction

The Greens use the term "harm reduction" to mean a policy or program directed towards reducing the adverse health, social and economic consequences of drug use to the community and to the individual user.

Steps towards Harm Reduction and Drug Law Reform

The Green Party proposes that harm reduction programmes and drug law reform be carefully implemented over a period of time to allow each stage to be monitored, evaluated and, if necessary, modified.

Immediate and Medium Term Steps for Harm Reduction

1. Enforcement and medical treatment

The Green Party will:

  1. Ensure the police are told that it is the Government's priority to place the prosecution of crimes such as domestic violence and violent offending ahead of prosecution for personal cannabis possession while new legislation is enacted.
  2. Enable registered medical practitioners and specialists to prescribe cannabis products for severely ill patients.

2. Drug education

The Green Party will:

  1. Ensure that a comprehensive and effective drug education programme is available to schools and communities, which promotes a drug-free lifestyle as the healthiest and informs young people of the risks of using cannabis, alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
  2. Support a requirement for schools to provide a rolling programme of evidence-based alcohol education from Year 7 to Year 13 , as part of a broader programme of drug education.
  3. Expand both youth and adult drug education and ensure they are based on approaches that have been shown to:
    • Be successful in reducing drug abuse;
    • Be consistent with the approach taken by the Government's 2002 Youth Development Strategy which focuses on building young people's sense of self-esteem and connection with their community;
    • Include information on the hazards of using cannabis, alcohol, tobacco and other drugs (legal and illegal), "dope-driving", "drink driving", the effects of both short-term and chronic use, and the hazards of the use of two or more drugs together.
  4. Ensure that anyone driving under the influence of alcohol, arrested while drunk or admitted to Accident and Emergency ( A & E ) for alcohol related incidents is given the option of attending an alcohol education course or alcohol and drug counselling.
  5. Increase funding for alcohol and drug counseling services (including training) particularly for people working with high risk communities.
  6. Establish and adequately fund a Ministerial Advisory Group on Drug Education, to develop and implement measures for evaluating drug education programmes and to improve delivery of drug education messages, particularly to young people.

3. Alcohol Specific initiatives

A. Alcohol limit for driving

Drivers with higher blood-alcohol levels are more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than ones with lower blood alcohol. While a zero tolerance for blood alcohol could be impractical to enforce (because some medicines contain alcohol and because trace amounts of alcohol can remain in the blood for days after drinking), the Green Party supports a legal limit for blood alcohol being set at below the medical definition of intoxication. This is currently 50 mg alcohol per 100 ml of blood.

The Green Party supports :

  1. A reduction in the blood alcohol limit from 80 mg to 50 mg per 100 ml or lower.

B. Alcohol advertising

Companies use advertising and sponsorship to encourage people to consume more alcohol than they would otherwise choose to consume. Public Health research[1] shows that prohibiting the advertising of alcohol products leads to a reduction in people abusing alcohol, and decreased relapse by alcoholics. It is particularly desirable to to prohibit alcohol advertising and sponsorship that is aimed at young people and advertising that associates alcohol with sport, sex and being cool.

The Green Party will:

  1. Phase out all broadcast, billboard and print (including point of display) advertising of alcoholic beverages, and sponsorship by alcohol brands
  2. Increase funding for sponsorship funds to fill the gap left by phasing out alcohol sponsorship.

C. Health Information

The health impacts of alcohol are wide ranging, both in the short and long term and include brain performance, liver disease and mental illness. In their 2011 review, Labelling Logic[2], Food Standards Australia New Zealand makes a case for more comprehensive labelling of alcohol and pre-mixed beverages containing alcohol.

The Green Party will:

  1. Require accurate health information to be displayed on all alcohol products.

D. Off-Licenses

The display of alcohol in supermarkets and other general stores functions as a form of advertising. It also makes it easier for people to think of it as a foodstuff rather than a drug to be treated with caution.. However, the availability of wine and beer in supermarkets reduces the demand for liquor stores and the number of people who go into them, thus reducing the accessibility and visibility of higher-alcohol drinks.

The Green Party will:

  1. Require supermarkets and general stores that sell alcohol to display it in a separate space from other groceries, so that shoppers are not forced to pass by the alcohol section on the way to other parts of the supermarket.
  2. Set a minimum price for alcohol in order to stop the sale of alcohol as a loss leader.
  3. Require training to be given to supermarket tellers around the sale of alcohol products.
  4. Allow shops that are too small to maintain a separate space to sell alcohol from a price list, not display shelf.

E. Licensing Trusts

Where Licensing Trusts exist in New Zealand, they generally have a monopoly on selling alcohol for consumption outside the premises, and also a monopoly on running bars. The current law around licensing trusts allows for them to be set up by referendum, and local people can petition to have a referendum on establishing or abolishing a licensing trust.

The Green Party supports:

  1. The establishment and continuation of licensing trusts, so long as encouraging responsible attitudes to alcohol is part of their mission statement.

F. Alcohol taxes

Estimates of the costs of alcohol abuse to our country range from $4B to $8B per year. Excise tax on alcohol currently raises $0.75B per year. The rest of the cost of alcohol abuse to society is already being paid by all New Zealanders, much of it through general taxation. In addition, there is strong evidence that heavy drinkers respond to high prices by drinking less, which in turn reduces harm.

The Green Party will:

  1. Replace the current alcohol tax regime with a volumetric alcohol tax for all drinks containing alcohol, which is a tax that is directly proportional to the quantity of pure alcohol in a drink. (Currently wine is only taxed per litre of alcohol if it has an alcohol content of more than 14%, lower alcohol levels are taxed on total volume of the drink).
  2. Progressively raise the rate of alcohol tax to cover a greater proportion of the costs incurred to the government and society through alcohol abuse.

G. Purchase age for alcohol

The Green Party supports a harm minimisation approach to drug use, rather than a blanket ban on their use by adults. To select out young adults to make it illegal for them to purchase alcohol on the basis of age is discriminatory, as adults of all ages abuse alcohol, There is also a risk that it will be counterproductive as it punishes responsible drinkers along with irresponsible ones.

The Green Party supports:

12. Keeping the purchase age for alcohol at 18.

13. Strongly enforcing the current law for the illegal sale and supply of alcohol to minors.

5. Cannabis specific initiatives

The Green Party will:

  1. Eliminate penalties for personal cannabis use for people aged 18 years and over.
  2. Introduce a legal age limit of 18 years for personal cannabis use (this is consistent with alcohol). Those under 18 found in possession of cannabis would be treated in a way that is consistent with the Government's 2002 Youth Development Strategy.
  3. Define in law the limits on growing cannabis for personal use.
  4. Ensure it remains an offence to drive while under the influence of cannabis.
  5. Ensure that cannabis smoking is covered in the Smokefree Environments Act.
  6. Commercial cultivation and trading of marijuana for profit would remain illegal, and areas currently relying on large scale illegal cultivation for their income will be assisted in making a transition to other work.

6. Drug addiction treatment

The Green Party will:

  1. Continue support for smoking cessation programmes.
  2. Support the ongoing implementation of the 1998 report Blueprint for Mental Health Services in New Zealand.
  3. Support funding increases to allow the service provision targets in the Blueprint to be met and where necessary exceeded
  4. Support strong integration of, and better resourcing for, mental health and substance misuse services.

7. Pharmaceutical Drugs

The Green Party will:

  1. Require Pharmac to take a lead role in seeking to reduce the inappropriate prescribing of drugs such as anti-depressants, through nation-wide education campaigns, and working with doctors and pharmacies.
  2. Place tighter controls on the highly addictive classes of drugs, and work with doctors and the wider community to educate them on safer alternatives and the risks of dependence.
  3. Ban the direct to consumer advertising of pharmaceuticals, because this practice drives up the demand for pharmaceuticals.

8. Longer Term Steps for Harm Reduction

Monitoring

The effects of our drug education programmes, drug addiction treatment programmes, public health measures, pharmaceutical controls and the removal of penalties for personal use of cannabis will be monitored and evaluated.This monitoring and evaluation would be considered as part of the overall review of drug policy below. Based on the results of this monitoring and evaluation, and recent reviews of the Sale of Liquor Act, the Misuse of Drugs Act, and a review of the Smokefree Environments Act, the Green Party will:

  1. Develop integrated, effective legislation in order to:
  • Reduce harm and cost to society and individuals from drug use and abuse; and
  • Enhance people's capacity for informed choice.

[1] Casswell, S and Maxwell A (2005) "Regulation of Alcohol Marketing: A Global View" Journal of Public Health Policy 26, 343-358

[2] www.foodlabellingreview.gov.au/internet/foodlabelling/publishing.nsf/content/48C0548D80E715BCCA257825001E5DC0/$File/Labelling%20Logic_2011.pdf

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