Thank you for your message expressing your opposition to the proposed ban on benzylpiperazine ( BZP) and related substances.
As I am sure you are aware there is a sharp division of public opinion over whether or not these pills are harmful and the extent to which there needs to be regulation. People are entitled to their opinions but I cannot proceed on such a basis nor would I wish to. My approach is evidence based and is informed by the work of Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs (EACD), comprising specialists in the fields of pharmacology, toxicology, psychology, drug and alcohol treatment, community medicine, pharmaceuticals, public health, border control, justice, police, and a representative of consumers of drug treatment services.
There is a fairly straightforward procedure for me to follow which is set out in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. I am bound by law to comply with the steps laid down in that Act if I am advised that a substance appears to be harmful or subject to abuse. I have followed that process in this case. We have already taken some steps to legislate on this issue by imposing a preliminary cautionary regulatory regime under the Act.
These law changes were a result of a 2004 report on BZP, which was completed by the EACD. BZP, which is the most common active ingredient found in what have become known as party pills, has been legally available in New Zealand for some time, in particular as a veterinary medication (it has been used as a cattle drench). The EACD recommended that there should be more regulation and controls over BZP (restrictions were placed on the age of sale and on print and electronic media advertising). But the committee did not recommend at that juncture, on the evidence available, that BZP be classified as a controlled drug, and therefore made illegal. They did however recommend that more research into BZP should be commenced with a reassessment of BZP once the research was completed.
The results from the four research projects which I commissioned arising from this recommendation have now become available. The EACD noted that the studies have now documented real harm, inclusive of seizures which, although rare, have the potential to cause death. Therefore, the Committee’s advice to me was that BZP, phenylpiperazine, and related substances should be classified as Class C1 controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.
A public consultation on this recommendation closed in March and an analysis of submissions is now available, along with further information on the National Drug Policy web page (www.ndp.govt.nz). The Ministry of Health has also consulted with a number of other interested parties and government agencies, including all of those who make up the Inter Agency Committee on Drugs
Following my consideration of the information we now have available the Cabinet has adopted my recommendation that we should accept the advice of the EACD and impose a ban on BZP and related party pills. This ban will operate immediately following the passage of legislation, which I expect to be passed by the end of this year. The manufacture, supply, sale, export or import of BZP and related substances will be illegal immediately following that date. There will be an amnesty for the offence of possession or use at a level below 5 grams for a six month period following the passage of the Bill.
As I remarked at the outset people are entitled to their opinions but once I became aware as Minister of the research into the harmful effects of BZP and the concerns of the EACD regarding this substance I needed to act, and I have done so accordingly.
I have also initiated a review of the Misuse of Drugs Act to be completed by December 2008. If you do not like the processes set down in the current Act, by which I am bound, then you can make your views known in the context of that review. I accept the advice of the EACD that BZP poses a risk of harm and while I note your view to the contrary I do not share it.
Associate Minister of Health
MP for Wigram and Leader of the Progressive Party
OK, so there's nothing new in there. I replied thus:
"Thank you for your reply to my expression of opinion on the issue of the prohibition of BZP.
This passage in the response interests me:
"The studies have now documented real harm, inclusive of seizures which, although rare, have the potential to cause death."
I am curious about this in the context of alcohol. Considering that there is actual direct evidence of links between alcohol and cirrhosis of the liver, never mind other illnesses and incontravertible evidence that people can and do die as a direct result of the consumption of alcohol, be it by poisoning or by risky behaviour while under the influence of it, what makes BZP so dangerous that it must be prohibited while alcohol is freely available to adults?
There is another passage in your missive which points out 'potential for abuse' as a reason for the ban. Again, I use alcohol as an example of a recreational drug that not only has 'potential for abuse', but has evidence to demonstrate widespread abuse - yet is not prohibited.
Again I ask, what is the difference and where is the evidence that demonstrates that BZP is more dangerous than alcohol?
I would posit that the reasons for this ban are not to do with evidence of danger at all. At least, based on any evidence I've seen, alcohol should be banned before BZP.
For the third time, I ask, what is the reason for this substance being banned while far more dangerous drugs remain legal?
Also, please supply me with evidence that prohibition works as a technique for harm reduction. What will the government be doing to reduce harm for those people who will now be using illegal substances with no regulation of the industry, and for those who become addicted to P (a truly dangerous substance) because they no longer have the legal BZP as a safer alternative?
I am very concerned that this legislation will cause more harm than it seeks to alleviate, simply by driving drug use underground, where the users can't be protected by regulation. History shows that it will not stop people using, simply make their use more dangerous.
I seek answers to these questions from those who would decide what drugs I am allowed to use recreationally, based on scanty and debatable evidence of potential danger.
Regards, and thanks again for your reply."
Seven minutes later, I received this:
"The fact that alcohol is dangerous if it is abused tells us nothing about
the dangers of BZP. THose dangers existed and were being addressed long
before BZP became available. The arguments in favour of the banning of BZP
were set out in my response and stand in their own right. Alcohol is a
different matter because it has a very different history and must be dealt
with in the context of its consumption over millenia. I personally would
ban alcohol if it was a feasible proposition, but as any realist is aware
it is not, and so other ways must be found for dealing with the abuse of
If you do not wish to accept the evidence setting out the dangers of BZP on
the website to which I referred you then that is your business, but the
evidence is plain enough and perfectly sufficient for me to act. It would,
indeed, have been highly irresponsible of me to do otherwise."
In other words, here's another response that has been written for me by my spin doctors. "In the case of this argument, say this, Jim." Also, you may have an opinion but I can't be bothered arguing it intelligently with you, because, you know, I have 199,000 other people to send these things to.
*cough* Yeah, I'm being facetious. But I'm getting really tired of the "You're entitled to your opinion but it doesn't actually count because I disagree and I'm in power" response.
So anyway, my reply:
"Thank you for your prompt reply.
Unfortunately, the argument that BZP is being banned based on its own merits does not stand up in the face of so many other drugs that have actually killed people, being either freely available or regulated rather than banned. I agree that it would be impossible to impose a ban on alcohol. However, the fact remains that alcohol is more dangerous, more open to abuse and has caused more societal problems than BZP.
I do not accept that BZP is dangerous enough to warrant a ban when alcohol is clearly not considered so. What about tobacco? Regulation and education have worked to reduce the use of tobacco. It can't be produced here. It kills people. Yet, banning this would be political suicide. So is BZP being banned simply because it's possible to ban it? I understand that the majority of people in New Zealand take the attitude that recreational drugs are bad (while sipping a wine with their dinner), and most have little to no education in the matter aside from what is fed to them through the media - thus, would be likely to support the ban of another drug that has been painted as 'bad' to them. Mainstream New Zealand would probably support you if a referendum were had tomorrow. So the people you are alienating by doing this are a minority of around 5%. I find that interesting in the face of how many people would stop voting for any political party that banned alcohol.
Also, your argument for banning BZP doesn't stand up against the overwhelming evidence that prohibition does not work to reduce harm.
I hear and understand that you feel it necessary to legislate against something that has been found to be 'rarely potentially dangerous' (your words), but you have not answered my questions regarding the ongoing problems that your ban is likely to create, and what the government plans to do to help people who will no longer have a safer alternative to P and other drugs that actually are harmful. I understand that the government will not be able to regulate the illegal market that they have created, but I would like to know what safety nets will be put in place to catch the people who suffer because of this legislation.
I'm not really expecting a reply to this. Why not? Because I have yet, in any of my reading on the subject, to see acknowledgement from government that prohibition doesn't work. And if they were to actually put measures in place to address the harm this ban is likely to cause, they'd have to admit that banning a substance could have negative effects in this way.
On Saturday night, there was supposed to be a Drum n Bass gig at SubNine. It was cancelled at the last minute, and the bouncer from Attic ended up having to deal with a group of 10 or so teenagers who had tickets but no gig to go to. They were on P. He was very very lucky that there was a large group of partygoers there with him, because it was looking like turning very nasty. Meanwhile, what were the partygoers on? BZ fucking P, mainly. They were, between them, able to defuse the situation and the teenagers left.
*mutter* I wish politicians occasionally showed up in the real world..
(i will update if i do get a reply)