Our government - progressing backwards like a boss - Tactical Ninja
Jul. 16th, 2013
09:02 am - Our government - progressing backwards like a boss
So the NZ Government has passed the Psychoactive Substances Act, which will purportedly regulate the market for legal highs. I am giving the whole thing a giant side-eye, as some of you are already aware.
The question is, will the Act provide a framework for sensible regulation of the market for recreational substances, or is it a way of effectively banning everything that exists now and might exist in the future? I hope for the former but under our current government, cynically expect the latter. Our government doesn't have a very good track record for progressive attitude to drugs, and I really wish the world would stop applauding this legislation and assess it critically in the context of what else is happening in the field in New Zealand.
Here is what Victoria University's Head of Criminology, Julian Buchanan, has to say about it:
"This model of 'regulation' sits alongside New Zealand's 'progressive and forward thinking harm reduction drug policy' that:
a) Is about to roll out drug testing people on benefits and stop the benefit of those who repeatedly test positive
b) Will not prescribe injectable substitute drugs,
c) Has no naloxone distribution
d) Has no drug consumption rooms
e) Promotes employer drug testing
f) Has just invested $2m on US styled Drug Abstinence Courts.
g) Refuses to allow self medication with raw cannabis and only support pharmaceutical cannabis spray in exceptional cases for patients with Multiple Sclerosis.
h) Increased arrests for cannabis by 75% between 2011 to 2012.
Faced with frustration and cost over endlessly adding new legal highs to the New Zealand Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, have the government pulled off a prohibitionist master stroke and prohibited all legal highs in one move - placing the onus (and cost) on the industry? Of course the government may actually approve and tax some low risk substances which then allows them to sit alongside other government approved drugs (alcohol and tobacco), but this 'regulation' model perpetuates the current failed model - in that possession of anything not approved by the state is prohibited and will be policed and punished. Regulating drugs is much needed and welcomed but policing and punishing people for using substances that are not approved by the state is a retrograde and worrying move.
Here is the small print identifying worrying clauses in the NZ Psychoactive Substance Act 2013:
Clause 62 Supply of unapproved substance is an offence subject to a max of 2 years prison
Clause 63 Personal possession of any unapproved substance is an offence subject to a max. penalty of $500
Clause 69 Empowers the police or appointed 'Enforcement Officers' to enter premises without a warrant on suspicion of possess with intent to supply an unapproved substances
Clause 11 The Advisory Committee to oversee new approved and unapproved 'legalhighs' specifies only medical personnel 'pharmacology, toxicology, neuroscience & medicine' - no mention of drug worker, drug user, sociologist, criminologist etc."
The man says it all, really. The thing that gets up my nose about this is that the state claims to take a harm reduction stance when legislating drugs, yet with this Act they have introduced a harm that previously did not exist - that of making possession a punishable offence. Think about it - the main aim of this legislation is to regulate the market, and to make sure that people are not selling potentially dangerous things. Almost the entire Act is about licences for supplying substances - how to get one, what's required to prove a substance poses low risk of harm, and what the sanctions are for people found to be distributing products without a licence. And smack in the middle of this stuff about licencing, sale and the market, they've decided it's a good idea to punish folks for possession.
It beats me why, if you want to stop people selling something, you'd punish the buyer, eh? I know the thinking - the threat of punishment will deter people from buying it, right? Except it doesn't, which is why so many people are currently incarcerated for possession offences. All it really does is add another risk of potential harm. Now, if you use these things, you're not only risking the harms the government claims it's trying to prevent, but you also risk the harms the government has slapped on for the sake of looking like they're doing something about the 'problem'. Sure, target sanctions at suppliers if you want to regulate supply. But punishing users? Plz explain to me exactly what this will achieve.
Harm reduction my arse.