Dunne to UN: 'Bold' approach needed on drug policy

Dunne to UN: 'Bold' approach needed on drug policy

Peter Dunne has urged the world to be bolder when it comes to drug policy reform.

The Associate Minister of Health gave his statement to a special session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on the world drug problem this morning (NZ time).


In it, he criticised the "glacial pace" of drug reform and the small, incremental steps toward change over the past few decades.

"As encouraging as the shift has been, the fact is that compared to the global narcotic industries, we are moving at a glacial pace, hamstrung by an outdated overly punitive approach.

"I put it to those assembled here that globally, we need to be bolder in our approaches."

Mr Dunne said New Zealand was taking a proportional, compassionate and innovative approach to its drug laws, citing the 2015 National Drug Policy and the Psychoactive Substances Act, which governs synthetic drugs.

The Act requires makers to prove the safety of their products before they're allowed on the market.

But he warned "boldness" doesn't mean reckless, and policy changes must keep likelihood of harm at a minimum.

Mr Dunne also laid out New Zealand's position on medical cannabis, saying it must be subjected to the same tests as any other therapeutic pharmaceuticals.

"Identifying the greatest therapeutic benefits and determining the most appropriate ratios, dosage and delivery mechanisms will only come through a robust, scientific approach.

"Otherwise we are essentially flying blind and hoping for the best, an approach that flies in the face of evidence-based medicines policy."

He also called on the pharmaceutical industry to invest more in researching and developing cannabis-based products.

A major drug report was produced for the UN meeting, which called for non-violent minor drug offences to be decriminalised and labelled the 'war on drugs' a failure.

Currently in New Zealand, there is only one product which has been approved for use -- Sativex -- which needs Ministry of Health approval before a patient can use it.

Other pharmaceutical grade products which haven't been approved and non-pharmaceutical grade products need Mr Dunne's approval.

The New Zealand Drug Foundation says while the current process "isn't fatally flawed", there are a number of hoops for patients and their doctors to jump through.

Principal policy advisor Andrew Zielinski says the ideal system would be one which protects patients and allows them access to medicines, which could do some good and which are relatively straightforward to access.

He suggested a list of non-pharmaceutical grade products which could make the Health Ministry's job easier and allow access to a wider range of products.

A similar scheme to one in New South Wales, which allows police to use their discretion on charging adults with a terminal illness who use cannabis or cannabis products to relieve symptoms and carers who help them, could also be adopted.

Mr Dunne has already approved the one-off use of a number of medical cannabis products, including a spray for a patient with Tourette's Syndrome and for Nelson teenager Alex Renton, after he was hospitalised with seizures. He later died.

Former CTU boss Helen Kelly, who has terminal cancer, also applied to use Sativex but withdrew her application, saying the Ministry of Health was "asking impossible questions".