NZ Drug foundation wants penalties for drug use removed

The New Zealand Drug Foundation wants penalties for drug use to be removed, and for New Zealand to follow Canada's lead and regulate the sale of cannabis.

Executive director Ross Bell told a symposium at Parliament on Wednesday that the Government should "licence who can grow cannabis, who can sell it, who can buy it, how it's advertised, what the age restriction is".

He says our current approach to managing drug use isn't working - and it should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal one. "We're putting all our money into criminalizing people and people who need help are missing out."

The Māori Party agrees.  Co-Leader Marama Fox said a college in Napier recently banned a student from starting at the school after he tested positive for drugs and all that does is deny him an education.

"Here is a young man who wants to be at school, let him be at school, it should be treated as a health and safety issue," Ms Fox said. She says too many young people are incarcerated over minor drug offences.

"It was something he'd done in his own time, not that I'm condoning that behaviour at all, this is not about the drug taking, it's about a young man who wants to be in education and his family want him to be in education."

Canada's planning on legalising and regulating cannabis from July next year.  The former head of Canada's task force, Anne McLellan, told the symposium that prohibition doesn't work.

Mr Bell wants the Government to help, rather than criminalize, drug users. "Instead of processing people through arrests and the courts and prison and parole, have a health system in place, where someone who's using drugs can end up in front of a health worker who can talk to them about their drug use," he said.

"This is addressing the huge barriers a conviction has on someone's life, barriers to getting a job, getting an education, barriers to travel."

But the Government is not onboard. Prime Minister Bill English said on Wednesday "I just haven't seen a convincing case for legalising highly damaging drugs."

The Drug Foundation's wants to move the debate from whether we should change our drug laws to how we should change them.