Best way to solve New Zealand's drug problem is to decriminalise them, former drug kingpin says

A former drug kingpin believes the best way to solve New Zealand's narcotics problem is to decriminalise them.

It comes after a person was arrested last week for allegedly smuggling 62kg of methamphetamine into the country. 

But former drug kingpin Billy Macfarlane said the bust was hardly scratching the surface.

Now leading a drug rehab programme, Macfarlane said it was time New Zealand followed the lead of other countries that have decriminalised drugs and seen positive change.

"We've got to look at the bigger picture of what's going on with drug importation, right? I think there are hundreds of kilos coming in, if not thousands of kilos coming in every year - we're only catching a few of these shipments," Macfarlane told AM.

"In my opinion, we need to change our focus and put the ambulance at the top of the cliff and start dealing with the issues; the social issues, the societal issues that are bringing people into the drug world. At the moment, we're thinking we can imprison our way out of the problem."

Macfarlane believes countries that treat drugs as a health issue, as opposed to a criminal issue, have been successful.

"Over in Amsterdam, they've done things like open cafes and let people go in there and smoke cannabis," he said. "If we had places like that in New Zealand, straight away all the tinny houses would be out of business.

"If we had places where people could go and take drugs in a safe way, and where they could be monitored by health professionals and the price was lower, straight away we'll take all of the markets away from the criminal underworld."

The NZ Drug Foundation at the weekend released a new poll showing about two-thirds of New Zealanders supported replacing the country's Misuse of Drugs Act with a health-based approach. Macfarlane said imprisoning people involved with drugs wasn't working. 

"What we're doing here is we're imprisoning the people that are involved in drugs - we're not giving them any support. We're putting them in prison and giving them these stupid drug programmes that don't work for them.

"We've got to… break the chain of demand rather than the chain of supply because there's always going to be supply - there are over 150 ways to make methamphetamine and there are over 1000 cooks in New Zealand that can do that."

The Drug Foundation polling also showed just under two-thirds of New Zealanders supported removing penalties for drug use and putting more education and treatment support in place.

But at the 2020 election, New Zealanders voted down a referendum on legalising and controlling cannabis - with 50.7 percent opposing and 48.4 percent supporting. 

Macfarlane told AM host Melissa Chan-Green drug busts like the most recent one don't "do anything".

"Every now and then, we have these broadcast 'busts' - it's like they're just trying to keep us all happy," he said.

"We don't need to be telling the public, 'Oh, we've made this big bust, we're making a dent on the supply.' We're not, we should just be honest with the public and say, 'We can't stop the supply because we're wasting our money and we're wasting our resources on thinking we can imprison our way out of the problem'."

Customs declined an interview with AM but said in a statement on Monday the bust was the result of "effective targeting and protection at the border, backed up with first-class intelligence".

The agency said it was working across all of New Zealand's points of entry to ensure drug smugglers were stopped from getting narcotics into the country.