New poll shows most New Zealanders support change in drug laws

  • 26/06/2022

About two-thirds of New Zealanders support changing the country's drug laws to remove criminal penalties and offer education, treatment and other health-based approaches, a new poll suggests.

The polling, conducted by The Navigators for the NZ Drug Foundation, shows that 68 percent of Kiwis support replacing the country's 1975 Misuse of Drugs Act with a health-based approach. 

Just under two-thirds (61 percent) support removing penalties for drug use and putting in place more support for education and treatment.

The Drug Foundation's executive director, Sarah Helm, said the polling showed New Zealanders know the current approach to drugs isn't working and it's time to shift to an evidence-based approach. 

"These numbers are really heartening - it shows that Kiwis know locking people up isn't the answer to reducing drug harm," she said. 

"The public increasingly understands that criminal penalties get in the way of people seeking help and that police time would be better spent on more serious crime." 

Helm said in most other countries where criminal penalties have been removed, drug use hasn't increased but there has been a huge decrease in harms such as overdoses.

"The public gets it and we know most politicians get it too. But drugs have been a convenient political football trotted out to score points.

"Political leaders across Parliament know the current approach is letting New Zealanders down. It is time to work together on the health-based approaches to drugs that New Zealanders want."

The Drug Foundation is releasing the new polling on the Global Day of Action for #SupportDontPunish, an international campaign calling for drug policies based on health and human rights. 

"Drug policy is often highly politicised but we know that there is appetite right across Parliament for the types of health-based approaches that will actually work," Helm said. 

"For example, there is cross-party support for Te Ara Oranga, the highly successful methamphetamine programme, which has proven a health-based approach can work here in New Zealand on one of our more difficult drug issues. Te Ara Oranga was started by the former National Government and expanded by the current Labour Government."

The polling also showed there is strong support for more funding to be provided for treatment and education (82 percent) and harm reduction initiatives like drug checking (74 percent). 

"New Zealanders know it's not just about changing the law - it's about shifting the money we spend on punitive measures into treatment, harm reduction initiatives, and programmes like Te Ara Oranga that struggle for funding at present," Helm said.  

"Drug policy shouldn't be an area to score points or play games - we're talking about people's lives and the wellbeing of our communities. What New Zealand needs is a constructive approach from our political leaders to fix our broken, outdated drug laws."

At the last political election in 2020, Kiwis were asked to vote on whether they supported the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, and of the nearly three million votes, 48.4 percent supported the proposed cannabis legislation and control bill and 50.7 percent opposed.