Chlöe Swarbrick confident weaker drug laws won't encourage new users

Green Party spokesperson for Drug Law Reform Chlöe Swarbrick is confident weaker drug laws won't encourage new users. 

Ms Swarbrick has campaigned hard for drug law reform, and on Thursday night she told The Project she's "quite excited" about the Government's move to ease up on people caught with personal possession of illegal drugs. 

People caught possessing and using drugs will face lighter charges under the Government's proposal announced on Thursday. On the flip side, synthetics will now be classified as class A, giving the police more power to crack down on drug makers and drug dealers.

The Government will allocate $16.6 million to boost community addiction treatment services - basically trading jail time for treatment. It comes after 52 people died in the last year from synthetic drugs, and people have turned to the Government for solutions.  

"We have this mythology that we tell ourselves that if we just continue to crack down then we're somehow going to eradicate these substances, but we've seen that fail to work for decades and decades," Ms Swarbrick told The Project on Thursday. 

When asked if more people might be tempted to try drugs if they know they're not likely to face a criminal conviction, Ms Swarbrick said evidence suggests otherwise, pointing to Portugal, which decriminalised drugs 17 years ago and has seen drug abuse fall.  

"We don't actually see more people engaging in harmful drug abuse or addiction. Instead there are decreased rates of that harmful behaviour because people are actually able to discuss that harm,"  she said. 

"No one is saying that drugs come with no harm. That's grotesquely untrue and hugely irresponsible. Drugs do come with harm, but what we have to recognise is that our systemic responses can either reduce or increase that harm."

Ms Swarbrick says she became interested in the issue of drug reform when she was handed the medicinal cannabis legislation by Julie Anne Genter when she became a minister under the coalition Government. 

The Government passed a medicinal cannabis bill earlier this week which promises a regulated market as well as a legal defence for users who are close to death.

New Zealand First and the Greens both won concessions to the bill, which amends the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. 

"We have the evidence about what does work - we just have to be courageous enough and have the political willpower to walk down that evidence-based, compassionate pathway," said Ms Swarbrick. 

Recreational cannabis is the next big topic under the drugs umbrella, as the Green Party was promised a referendum on legalising it at or by the 2020 election as part of their coalition agreement with Labour.

There is strong support for legalising cannabis in New Zealand, although people are split about how the Government should go about it.