New Zealand 'well-behind' on lifesaving drug reform - Helen Clark

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark says New Zealand urgently needs a new approach to drug policy, in which drugs are decriminalised and state-regulated.

"I think we're well behind. We were an innovator, going back to the HIV response, when the needle exchange scheme was introduced....but we haven’t substantially innovated since then," she told Newshub Nation on Saturday.

Ms Clark, now a commissioner for the Global Drug Commission says it would be faster to look overseas for policy models instead of creating our own from scratch.

'We don't have to reinvent the wheel. A lot of countries are doing things in this space which we could emulate. But we seem to take a lot of time trying to reinvent things, and I think that’s a waste of time and effort and is holding up much-needed reform."

One of the countries Ms Clark suggests emulating is Switzerland, whose Former President Ruth Dreifuss also spoke with Newshub Nation about why the punitively focused 'war on drugs' has failed.

"The aim of the war on drugs was to reduce the supply, to reduce the demand and to get rid of it from criminal organisations,

"And what we have to see after 60 years of this policy is an increase in the supply, an increase in the demand and an empowerment of the criminal organisations."

New Zealand has seen 45 deaths in the past year due to synthetic cannabis use and Ms Clark says our most vulnerable citizens are disproportionately affected.   

"With synthetic cannabis, some of the most marginalised people in our country are affected by this, the people that are sleeping on the street, the homeless, the hungry,

"I think synthetic cannabis, in a way, is the sort of the tip of the pyramid, but underneath that are other social issues too."

The former Prime Minister says she didn't make moves towards decriminalisation when she was in power because of the confidence and supply agreement with United Future.

"They specifically had a red line that we would not make any moves towards decriminalisation."

One of the key measures suggested by the GDC is regulated locations where people can safely use drugs.

"Safe consumption spaces where people can come, consume their drug, have it tested and not die. And for me, that's the bottom line — people should not be dying," said Ms Clark.

The Government have promised a referendum on Cannabis use by 2020, but the Prime Minister has not committed to law change based on the results.

Newshub Nation.

Watch Newshub Nation 9:30am Saturday/10am Sunday on TV3, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Newshub Nation is supported by NZ On Air.