It has been more than 30 years since the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 was first enacted. The Act has been amended on numerous occasions and is complex and difficult to understand and navigate. The Act’s framework is based on the recommendations of the 1973 report of the Blake-Palmer Committee and largely reflects the drug policies and issues of that era. There is concern that the Act is not well aligned with New Zealand’s National Drug Policy and does not provide a coherent and effective legislative framework for responding to the use of psychoactive drugs. The objective of the review was to propose a contemporary legislative framework for regulating drugs that is consistent with New Zealand’s international obligations concerning illegal and other drugs and reflects current knowledge and understanding about drug-related harm.
The Final Report Controlling and Regulating Drugs: A Review of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 (NZLC R122, 2011) was released on 3 May 2011.
The Commission released a report Compulsory Treatment for Substance Dependence: A Review of the Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act 1966 (NZLC R118, 2010) on 27 October 2010. This aspect of the Commission’s broad review of the misuse of drugs was prioritised to ensure it was completed within the timeframe set for the review of that Act in the Government’s Methamphetamine Action Plan.
Terms of reference
The Commission will review the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 and make proposals for a new legislative regime consistent with New Zealand’s international obligations concerning illegal and other drugs.
The issues to be considered by the Commission will include:
(a) Whether the legislative regime should reflect the principle of harm minimisation underpinning the National Drug Policy;
(b) What is the most suitable model or models for the control of drugs;
(c) Which substances the statutory regime should cover;
(d) How should new psychoactive substances be treated;
(e) Whether drugs should continue to be subject to the current classification system or should be categorised by some alternative process or mechanism;
(f) If a classification system for categorising drugs is retained, is the current placement of substances appropriate;
(g) The appropriate offence and penalty structure;
(h) Whether the existing statutory dealing presumption should continue to apply in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hansen case;
(i) Whether the enforcement powers proposed by the Commission in its report on Search and Surveillance Powers are adequate to investigate drug offences;
(j) What legislative framework provides the most suitable structure to reflect the linkages between drugs and other similar substances;
(k) Which agency or agencies should be responsible for the administration of the legislative regime.
It is not intended that the Commission will make recommendations with respect to the regulation of alcohol or tobacco in undertaking this review.
Controlling and Regulating drugs (NZLC IP16, 2010)
The Commission's Issues Paper, Controlling and Regulating drugs (NZLC IP16, 2010) traces the history of drug policy and regulation in New Zealand, and reviews the current approach to drug control and regulation. It makes some preliminary proposals for how New Zealand’s drug laws can be updated to put in place a modern and evidence-based statute.
Compulsory Treatment for Substance Dependence: A Review of the Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act 1966 (NZLC R118, 2010)
The Commission's Report, Compulsory Treatment for Substance Dependence: A Review of the Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act 1966 (NZLC R118, 2010) proposes replacing the out-dated Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act 1966 with a new Act which would make the law more user-friendly, while at the same time providing much greater safeguards for people forced to undergo compulsory treatment.
Controlling and Regulating Drugs – A Review of the Misuse of Drugs Act (NZLC R122, 2011)
In its Report Controlling and Regulating Drugs – A Review of the Misuse of Drugs Act (NZLC R122, 2011), the Law Commission makes recommendations to develop a new legislative regime that is capable of dealing with the rapidly evolving market in new drugs that is consistent with New Zealand’s international obligations in respect of drug control.
New Zealand’s use of illegal psychoactive substances is regulated by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. However, New Zealand’s drug landscape is now vastly different from that which existed in 1975 and much more is known about the effects and harms of drug use. The Law Commission’s recommendations aim to treat drug use as a matter of both criminal and health policy as well as improve the usability of drugs legislation. Various ad hoc amendments have also been made to the Misuse of Drugs Act that make it difficult to understand and navigate.
The Law Commission aligned the objectives of its recommendations with the objectives of the National Drug Policy. This includes ensuring:
• drug laws actively contribute to demand reduction through treatment, therapeutic and other non-punitive responses to harmful drug use, particularly that associated with addiction and other mental health issues;
• the harms associated with the criminalisation of drug users are mitigated wherever possible by introducing a wider menu of legal responses to personal drug use offences;
• criminal justice resources should be effectively targeted; and
• responses to personal drug offending should be consistent, proportionate and just.
The Law Commission found that while the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 plays a vital role in reducing the supply of illicit drugs in the community, signalling the risks associated with drug use and deterring some sections of the population from experimenting with drugs, it fails to respond appropriately to the health and addiction issues which often underpin illicit drug use.
The Law Commission recommends:
• repealing the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 and replacing it with a new Act administered by the Ministry of Health.
• creating a new regime with its own criteria and approval process for regulating new psychoactive substances. The regime should empower the regulator to impose additional conditions on individual substances, strictly limit the advertising of approved substances, and provide means for regulators to monitor compliance through search and surveillance powers and strong penalties;
• New Zealand continue to have a vigorous law enforcement focus on large-scale commercial dealing in all convention drugs, backed up by strong penalties; and
• there should be a more flexible response, in line with New Zealand’s international commitments to small-scale dealing and personal possession and use, particularly where these activities are linked to addiction.
No formal Government response to the Commission's Report Compulsory Treatment for Substance Dependence: A Review of the Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act 1966 (NZLC R118, 2010). There is no requirement for the Government to present a formal response to a Commission report where it has accepted the Commission’s recommendations. (See Official Government response process | Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC).)
Most of the report’s recommendations were implemented in full, and one was accepted in part, in the Substance Addiction (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 2017.
The Government response to the Law Commission Report Controlling and Regulating Drugs – A Review of the Misuse of Drugs Act (NZLC R122, 2011) was released on 8 September 2011.
Two recommendations were implemented through the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013 and the development of a drug court pilot.