Paula Bennett: No evidence drug reform is being approached sensibly

Opinion 24/01/2019

By Paula Bennett, National's drug reform spokesperson

Opinion: This week, our Leader Simon Bridges appointed me to the exciting new role of spokesperson for Drug Reform. I have no doubt that this will be one of, if not the biggest political issue of the year.

Such an important issue needs a coordinated approach across health, education, law and order and border control to deal with what is a complex issue.

So far, the Government has shown a confused, contradictory and ad hoc policy on drug reform which is likely to cause more harm and shows that a measured, sensible and coordinated approach is needed.

This role is about asking the important questions so that we’re informed ahead of the referendum. Here are just some of those questions:

  • What would a regulated industry look like?
  • Will gangs be able to grow and sell marijuana?
  • Will THC levels be regulated?
  • Will drug testing be done on the roadside?
  • What will the legal age be?

The Government obviously doesn’t have the answers – but more worryingly, we’re not convinced that they’re even asking themselves those questions.

Drug reform will change the landscape of New Zealand. For good or bad, we need to know what that landscape will look like.

There will be some people who are 100 percent pro-legalisation and some who are 100 percent against it. But we have 18 months to figure out what will work for us as a country.

We only have to look to the UK and what happened with the Brexit referendum to know that it’s important to have an informed debate before the question is put to voters.

We welcome a debate on legalising marijuana, however I am concerned that the Government has gone into this half-heartedly and to distract from important economic issues. The debate needs to be informed and at this stage all we have seen is an announcement by the Prime Minister about a referendum without her even knowing what the question will be.

There is no evidence that the Government is thinking this through properly. It’s also important to dispel some of the myths that National doesn’t care about rehabilitation. We consistently increased investment in rehabilitation and pledged $40 million more over four years for drug treatment and education services during the election campaign, including an additional 1,500 treatment beds. That’s more than Labour’s done.

When I was the Police Minister, I did extensive work on the ‘Meth Action Plan’ which would crack down on drug dealers and stop trafficking at our borders, while ensuring those who need rehabilitation get access to the best services. I was gutted when this Government simply discarded all of that hard work.

We were a Government of action, not inaction and distraction. Let’s focus on what this will actually mean for all New Zealanders.

Paula Bennett is National's drug reform spokesperson.