Misgivings despite Aotearoa being ranked second in world for drug policies

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A new global measure ranks New Zealand second when it comes to drug policies, but the New Zealand Drug Foundation says there is plenty of room for improvement.

bag of cocaine and heroin syringe, drugs being sold and packaged. Concept of trafficking and sale of illegal substances

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Released by the Harm Reduction Consortium, the Global Drug Policy Index (GDPI) assessed the drug policies of 30 countries against key United Nations recommendations. Norway tops the index with a score of 74/100, while Brazil comes in last with 26/100. The median score across all 30 countries is 48.

New Zealand received a score of 71, attributed to recent reforms like the legalisation of drug checking.

However, New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Sarah Helm said the data highlights several areas for improvement.

“There is an opportunity for us to continue to implement a health-based approach to drugs and be a world leader,” Helm said.

“As it stands, we are essentially among the best of a bad bunch. For example, we don’t have the death penalty or mandatory minimum sentencing, which helps improve New Zealand’s ranking.”

The measure scored New Zealand particularly poorly when it came to ethnic disparities, as Māori face disproportionate impacts within the criminal justice system.

“We also score poorly for access to harm reduction services and interventions,” Helm said.

“Recent moves to legalise and provide funding for drug checking show there is political will for progress in this area. We need to continue to improve if we want to increase our score.

“Not surprisingly, we score 0/100 for decriminalisation, as the Misuse of Drugs Act still has us operating within an outdated, prohibitionist model, despite some expansion of police discretion and rhetoric about health-based approaches. We are seeing other countries adopting law reform, and we expect them to shift up in the next GDPI.”

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International Drug Policy Consortium executive director Ann Fordham said none of the countries assessed should feel good about their score.

“No country has reached a perfect score or anywhere near it. This index highlights the huge room for improvement across the board.”

For decades, assessing governments’ drug policies has been difficult because these have not been measured against health, development, and human rights outcomes, but instead tended to prioritise indicators such as the numbers of people arrested or imprisoned for drug offences, or the amount of drugs seized.

The Global Drug Policy Index is composed of 75 indicators running across five broad dimensions of drug policy: criminal justice, extreme responses, health and harm reduction, access to internationally controlled medicines, and development.

Chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy and former prime minister Helen Clark said the index is a “radical innovation”.

“Good, accurate data is power, and it can help us end the ‘war on drugs’ sooner rather than later.”

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