Drug laws to be debated at Northland hui

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New Zealand's drug laws will be debated by MPs from across the political divide at a hui in Kaikohe tomorrow.

Ross Bell, executive director of the NZ Drug Foundation, said there was growing acceptance that New Zealand needed to find better ways of tackling drug use in communities.

"For more than 40 years we've tried a criminal justice approach yet drug use is still at high levels. A shift to health-focused law is overdue.

"The current drug law is not working. This is the especially the case for Maori who are more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested and convicted for minor drug offences than other New Zealanders.

The way the drug law is unevenly applied hampers access to treatment, damages employment opportunities and disrupts families," Mr Bell said.

"As we face the latest drug crisis, the NZ Drug Foundation is committed to raising these issues so we can debate long-term answers."

The first of a series of hui is being held in Kaikohe tomorrow in collaboration with Te Hau Ora O Ngāpuhi, from 10am - 2pm at the Kaikohe Memorial Hall.

"Individual politicians recognise that drug problems are not going away, even if political parties are hesitant to act," he said.

A political panel with four MPs - David Clendon, Green Party list MP based in Kerikeri; Kelvin Davis, Labour's Te tai Tokerau MP, Dr Shane Reti, National's Whangarei MP and NZ First Leader and Northland MP Winston Peters - will debate the issues at the hui.

As well as MPs, the hui will hear from perspectives on drug policy and from a community panel.

Mr Bell said the aims of the hui were to discuss the range of issues with our current drug laws and the impact this was having on Maori and outline solutions to reduce the harm from drugs from a public health, informed perspective.

A survey by released by the NZ Drug Foundation in August 2016 found that a majority of New Zealanders support a change to the legal status of cannabis.

The survey showed 64 per cent of respondents think possessing a small amount of cannabis for personal use should be either legal (33 per cent) or decriminalised (31 per cent), with a minority (34 per cent) in favour of retaining prohibition.

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