Damien Grant: Dunne's drug bill's a blinder but should go further

Peter Dunne. Photo / NZPA
Peter Dunne. Photo / NZPA

Peter Dunne was in Austria last month addressing the United Nations on his Psychoactive Substances Bill. Dunne is parading this on the world stage and is right to do so. It is stunning legislation.

Currently, chemists can dream up narcotics combinations that are not illegal. The state issues a temporary ban, which takes about two months. The process begins again. This is a dangerous game that denies consumers the opportunity to buy safe, tested narcotics from a trusted source.

Dunne's solution is heavy-handed but simple. The bill bans anything that causes a psychoactive effect but, if a manufacturer can prove their product has a "low risk of harm", they can obtain a licence to sell it.

I'd prefer the Act read "an acceptable risk of harm" to allow for changing attitudes but this is a dramatic break with the past. Products such as coffee and tobacco are given an exception and drugs covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act are excluded. Manufacturers will need to embark on an onerous, expensive process, involving considerable investment, but once granted approval they will be licensed to sell a narcotic.

The usual copyright law will protect makers. Consumers will have the advantage of buying a safe drug from a trusted supplier.

As a libertarian I object to the sweeping ban on psychotic products but I still admire the logic behind this legislation. Why exclude heroin, though?

Like most opiates, heroin is highly addictive, with a number of negative long-term effects, so it may not pass the low risk of harm criteria, but why should it be excluded automatically? Likewise, cannabis cannot be licensed yet chemical substitutes for it can be.

The real damage by illegal drugs is caused by their illegality. It is possible to safely take medicine-grade heroin for decades. It isn't good for you but it will not kill you. The impure junk sold by most current vendors will.

More importantly, if I want to take heroin I do not understand what right the Government has to stop me but, regardless, the war on drugs is over. Drugs won. A century of very expensive policing has failed.

Despite countless lives lost or squandered in prison, drugs remain cheap and accessible.

Dunne's bill is a small step on a long road that may lead to a more rational way of dealing with the human desire to get high.

If he has the courage to go further, he will immortalise himself as the man who had the vision to regulate the drug industry, and the start of the end of the drug war can begin. Here. Where women first got the vote. Make us proud, Peter. Go all out.

- Herald on Sunday

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