Experts are not surprised by new research showing New Zealand and Australia share the highest rates of cannabis and methamphetamine use in the world.

The Australian study, published in British medical journal The Lancet, has led to renewed calls for a rethink of New Zealand's drug policies.

The researchers found cannabis use on both sides of the Tasman was the highest in the world, with 10 to 15 per cent of people aged between 15 and 64 having smoked it in the last year.

The use of drugs like methamphetamine and ecstasy was also the highest in the world, with 2.8 per cent of people having taken them in the last year.


New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said the prevalence of drug use on both sides of the Tasman had been known for a long time.

"New Zealand and Australia always rank very high in terms of our drug use. We're not always the highest drugs users in the world, but certainly for cannabis, Kiwis and Australians do seem to like their weed," he said.

"We also know that we're pretty high when it comes to amphetamine-type drugs like ecstasy and meth. That can be explained in quite a few ways, however - that partly has to do with the accessibility of different types of drugs.

"It's difficult to get drugs like heroin and cocaine in New Zealand. What we're quite good at is cooking up our own stuff."

Mr Bell said the report also touched on the effectiveness of current drug policies.

"To put it quite bluntly, they say it isn't working and we really need to rethink the way that we deal with drugs."

Mr Bell said the drug problem should be seen first and foremost as a health issue.

"We're not sure of what other health issues there are in the world that we expect the criminal justice system to solve."


Harm reduction policies like needle exchanges and better education were the best way to reduce the drug problem, rather than pumping more money into enforcement.

Mr Bell said governments liked to talk about evidence-based policy, but when it came to drugs they did not take evidence on board.

"In the case of drugs it's quite a simple formula [for policy-makers] - our current approach means that we're tough on drugs, and any other approach means that you're soft on drugs. There's no way that anybody wants to be soft on drugs, and I think that's a real misunderstanding of what evidence tells us."

Former police officer Dale Kirk, the managing director of methamphetamine eduction company MethCon, said New Zealand's drug culture had not been given the attention it deserved.

"We've treated cannabis as a soft drug and we've ignored the risk of methamphetamine use, and unfortunately we're playing catch-up.

"We're now seeing initiatives from the Government aimed at the supply end, which are having some effect, I believe, yet it's a little bit too late."


Mr Kirk said the right way to tackle the drug problem was a mixed approach, including punitive measures like harsher sentences, more education, and more resources to treat addicts.

Methamphetamine had a devastating effect on families and communities, he said.

"I'm speaking to people all the time in the community who have family members who are affected by methamphetamine, and it is a consistent theme that you hear - it's a downward spiral in their life, everything else takes secondary interest to the drugs.

"They lose families, they lose jobs, they lose money - and obviously ultimately they can lose their lives."