How severely people are dealt with for possession of illegal drugs or drug utensils is to be reviewed - as a major international study says the punitive approach to drug offending hasn't worked.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has this morning reiterated the Government's commitment to review drug policy and make sure drug offending is primarily seen as a health matter.

The health-focussed approach will be championed by New Zealand in New York next month at the United Nations General Assembly special session on drugs, where drug policy will be debated.

"Under the general focus of trying to get the appropriate legal balance, the issues of the utilisation of drug paraphernalia are being looked at, and issues relating to the penalty regime are being looked at," Mr Dunne told Radio New Zealand.


"And I'm also asking the expert advisory committee on drugs, when it classifies drugs, to take a focus that is more health-related than previously."

His comments come after a new study by Johns Hopkins University in the US and the medical journal The Lancet, that concluded that the so-called "War on Drugs" approach to drug offending has done more harm than good.

Experts in the study argued that the prohibitionist policies of the past 50 years had, "directly and indirectly contribute to lethal violence, disease, discrimination, forced displacement, injustice and the undermining of people's right to health".

The review of certain drug policy in New Zealand was announced as part of the 2015-2020 National Drug Policy, which was launched in August last year.

At the time, Mr Dunne told the Herald that three words - compassion, innovation and proportion - were of the utmost importance when developing drug policy.

Speaking at the launch of the policy, Mr Dunne said the Ministry of Health would work with the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs to make sure that drug classification decisions were focused on harm.

"They will also commence work to examine whether the laws and enforcement around drug possession and utensil possession are still reasonable compared with the severity of these offences.

"The laws we make need to be reasonable, and it is crucial that our enforcement response is proportionate."


A 2011 review of the Misuse of Drugs Act by the Law Commission recommended that the whole act be replaced, but Mr Dunne has said changes could instead be made within the boundaries of the current law.

Compassion, innovation and proportion

• Next month New Zealand will attend a UN General Assembly session on drugs, and will argue for an emerging approach to treat drug abuse as a health issue, rather than primarily as a criminal matter.

• That approach was reflected in the 2015-2020 National Drugs Policy, recently launched by Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne.

• "We are shifting the focus very deliberately to seeing drug-related issues primarily as health issues, and I keep using three words in respect of the principles that underline the policy - compassion, innovation and proportion," Mr Dunne says.