A hui designed to get to the core of the drugs issue in Hawke's Bay, particularly the harm drugs and drug laws cause to Maori, is being held this weekend.
Organised by the New Zealand Drug Foundation, it will feature speakers who will discuss issues with the current laws as well as outline solutions to reduce the harm from drugs.
Hawke's Bay-based Denis O'Reilly, manager of Mokai Whanau Ora, a national programme run through Ministry of Health programme Community Action Youth and Drugs (CAYAD), will be speaking at the hui and said a community and health approach was needed rather than leaving it up to police and corrections.
"At the moment about 80 per cent of the government response goes through police and corrections, only 20 per cent through health, and this needs to be addressed.
"That's not to say there should not be any policing but we need to be able to respond better.
"If we could engage people at a community level first, we could better triage people for clinical services."
He said there was also a crying need for time-out spaces for people struggling with drug addiction - places that were friendly, non-judgmental environments away from temptation.
He warned against politicians using the issue to gather votes in the lead-up to the elections.
"This is a complex, multi-layered situation that needs to be dealt with in a cross-political way."
There will, however, be national and local body politicians attending the hui including Mana leader Hone Harawira, Labour Party MP Stuart Nash, Napier city councillor Maxine Boag and Hastings district councillor Bayden Barber.
A community panel will feature Mr O'Reilly, Annette Harris from Te Rangihaeata Oranga Trust, and representation from Nga Kairauhii Trust or 'Nannies against P'.
New Zealand Drug Foundation principal advisor Gilbert Taurua said the aim of the hui was to lay all the issues on the table and move beyond knee-jerk responses.
"The way we currently deal with drugs doesn't work for Māori. Our criminal justice approach to minor offences can cause more harm to Māori caught up in it than drug use itself, such as hampering access to treatment, damaging employment opportunities and disrupting families."
He said statistics showed Māori were more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested and convicted for minor drug offences than other New Zealanders, and less likely to benefit from police discretion.
In addition, there was not enough dedicated treatment for those Māori who realised they had a drug problem, especially in rural areas, he said.
"Many believe that enforcing the prohibition on cannabis and other drugs can succeed, yet we have tried this approach for more than 40 years and the rates of use have barely changed.
"Rather than trying to punish our way out of the drug problem it is time to try something new. It's vital we look at the deeper reasons why drug use is so high and what we can do to address the root causes."
For instance, a change to health-based drug laws would put the focus on preventing and treating problematic drug use and its effects and redirect resources away from law enforcement towards health and socially based approaches, he said.
Also present at the hui will be local health psychologists Joseph Stone and Amber Logan who will give a methamphetamine-awareness presentation, and Tom Hemopo, the retired Napier probation officer who filed a successful Waitangi Tribunal claim alleging that there had been no high-level commitment to reduce the number of Maori in prison.
This solution-focused hui, which has received support from the JR McKenzie Foundation, will be held this Saturday, May 6, between 10am and 2.30pm at Te Aranga Marae, Flaxmere.