Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won't say whether she thinks a 1 per cent uptake for drug users engaging with health services is good enough in light of the Government's health-based approach.
She is also lukewarm on reforming the Misuse of Drugs Act, despite the widely-held view among those in the health and addictions sector - as well as a 10-year-old Law Commission report - that the law is long out of date and no longer fit or purpose.
A coalition of more than 25 health, justice and social service organisations has released an open letter calling for the 45-year-old law to be replaced with an evidence-based one that centres on harm-reduction for drug use.
But Ardern said the Government had already changed the law in the last parliamentary term, and it would be better to "drill into that data" to see if it was having the intended impact.
She then wouldn't be drawn on whether some of that data - the level of engagement with health services - met her expectations, saying those working on the frontline would have a better idea.
The law change - which came into force in August 2019 - raised expectations that drug users would be diverted from the criminal justice system towards health professionals.
It codified police discretion into law for prosecuting drug use/possession, but consumers shouldn't be charged if a health approach was "more beneficial to the public interest".
In the first year it was in force, 5484 people faced the possibility of being charged with drug/use possession as their most serious offence; 565 people were referred to health services, or just over 10 per cent.
And of those people, only 49 engaged with any health service - or less than 1 per cent of those who faced police action.
"Those who are working in this space will tell you whether or not that is commonplace," Ardern said when asked about the rate of engagement.
She said the reason the take up was so low could be down to availability of services, as well as the fact that some people didn't want to be helped.
But the 1 per cent engagement is regardless of availability of services; a user given a health referral is sent an automated text message about an 0800 line for drug use counselling, and responding to it counts as engagement.
When the Herald revealed the 1 per cent rate, the Drug Foundation said the low engagement was disappointing and questioned whether an automated text message was enough.
The intended impact of the law has also been quizzed by the Police Association.
When the law was passed, ministers - including Ardern - said it would just codify into law what police already did, but following last year's cannabis referendum result, Health Minister Andrew Little said the law change was effective decriminalisation of drug use-possession.
This morning Ardern and Little both reiterated the need for the Government to respect the outcome of the referendum, which rejected legalisation by a slim margin.
Little said he agreed with what the open letter signatories wanted but the political reality was that it had to be achieved by different means.
National Party leader Judith Collins said there was already a strong focus on rehabilitation of substance abuse, "but ultimately we cannot take a soft on drugs approach".
More than 100 drug users are taken to court each month despite the 2019 law change - and Ardern said she wanted to see how it was being applied across different ethnicities and regions.
According to police data, police came across about 400 people a month where drug use/possession was the most serious offence they might be charged with in the 12 months before the law change.
A third of them were charged, 58 per cent were given a warning, and 9 per cent were given an alternative measure which include Youth Aid referrals, family group conferences, alternative action plans, community justice panels, or no further action.
In the 14 and a half months since the law change - from mid-August 2019 until the end of October 2020 - police lowered the rate of prosecution: 24 per cent were charged, 65 per cent were given warnings, and 11 per cent were given an alternative measure.
Māori were hit harder, with 28 per cent charged since the law change - down from 37 per cent for the 12 months prior to the law change - 61.5 per cent given a warning, and 10 per cent receiving alternative measures.
Māori are also being charged for cannabis use/possession at a higher rate than non-Māori.
Little has previously said that the proportion of users receiving a referral - 10 per cent - seemed far too low, and those who face drug use/possession as their most serious charge should almost automatically get a referral.