Key Points:

The Government will look at an open-minded and balanced approach to reducing drug use but there will be no relaxation of the laws around cannabis, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said today.

There were too many mental health problems, respiratory diseases and social issues related to cannabis for the Government to consider legalising the drug, he told an international drug policy symposium in Wellington.

Reports that levels of cannabis and methamphetamine use had levelled off were encouraging, but were not a reason for complacency, he said.

"Evidence indicates a balance is needed between reducing supply of drugs through interdiction and enforcement, and also reducing the demand for drugs through prevention and treatment strategies, if we are to be effective in reducing adverse health and social consequences of drug misuse."

Drug Foundation chairman Tim Harding said it was important the issues were taken seriously.

"The problem we face is that sound policy is not always popular or, for that matter, obvious. It has to be based on solid foundations of research, experience and a liberal dose of wisdom."

Police Deputy Commissioner Rob Pope released an Illicit Drug Strategy at the conference, which detailed the police response to drug related crime until 2010.

The strategy focused on methamphetamine, cannabis and how to protect and deter groups that were most at risk of using the drugs.

"We now have increased capacity with the new National Intelligence Centre (NIC) based at Police National Headquarters." Mr Pope said.

"This is going to enable us to more actively record intelligence around drug related crime from each police area and district."

The strategy recognised that cannabis and methamphetamine were the biggest drug issues in New Zealand, he said.

"Preventing today's young people from becoming tomorrow's drug users contributes to reducing harm and reducing the overall crime rate."

United Nations director of policy analysis and public affairs at the office on Drugs and Crime, Sandeep Chawla, told the conference the international community needed to work together to continue stemming the use of illicit drugs.

The multilateral drug control regime had contained illicit drug use to less than 5 per cent of the world adult population, and hardcore problem drug users to less than 1 per cent, he said.

"There has been considerable reduction over recent decades in the consumption of opiates, the most problematic of drugs, and opium cultivation and production has been limited to just one or two countries in the main."

However, he said containment did not mean the problem had been solved and consequently a thriving criminal black market in drugs had emerged.

"It also appears we have created a system where those who fall into the web of addiction find themselves excluded and marginalised, tainted with a moral stigma, and often unable to find treatment even when they want it."

Mr Chawla said the international community must renew its commitment to existing conventions and work together on reforms based on empirical evidence rather than ideology, and that public health, the first principle of drug control, must be brought back to centre stage.

The symposium is being held as a precursor to a March meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna where the direction of global drug policy for the next 10 years will be set.

It is due to finish tomorrow.

- NZPA