New polling shows a clear majority of New Zealanders support changing the country’s drug laws to remove criminal penalties in favour of education, treatment, and other health-based approaches.

Sarah Helm

The online survey of 1,499 Kiwis aged 18-plus was conducted on behalf of the New Zealand Drug Foundation in the first week of June 2022. 

It found 68% of respondents support replacing the country’s 1975 Misuse of Drugs Act with a health-based approach while 61% favour removing penalties for drug use and replacing them with more support for education and treatment.

The polling also showed there is strong support for more funding for treatment and education (82%) and harm reduction initiatives like drug checking (74%). 

NZ Drug Foundation executive director Sarah Helm said the results show New Zealanders know the status quo isn’t working and that it’s time to shift to an evidence-based approach. 

“These numbers are really heartening – it shows that Kiwis know locking people up isn’t the answer to reducing drug harm,” she said. 

“The public increasingly understands that criminal penalties get in the way of people seeking help, and that police time would be better spent on more serious crime.” 

“Drug policy shouldn’t be an area to score points or play games – we’re talking about people’s lives and the wellbeing of our communities.”

NZ Drug Foundation executive director Sarah Helm

Helm said in most other countries where criminal penalties have been removed, drug use hasn’t increased, but there has been a huge decrease in harms such as overdoses.

She added: “The public get it, and we know most politicians get it too. But drugs have been a convenient political football trotted out to score points. Drug policy is often highly politicised, but we know there is appetite right across parliament for the types of health-based approaches that will actually work. 

 “New Zealanders know it’s not just about changing the law – it’s about shifting the money we spend on punitive measures into treatment, harm reduction initiatives, and programs… that struggle for funding at present.” 

“Drug policy shouldn’t be an area to score points or play games – we’re talking about people’s lives and the wellbeing of our communities. What New Zealand needs is a constructive approach from our political leaders to fix our broken, outdated drug laws.”

Prior to launching Cannabiz, Martin was co-founder and CEO of Asia-Pac’s leading B2B media and marketing information brand Mumbrella, overseeing its sale to Diversified Communications in 2017. A journalist...