A New Bid to Legalize All Drugs in New Zealand

    We don’t have a global drug problem; we have a global drug policy problem. It’s called prohibition, and it seems we are not sure how to fix it. But New Zealand has a few ideas.

    On May 7International Harm Reduction Day—a new coalition submitted an open letter to the New Zealand Government. Over 150 signatories included 29 organizations and numerous professors, doctors, NGO workers and people who use drugs. 

    Our letter calls for a new evidence-based, fit-for-purpose drug law to legally regulate all psychoactive drugs (incorporating those that are currently legal).

    We’re seeking to end the harm from drug prohibition that strategically targets Māori, young people, poor people and people with chronic unmet needsleading to disproportionate arrests, imprisonment and social exclusion. 

    Alex Hon Kuen Ho is a young New Zealander who found that cannabis was helping him manage his autism. Sadly, he had to give up self-medicating because of the fear and threats posed by prohibition. 

    Unless we expose, challenge and abolish the concept of prohibition itself, concessions are likely to deliver frustrating reforms that resemble Prohibition 2.0.

    That’s the only sense in which he gave up. Alex had limited experience of drug laws and politics, but he had the tenacity and determination to do something about it. With disarming humility and persistence, helped by the fact that he had no allegiances or connections with any organizations, he rallied support from anyone who would listen. 

    Thanks to his efforts, and after two years of discussions, a core group emergedled by Wendy Allison, an activist and harm reduction pioneer who helped to establish drug checking in New Zealand, and myself, among others.

    Together, we helped guide the creation of a new incorporated society: Harm Reduction Coalition Aotearoa (HRCA, named for the Māori-language term for our country). It’s an independent, free-thinking, nonpartisan pressure group to advocate for fair and just drug laws that protect human rights and promote harm reduction.

    Most drug use, of all kinds, is not problematic. And it will be far less so if drug supplies are regulated. We have conflated the considerable harms of prohibition with those of drugs.

    We have to go all the way when tackling prohibition. Seeking to regulate particular drugs on a case-by-case basis within the paradigm of prohibitiona system which has arbitrarily demonized some psychoactive drug use, while promoting other, often more harmful, psychoactive drug useonly consolidates and legitimizes an unscientific, damaging and untenable system.

    Unless we expose, challenge and abolish the concept of prohibition itself, concessions to legally regulate certain prohibited drugs are likely to be built upon the same notions of misplaced fear, propaganda and exaggerated risk, delivering frustrating reforms that resemble Prohibition 2.0.

    HRCA believes an opportunity exists in Aotearoa to develop a world-leading drug law.

    Such reforms mask the real issues. Our global drug prohibition is destroying lives through criminalization and incarceration, stigma and fear. It’s killing people by denying them harm reduction and safety, when unregulated markets mean they may not know what they’re consuming, or how much of it. It’s wreaking havoc on communities—even destabilizing whole countries—because of the violence it incentivizes. 

    HRCA’s growing membership has signed up to a range of demands:

    * End drug prohibition by rescinding the failed Psychoactive Substance Act 2013 and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, (as recommended in the New Zealand Law Commission Review in 2011). 

    * Ensure all adult possession, cultivation and production of all drugs is legal for personal use. 

    * Dismantle policies that reinforce drug prohibition, securing the annulment of all criminal records and convictions related to possession, cultivation and production of drugs. 

    * Ensure drug policies are rooted in science and evidence, upholding the principles of harm reduction and human rights. 

    * Establish a new Psychoactive Drugs Act, managed by the Ministry of Health, to regulate all aspects of psychoactive drug supply.


    New Zealand has a rich history of leading the way on social reform. It was the first country in the world where women secured the right to vote (1893), the first to roll out a national program for sterile syringe provision, (1985) and the first country to explicitly legalize drug checking (2021). 

    With good reason, HRCA believes another opportunity exists in Aotearoa: to develop a world-leading drug law that is rational, responsible, just and based on science and experience—one that ends the debacle of prohibition and puts people’s health and wellbeing first.



    Photograph (cropped) via United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement

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