New Zealand's Role in International Drug Control

Article excerpt

Paul Lloyd and Matthew Allen argue that New Zealand should take a more active role in international efforts to control drug trafficking, especially in the South Pacific.

In 1999 the United Nations declared a new era in international drug control and crime prevention. Record global crop reductions, declining rates of drug use and efforts to develop a Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime are cited as examples of this era. While these may represent tangible successes in the `war against drugs', they are still based on the predominance of the enforcement or supply control approach. Instead, the growing globalisation of the harm minimisation framework is perhaps more significant. We would argue that acceptance of this paradigm serves as the demarcation of a new era. This article discusses the contributions that New Zealand has made, and can make, to the adoption of harm minimisation domestically, regionally and internationally.

The concept of harm minimisation is not new, or revolutionary. Basically it surrounds attempts to reduce the problems associated with drug use, in particular mortality and morbidity, rather than attempting to eliminate drug use. Typically a range of approaches are employed. Needle and syringe exchange programmes designed to reduce the prevalence or transmission of blood-borne viruses and methadone maintenance programmes serve as a good examples of this concept in action.

Domestically New Zealand is in a strong position with respect to tackling drug abuse. In July 1998, the government released its five-year National Drug Policy (NDP). The policy is based on a three-pillared harm minimisation framework featuring supply-reduction, demand-reduction and harm-reduction, which is also supported by community development. Targeted work plans, made up of a number of projects, provide the blueprint for implementation of the policy. The first work plans developed by the Inter-Agency Committee on Drugs, and approved by the Ministerial Committee on Drug Policy, have been specifically designed to address cannabis use in the Far North and the East Coast of the North Island and to prevent the expansion of the hard drugs market in New Zealand. Finally, New Zealand has recently ratified the 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances and amended legislation to provide for tighter controls on certain prescription medicines in accordance with the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Previously these had been identified as matters of concern by the International Narcotics Control Board. Other concerns about the prevalence and use of certain drugs are being addressed in the implementation of the drug policy.

Growing profile

On the international stage, New Zealand's profile is growing. At the 1998 UN General Assembly's Special Session on the World Drug Problem, the Associate Minister of Health, Tuariki Delamere, attacked the hypocrisy of the `war on drugs' and pressed for a more balanced approach to drug policy. This momentum was carried on to the 42nd Commission on Narcotic Drugs 1999. At the meeting in Vienna, New Zealand presented a written country report for the first time and co-sponsored several resolutions. Of note, New Zealand strongly supported the Declaration on the Guiding Principles on Drug Demand Reduction. This is an international action plan which heightens the importance of demand reduction initiatives (for example, education, health promotion and drug treatment services) in accordance with the harm minimisation framework.

There are opportunities for New Zealand to capitalise on its recent involvement in international fora and its international profile. One option would be to seek full membership of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Voting rights and the ability to focus international opinion on harm minimisation approaches are attractive. However, the price tag and the commitment involved may be considerable. …