Drug testing a good idea

April 5th, 2016 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A secret drug-testing operation has allowed more than 60 people to test their recreational drugs at a recent festival, despite it being illegal for organisers to knowingly allow drugs on site.

The covert drug testers, operating with the festival’s knowledge, found more than half the drugs punters brought in weren’t what they thought they were.

Now more festivals – including Wellington’s Homegrown – are considering drug testing tents, but face bucking up against the law.

Over the course of the festival, Allison’s teams tested 63 samples. Of those, 57 percent were not what the festival-goers thought they had.

“A lot of people who said ‘I know this is MDMA, I tried it’ –  I showed them the charts and they were astounded.

“Just under half of the people who had samples that weren’t what they thought told us they weren’t going to take it.”

Of 22 samples taken of LSD, only six were real. A further six tested positive for N-Bom, a drug implicated in a number of deaths overseas.

Emergency medicine specialist and clinical toxicologist Dr Paul Quigley said allowing drug testing at festivals would make hospitals’ jobs easier.

He argued legalising drug testing could both reduce hospital transfers, and provide more information for police about what dangerous drugs were being sold on the streets.

“You have to quite frankly be an idiot if you think that people aren’t going to take drugs at these festivals… Instead of prohibition at least acknowledge it’s happening and let’s make it safer.”

I agree with Paul Quigley (who I also went to university with!). It is naive to think people don’t have drugs at music festivals, and if testing can reduce harm, lets do it.

McQuillan on alcohol and drugs

December 8th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Laura McQuillian writes at Stuff:

We, my fellow New Zealanders, are scientifically proven to be a nation of pissheads. 

Getting drunk is our true national sport: whoever gets there the fastest, without falling down, wins.

We’re holding our own against the rest of the world: last year’s Global Drug Survey found while Irish blokes led the boozing charge, followed by the Poles, Kiwi men rolled into third place. We’re also third when it comes to binge-drinking: 2.8 per cent of us admit drinking too much nearly every day of the week.

The survey found one in three of us wants to drink less; for one in five of us, a friend, family member or colleague has suggested cutting back.

Only problem is the Global Drug Survey is not scientific. It is a self-selecting survey and not representative of the population. A better survey is the National Health Survey done by Ministry of Health. It shows 20% of over 15s are non-drinkers, 62% are “normal” drinkers and 18% hazardous drinkers.

Everything about our drinking is embarrassing, from the regrettable texts and drunken pashes, to the pools of vomit along Courtenay Place and cancelled brunches on Sunday mornings.

I’m tempted to quip that’s just Laura’s last big weekend out 🙂

For some that is how they drink, and in my distant past some of that would apply to me. But that is not the majority of New Zealanders.

In my university days, a group of friends would organise an annual “Ranfurly Shield” event. The challenge: dress in rugby garb and drink a dozen 440ml cans of Ranfurly – arguably New Zealand’s worst beer. The first to finish won a decorated shield. It was a bit of student fun – certainly not a healthy pastime, but all survived unscathed.

Now, the whole country can take part in an event that’s nearly twice as bad: “National Crate Day”. For the fifth year running, a radio station and a booze giant are encouraging Kiwis young and old to drink themselves silly (or potentially to death) on a dozen 745ml bottles – or nine litres – of beer in one day.

Over the weekend, while “celebrating” National Crate Day, a 20-year-old in Nelson fell from the back of a ute, hit his head on the road, and ended up on life support with a brain bleed.

The organisers – The Rock, with support from Super Liquor – ask us to consume 30 standard drinks in a matter of hours, two to three times what’s safe to drink in an entire week.

I agree events like National Crate Day are dangerous and should not be promoted. In fact Super Liquor is probably breaking the law if they are promoting it.

When it comes to drugs, on the other hand, we don’t know what we’re getting ourselves in for. Our ecstasy could just kill us, or we might trip for days from new synthetic drugs like N-bomb.

Zero-tolerance hasn’t stopped the drugs a-flowing: 63.5 per cent of Kiwi survey respondents had smoked pot in their lifetime, and a rather surprising 14.7 per cent had used cocaine. 

I highly doubt 15% have used cocaine. This is the problem of a self-selecting online survey. A 2008 scientific survey found 0.6% of adults have used cocaine.

Legalising drugs could help keep users safe: with regulated sales and education on the risks, users wouldn’t have to buy from a black market of potentially-lethal pills and potions, the government would be able to control who’s selling and help encourage safe use.

Start with decriminalising cannabis. At the same time, teach the tens – perhaps hundreds – of thousands of users how they can continue do so, with full knowledge of what it’s doing to their health, and how they can minimise the risks.

I agree that decriminalising cannabis would be a good thing to do, and allow the focus to go on health and harm prevention.

I have no inclination to use drugs myself – I treasure my brain cells too greatly – but I’d rather those who do use alive and high than preventably dead.

Pushing the issue of drug use under the carpet while letting us drink ourselves to death simply makes no sense.

Again I agree – ideally all drugs would come under the same framework of a health based approach.

Drug policy changes?

August 27th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

How severely people are dealt with for possession of illegal drugs or drug utensils is to be reviewed.

Officials will focus on whether action is proportionate to how much harm an offence causes.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has released the 2015-20 National Drug Policy, which could significantly reform the treatment of drugs such as cannabis.

Mr Dunne said three words – compassion, innovation and proportion – were of the utmost importance when developing drug policy.

The policy has been hailed as hugely significant by the NZ Drug Foundation, which says it signals an armistice in the “war on drugs”.

If so this is a good thing. I think drug policy should distinguish between drugs with relatively little harmful side effects like cannabis, and those which can cause huge harm such as P.

Speaking at the launch of the policy, Mr Dunne said the Ministry of Health would work with the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs to make sure that drug classification decisions were focused on harm.

The focus should be on harm reduction. Sometimes this will mean the criminal justice system, but sometimes it won’t.

E safer than alcohol says doctor

June 20th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The purest form of ecstasy is safer than alcohol and should be legalised, Wellington Hospital’s emergency department head says.

Emergency medical specialist and clinical toxicologist Paul Quigley said there was mounting evidence that MDMA, the unadulterated base for ecstasy, was one of the safest recreational drugs, especially when compared with alcohol, which made up about two-thirds of late-night and weekend admissions at the hospital’s accident and emergency department.

His controversial call has been backed by the New Zealand Drug Foundation, and Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said that, although the idea was a “longshot”, he would discuss its merits with Quigley.

I’m no expert on the subject but I have tried E and in a behavioural sense I’d say it had less impact one me than alcohol.

Legalising and regulating the sale and manufacture of MDMA – or 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine – could put a dent in the black market for other more harmful drugs flooding the market, Quigley said.

Where a drug has only low levels of risk and/or harm, I think regulation is better than prohibition.

MDMAshould first be tested theoretically under the Psychoactive Substances Act (PSA) testing regime, which was enacted to regulate legal highs and party pills before they were made illegal last year, he said. 

“There are political and moral barriers that society has to get through – and we may still find something that is better and safer than MDMA – but people will always take recreational drugs and society has to accept that at some some stage there will be a drug available that is a safe and acceptable alternative to alcohol.”

That was unlikely to happen while domestic law was bound by United Nations drug control treaties, but Quigley said New Zealand could be a world leader and forge ahead with its own ideas of what substances were dangerous.

If MDMA passed the PSA’s testing, it could be sold with an R-18 rating, in controlled and limited doses through chemists or “head shops”, such as the Cosmic Corner chain, which would be subject to the same type of police scrutiny as outlets selling alcohol. 

Sounds sensible.

Maybe we should do an Aussie and sell it to close the deficit?

June 18th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The New Zealand Navy seized about $235 million of high-grade heroin – then let the smugglers free and hosed the drugs into the ocean.

Hey if we sold it back to the smugglers, then that would almost get us from deficit to surplus. We could call it the Australia solution!

Not wanting to hold on to almost 260kg of heroin, sailors kept small quantities for testing and dumped the rest into the ocean, using a fire hose that ran through a modified green wheelie bin.

A journalist was complaining not even the Greens were complaining about the impact this could have on the fish. I suggested the Greens would be in favour of fish able to get high on drugs 🙂

Teacher aides not sacked for drug dealing at school!!

March 26th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

An Auckland primary school has suspended two teacher aides after they were snapped exchanging cannabis in the staff room.

But the school says the pair will keep their jobs and officials are yet to contact police, raising Ministry of Education concerns.

Surely they must be sacked.

I don’t care what they do in their own time and place. But they brought illegal drugs to school, and were selling or exchanging it in the staff room.

Prisoner drug treatment up from 234 to 4,700

May 6th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

More than 50 per cent of crime was committed by people under the influence of drugs and two-thirds of prisoners had substance abuse problems, the Corrections Service national commissioner Jeremy Lightfoot said.

Because of that, addressing alcohol and other drug abuse among offenders significantly contributed towards the department’s goal to reduce reoffending by 25 per cent in the next three years, he said.

“We are now over half way to achieving this target and re-offending has fallen by over 12 per cent against the June 2011 benchmark.

As a result, there were 2319 fewer offenders and 9276 fewer victims of crime each year.

All positive.

In 2009 nearly $2.7m was spent on drug treatment in New Zealand prisons.

By last year that had increased to $5.3m.

All prisons had recently introduced treatment programmes, he said.

“All prisoners are now screened for alcohol and drug problems when they enter prison which allows staff to make appropriate decisions on the amount of support required.

“This means that every prisoner now undergoes screening for addictions, health, mental health and education when they enter a corrections facility.”

Should have happened a long time ago.

In the 2013-14 financial year more than 3700 prisoners will have access to treatment for their addictions rising to 4700 next year.

That leapt from just 234 in 2007-08.

Labour talked the talk when it came to rehabilitation, but never walked the walk.

Prohibition wins

May 5th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Prime Minister John Key has ruled out any animal testing on legal high products.

Parliament will pass legislation this week to pull all legal high products from shop shelves until they can be proved to be safe.

Mr Key had previously ruled out recreational drug testing on all animals except rats, he told Newstalk ZB.

“The advice I’ve had from the Health Department over the weekend, and having had discussions with Peter Dunne, is that they don’t believe that that’s safe.

“They say it has to be on two species, not one, so what I’ve said is, ‘Okay, well if that’s what you believe, then it’s all out’.” 

Mr Key said if the product could not be tested other than with animals, then it failed to meet the testing regime and would not be produced.

Mr Key told TVNZ’s Breakfast show the Health Department had told him and Mr Dunne that to ensure a product was safe, it needed to be tested on rats and rabbits.

So previously legal recreational drugs will be effectively banned because rabbits are cute and rats are not.

This means that all these products will not effectively be permanently banned, because they will have no way of proving they are safe. This will help the black market, but prohibition is rarely successful or desirable.

A temporary ban of legal highs

April 28th, 2014 at 12:15 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Government will ban all synthetic drugs within two weeks until they can be proven to be low-risk, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has revealed.

The move comes as Labour plans to announce its own policy on psychoactive substances tomorrow, and follows increasing protest from local communities against legal highs.

Mr Dunne told the Herald this afternoon: “Last Tuesday, Cabinet agreed on a proposal from me to introduce legislation under urgency when Parliament resumes to remove the remaining 41 products from the shelves until such time as their low-level of risk can be proven.”

He said he would have made the announcement earlier but he did not want to encourage stock-piling of the drugs.

The emergency legislation will be introduced when Parliament resumed on May 6, and will be passed under urgency.

“I’m expecting it to be passed that particular week and to take effect pretty much immediately afterwards,” Mr Dunne said.

This meant there would be no psychoactive substances for sale in New Zealand for “some considerable amount of time”.

There are currently 150 outlets selling legal highs nationwide.

The Psychoactive Substances Act required synthetic drug manufacturers to prove their drugs were low-risk before they could be sold.

But a Ministry of Health testing regime and several other regulations were not yet in place.

In the interim, drugs which had temporary approval from an expert committee were permitted to be sold.

Forty-one products are on shelves at present, compared to around 300 before the bill was passed.

“I think that the reason we didn’t include those 41 products initially was that they hadn’t been identified as problematic,” Mr Dunne said.

There’s a degree of moral panic in all this. The number of outlets selling legal highs has gone from 3,000 to 150 and the number of products from 300 to 41. A total ban will not be effective in the medium term.

I’m glad the new regime isn’t being through out – it’s a regime that 120 out of 121 MPs voted for – no matter how much some now pretend they didn’t.

The issue seems to be around the temporary licenses and products remaining available on the temporary licenses for longer than expected as the full testing regime is not yet operational.

So the Government’s move is not entirely unreasonable – but it may become the thin end of the wedge towards total prohibition – which is a policy doomed to failure. I hope not.

Brown on synthetic cannabis

April 9th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Russel Brown writes:

With the news yesterday of the attempted arson of a legal highs store in Invercargill, it’s reasonable to ask whether we’re on the verge of public hysteria about synthetic cannabis. The next question would be why it’s happening now, when 95% of retail outlets for such products have been either shut down or forbidden to to sell the products — and those remaining are closely monitored and, for the first time, required to be strictly R18 premises.

What seems to have happen is that the law has been sucessful in closing down most legal high outlets but it has made the remaining outlets more visible.

The list of products deemed low-risk and granted interim approval is a fraction of the nearly 300 legal highs sold in the past few years, before the new Act. It includes half a dozen fairly harmless pill products containing caffeine, guarana, kava, green tea and amino acids, and the rest is synthetic pot. When the full approval process gets underway, all of these will be banned subject to the Authority being satisfied that they present a low risk. It is quite possible that no products administered by smoking will meet the standard.

People forget that prior to the law change there was no regulation at all. Prohibition will not work, so the current law should be given time to see if it is effective.

Corkery on drugs

September 23rd, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Pam Corkery writes:

The full horror of the Psychoactive Substances Act has landed.

More than 100 retailers are selling 28 brands of synthetic highs – with the blessing of 119 MPs who voted for insane legislation now implemented by the Ministry of Health.

This makes it sound like no retailers were selling no synthetic highs before this law change. Every drug being sold, was available with basically no restrictions prior to the law change.

Bowden has been allowed to buy a temporary licence to retail, import and manufacture synthetic highs, and is planning a pioneering factory on Auckland’s North Shore to keep them coming.

The rationale behind the interim legitimacy of the drugs is that working with Bowden and his fellow travellers will be more effective than prohibition at reducing harm.

No the rationale is that you just need to allow some time to get the testing done. Any new drug can not enter the market until tested, but those drugs which had already been selling legally for the last few years have a few months in which to get tested. This is much more preferable to the old law which meant they never ever got tested.

Some may argue we should have had a period of total prohibition before the testing regime starts, but consider that it is the fact that cannabis is prohibited that has led to demand for synthetic highs. Try banning those also, and God knows what you will end up with people using.

I firmly believe that the 119 MPs who voted for this law did so to show that they were liberal-minded, well-adjusted, down with the peeps, almost groovy.

How ridiculous. They voted for the law as they thought a law which decided if a drug was safe based on scientific testing was better than a law where whether a drug is banned is dependent on how many media headlines it generates.

They’re not. New Zealand doesn’t want these drugs. We’ve got more than enough already.

Who is this we? The fact there is such demand for them suggests there is a market for them. Now the irony is that it is because drugs like cannabis are banned, that you have created a demand for synthetic highs.

The legal high market

August 23rd, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Dozens of synthetic cannabis brands have been cleared for sale by health regulators, despite some containing chemicals linked to psychosis.

Note the difference between the drug being linked and a chemical within it being linked.

On Wednesday, the same day that police charged the first person with selling synthetic cannabis illegally, the Ministry of Health cleared nearly 50 shops to continue to sell similar, but approved, legal highs.

The ministry says 28 legal-high brands have now received interim approval. Approval was given if the brand had been on the market for more than three months without users reporting any serious adverse side-effects.

A sensible approach.

Grant Hall, of legal-high industry body Star Trust, said the brands received only a provisional tick and many would probably not pass the higher hurdle for permanent approval later in the year.

However, the bad side-effects associated with synthetic-cannabis products had been overblown, particularly when compared with alcohol, he said. “By any measure, these products are incredibly low risk.”

Yeah, there is almost a hysterical lynch mob mentality forming in some areas around them.

The products can be sold only through approved stores, with 46 shops receiving interim licences as of yesterday. Another 147 can continue to trade while their applications are being assessed.

In Wellington, 21 retailers can still legally sell synthetic cannabis.

Ten companies have also received interim licences to manufacture legal highs, seven to research them, and 23 to sell them wholesale.

That’s a surprisingly high number of manufacturers, researchers and wholesalers. I wonder what the total turnover of the market is?

No more drugs

August 19th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Government is warning synthetic drug manufacturers and sellers that a grace period for licensing their products and stores has lapsed and only Ministry of Health-approved psychoactive products can now remain on shelves.

Police Minister Anne Tolley reported that a Hamilton dairy had already been penalised under the legal high reforms, which put the onus on drug-makers to prove their products were safe before sale.

The dairy had 2000 packets of synthetic cannabis worth $40,000 confiscated under new rules which banned sales from dairies, petrol stations or any stores which were not licensed specialty outlets.

Manufacturers, sellers, and importers were given 28 days since the passing of the Psychoactive Substances Bill on July 18 to acquire interim licences for their products, stores or imports from a new regulatory authority.

It will be very interesting to see which products, if any, are approved as safe.

The Economist on NZ drugs regulation

August 12th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Economist writes:

AS THE world’s drug habit shows, governments are failing in their quest to monitor every London window-box and Andean hillside for banned plants. But even that Sisyphean task looks easy next to the fight against synthetic drugs. No sooner has a drug been blacklisted than chemists adjust their recipe and start churning out a subtly different one. These “legal highs” are sold for the few months it takes the authorities to identify and ban them, and then the cycle begins again. In June the UN reported more than 250 such drugs in circulation.

An unlikely leader in legal highs is New Zealand. Conventional hard drugs are scarce in the country, because traffickers have little interest in serving 4m people far out in the South Pacific. Kiwis therefore make their own synthetic drugs, which they take in greater quantity than virtually anyone else. The government shuts down more crystal-meth labs there than anywhere bar America and Ukraine. But the business has adapted. First it turned to benzylpiperazine, which a third of young New Zealanders have tried. When that was banned in 2008, dealers found plenty of other chemicals to peddle. Today the most popular highs are synthetic cannabinoids, which pack a harder punch than ordinary cannabis.

Sick of trying to keep up with drugmakers, the government is trying a new tack. Last month a law was passed which offers drug designers the chance of getting official approval for their products. If they can persuade a new “Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority” that their pills and powders are low risk, they will be licensed to market them, whether or not they get people high. Drugs will have to undergo clinical trials, which the government expects to take around 18 months—much less than for medicines, because the drugs will be tested only for toxicity, not for efficacy. Drugs that are already banned internationally, such as cocaine and cannabis, are ineligible. Only licensed shops will sell the drugs, without advertising and not to children.

The approach NZ is taking in regards to what I’d call “soft drugs” will be watch around the world with great interest.

The arguments for legalisation—that it protects consumers, shuts out criminals and saves money while raising tax—are familiar to readers of this newspaper. Yet it requires careful regulation to ensure that its outcome is not worse than widely ignored prohibition. New Zealand must now get the details right. The government has yet to define “low risk”. Set the bar too high and the policy will be prohibition by another name; too low and potentially lethal products will be on sale legally. (They are already, in the form of alcohol and tobacco, but consistency is hardly a feature of drug policy.) Nor does anybody know what level of taxation will most effectively deter consumption without encouraging a black market.

And why this approach is a good one:

These tricky questions may look like weaknesses in the policy. In fact, they are its strength. While New Zealand and Uruguay are discussing what level of toxicity or what dosage is acceptable, every other country is leaving the matter to drug dealers, who do not care about quality control and who peddle to children on the same terms as adults. As New Zealand ponders what rate of tax to levy, in the rest of the world the business is tax-free. A hard road lies ahead for New Zealand and its fellow policy innovators. But every dilemma they face is a reminder that, unlike other jurisdictions, through government they are regulating the drugs business, not the gangs.

The new policy is no silver bullet. But it is a better way of approaching the problem than simple prohibition.

Herald on recreational drugs

May 28th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

New Zealand once prided itself on being a “social laboratory” for advances in public welfare. Within a few months it will become a laboratory in every sense: for the approval of new recreational drugs. Other countries are taking a close interest in Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne’s proposed licensing system for synthetic psychoactive substances, as Mr Dunne found when he addressed a United Nations Drug Convention in Vienna recently. Drug researcher Chris Wilkins told the Weekend Herald he found the same interest at a drug policy conference in Bogota, Colombia last week.

Neither Mr Dunne nor Dr Wilkins relishes the idea that New Zealand could be the first legal, regulated market for recreational drugs thanks to the Psychoactive Substances Bill before Parliament. The bill’s purpose is to put a stop to present sales of untested, unregulated party drugs. It will require them to be proven safe before they can be put on sale and the regulators probably would not mind very much if their testing regime proves prohibitive.

I can’t say I have a problem with a regime that drugs need to be proven safe before being allowed to be sold.

Campaigners for the legalisation of cannabis must be watching with interest. While the law would apply only to synthetic equivalents, it might be hard to deny the same tests to naturally grown leaf.

Exactly. What not subject all drugs to the same regime?

Petty drug crimes

January 8th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Ben Heather at Stuff reports:

Hundreds of people are locked up for petty drug offences every year – many for crimes our top legal body says should not exist.

Justice Ministry figures show a significant amount of court time is taken up by minor drug cases, with nearly as many people imprisoned for possessing a small quantity of cannabis as for dealing.

Among these offenders are hundreds imprisoned for possessing a pipe or a needle, an offence the Law Commission recommended legalising last year.

I wonder if those imprisoned for possession of a pipe or needle only convicted for that offence?

The figures also show fewer than one in three minor drug offenders is offered diversion, allowing them to avoid a criminal record.

How many were eligible for diversion? It is only available for first time offenders.

In the past six years, possession of small amounts of cannabis or smoking utensils, such as a pipe, made up about half of all drug charges laid by police.

While most offenders received a fine or community work, more than 2800 were imprisoned on minor drug offences.

These included possession of needles, pipes, and small amounts of cannabis or methamphetamine.

I note that proportions going to prison were:

  • Cannabis possession 6.8%
  • Cannabis utensil 9.7%
  • P possession 22.4%
  • P utensil 19.8%

Rather than dealing with people through the criminal justice system, the Government could introduce a mandatory cautioning scheme, he said.

“For a drug like cannabis you could get three cautions before being diverted to a treatment programme. We are not talking about decriminalising or legalising, it’s about a more pragmatic way to get help for people that need it.”

However, Ms Collins said the justice system was the right place for all drug offenders.

“The Government relies on enforcement agencies such as police to make appropriate decisions on how to charge someone for their offending, and the judiciary to make appropriate sentencing decisions based on the circumstances of individual cases.”

Personally I think the Law Commission proposal of a mandatory cautioning scheme is a sensible initiative, and would like to see it implemented. And I am not sure that the justice system is the right place for all drug offenders.

Drug sniffer dogs in schools

November 1st, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A Northland headmaster has written to Prime Minister John Key expressing his concerns about banning drug sniffer dogs from schools, saying it is “short-sighted nonsense” and proposed new legislation was “nuts”.

The Education Amendment Bill, which was introduced to Parliament this month, aims to abolish the use of drug sniffer dogs and drug testing in schools.

The Ministry of Education says the changes will encourage safe learning environments without invasive methods.

Whangarei Boys’ High School headmaster Al Kirk has outlined his concerns to politicians Hekia Parata, Phil Heatley, Mike Sabin, Hone Harawira and John Key.

“I can tell you that WBHS is not supportive of the two amendments relating to drug tests and drug dogs. We are strongly opposed to these suggested changes. Schools will be left to pick up the pieces,” Mr Kirk said in his letter.

“I urge common sense and ask you think long and hard before supporting such retrograde changes.” 

He said safety of students would be compromised under the new regulations in some cases.

The school regularly had a drug sniffer dog go through the school and hostels.

“Surely to goodness, schools should be drug-free,” Mr Kirk said.

I have no idea why the Government is looking to ban these.

Of course you’d rather not have any drug testing or drug sniffer dogs at schools. But if a school thinks such measures are necessary to keep their school drug free, then they should be able to make those decisions.

I thought National was about more flexibility at school level?

UDATE: I’ve been sent some details about the rationale behind the bill. Basically is it that teachers are experts in teaching, not in drug detecting and enforcement. The legal situation has been unclear, hence the requirements in the bill. Teachers themselves will not be able to search bags (unless left in a locker), demand urine tests or use drug dogs.

However teachers can search school property such as lockers and desks. And if they have reasonable grounds to believe a student has an item which can endanger others or detrimentally affect the learning environment, they can demand it is given over (unclear if they can search for it if not given).

Drug dogs can be used, but not when students are present. Schools can bring the Police in to investigate if they think a student is under the influence. Also a Board can still require a suspended student to take a drug test to return to school – so long as the requirement is “reasonable”.

Okay I now understand the rationale behind the bill. I still have to say though that overall I still share the headmaster’s concern. In most schools this law will be fine. But there will be some schools with some pretty hardened drug sellers, and they will be able to evade detection if you can’t do random searches of bags at school.

This bill has just been introduced. The best thing is that people can submit to the select committee. So schools that feel this is too restrictive should say so, as Whangarei Boys’ has.

Drug testing for job seekers

August 28th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Paula Bennett has announced:

Beneficiaries with work expectations will face sanctions if they refuse to apply for drug-tested jobs, says Social Development Minister Paula Bennett. 

“Welfare reforms are resetting expectations and obligations and recreational drug use is simply not an acceptable excuse for avoiding available work.”

Under the current welfare system an unemployment beneficiary can decline to apply for an available drug-tested job, because they won’t pass the test, without consequence.

This seem reasonable and over-due. It is not random drug testing of all beneficiaries. It is merely saying you can’t refuse to apply for a job which requires drug testing.

“People will be given a warning and reasonable period of time to stop using drugs before having to take another drug test. But further failures will result in benefit reduction and possible cancellation,” says Mrs Bennett.

Where people fail a drug test or refuse to apply for a drug tested job, they must agree to stop using drugs or their benefit will be cut by 50 percent. They will be given 30 days to allow any drugs they have taken to leave their system.

Where they fail a test or refuse a second time, they will have their benefit suspended until they agree that they will provide a ‘clean’ drug test within 30 days. If they do not do this their benefit will be cancelled.

People with addiction will be supported to get help with their dependency while those on some prescribed medications will be exempt.

Some will argue against this, but I ask what their alternate policy is? That someone can remain indefinitely on the benefit refusing to apply for jobs that they could do if they were drug free?

Drug testing for drivers

August 27th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

More than half the drivers taken to hospital after causing a crash were found to have drugs in their system, a study has found.

The Ministry of Transport study used blood samples taken from 453 drivers who caused crashes.

Drugs were detected in the systems of 258 drivers, analysis by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) found.

Of that group, 156 were found to be on drugs not administered by a medical professional

Ninety people sent to hospital had both cannabis and alcohol in their system.

Yesterday, the Automobile Association renewed its calls for random roadside saliva tests to be used to target drug drivers.

I support this.

The data above indicates a much much higher presence of drugs in drivers who have crashed than in the normal population. Now there are issues around drug testing, as the presence doesn’t mean a current impairment (unlike alcohol). But I have long thought that drugged driving is as big an issue as drunk driving – and we need to reduce the prevalence of both to make our roads safer.

UK drug use

March 25th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

An interesting article in the Guardian:

Some 7,700 UK drug users and 4,000 from the US and Canada took part in the detailed survey, carried out online in November. Respondents were asked a range of questions including what drugs they took, how often, and what the health and legal consequences were. It was conducted by the independent drug use data exchange Global Drug Survey, in association with the Guardian and Mixmag, the clubbing magazine and website.

One of the strongest underlying messages is that this group of drug users report as happy, healthy and educated, and feel at ease with their recreational consumption of a range of illicit substances from cannabis to ecstasy to cocaine. They are not in rehab, prison or in trouble with the law and do not take heroin or crack.

The mean age of UK respondents was 28. Nine out of 10 were white, three-quarters were in work and earning between £10,000 and £40,000. Some 55% were educated to degree level or above.

A key conclusion being:

Dr Adam Winstock, a consultant addictions psychiatrist and director ofGlobal Drug Survey, said: “This is the largest assessment of current drug use ever conducted. What is overwhelmingly tells us is that people are not defined by their drug use, but that the harms that drugs can have are defined by the way people choose to use them.

“The challenge for government and policy makers will be how to regulate and craft a public health response which remains credible and respects individual choice.”

Absolutely. Demonising all drug users as criminals is not good policy.

Drugged Driving

February 7th, 2012 at 9:08 am by David Farrar

Michelle Duff at Stuff reports:

Dreamy, clammy, drooling or overemotional – the tell-tale signs of a drugged driver have led to hundreds of people being netted since the new laws were introduced.

Figures released to The Dominion Post under the Official Information Act show 514 people appeared sufficiently out of it for police to perform a compulsory impairment test on them since the Land Transport Amendment Act was introduced in November 2009.

Of these, 455 struggled to walk nine steps and turn without wandering off the line – stopping, miscounting the number of steps, not understanding the instructions or having to use their arms for balance.

Under the law, a police officer who suspects a driver of being impaired can require the driver to carry out a compulsory impairment test. This measures co-ordination, physiological reactions and markers for drug impairment such as pupil dilation.

As well as requiring them to walk in a straight line, police must check the driver’s behaviour against a list of possible signs of drug use – including slurred or incoherent speech, dilated pupils, and flushed or clammy skin.

They might also be making jerky movements, drooling, scratching, or appear dreamy or anxious.

A driver who fails must undergo a blood test and can then be charged with driving while impaired, which carries similar penalties to those for drink-driving.

Of the 455 drivers who failed the impairment test since 2009, 429 tested positive for one or more drugs.

I was a long time advocate that the Police should check drivers not just for excess alcohol, but for drugs which impair driving ability. It is good to see that the law change has produced results. Driving while stoned is a very very stupid thing to do, as responses are so slowed.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy

June 11th, 2011 at 12:29 pm by David Farrar

Last week the release of a report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy made news around the world as it declared the war on drugs a costly failure. Part of the reason it got so much publicity was that the Commissioners included:

  • Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil
  • César Gaviria, former President of Colombia
  • Ernesto Zedillo, former President of México
  • George Shultz, former Secretary of State
  • Richard Branson, entrepreneur
  • Kofi Annan, former Un Secretary-General

Now I don’t necessairly disagree with the conclusion that the war on drugs has been a failure. Having said that, I’m not sure better alternatives have been articulated.

Anyway I got curious about this Global Commission that made headlines around the world. I wondered who actually established the group? Was it the UN? Was it a country? An NGO?

And then I wondered who selected the Commissioners? Did they select people known to share a common view that the war on drugs has failed? Did they advertise for Commissioners?

And finally I wondered who was paying the bills?

The interesting thing is that none of these questions can be found on the Commission’s website, or in their report. They seems to have had a virgin birth, just declaring their own existence.

So who can find out answers to the questions – who established the commission, who appointed the commissioners and who is paying the bills?

As far as I can tell no mainstream media outlet has asked these questions, or more importantly included them in their reporting. If this was a group hand picked for their known opposition to current drug policy, that is a relevant piece of information.

A promising development

May 26th, 2011 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Kate Chapman reports at Stuff:

Offenders with serious drug and alcohol problems could get a chance to go to rehab instead of jail if a new drug court pilot goes ahead.

The Law Commission recommended the establishment of a drug court pilot that would see sentencing delayed while offenders underwent rehabilitation and detoxification treatment.

A spokesman for Justice Minister Simon Power said the Justice Ministry was working with other government agencies, including the Health Ministry, and would report back on the cost effectiveness and funding availability for the programme.

“The Minister thinks the idea of drug courts is a really interesting idea,” he said.

If the pilot court goes ahead it is likely to be housed at the Waitakere District Court.

This is a promising development. I don’t think the status quo is working that well. Rehabilitation and treatment is preferable to criminal sanctions.

A more sensible drugs policy

May 3rd, 2011 at 3:13 pm by David Farrar

The Law Commission has completed its report reviewing our drug laws. Their key proposals include:

  • A mandatory cautioning scheme for all personal possession and use offences that come to the attention of the police
  • Removing minor drug offenders from the criminal justice system and providing greater opportunities for those in need of treatment to access it.
  • A full scale review of the current drug classification system which is used to determine restrictiveness of controls and severity of penalties, addressing existing inconsistencies and focusing solely on assessing a drug’s risk of harm, including social harm.
  • Making separate funding available for the treatment of offenders through the justice sector to support courts when they impose rehabilitative sentences to address alcohol and drug dependence problems;
  • Consideration of a pilot drug court, allowing the government to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of deferring sentencing of  some  offenders until they had undergone court-imposed alcohol and/or drug treatment

I think the Law Commission’s proposals are very sound, and they are not a “soft line on drugs“, as Stuff says.

Giving people a criminal record over a one time possession of small amounts of cannabis is silly, considering arund half the adult population have smoked cannabis. I’m not one of them incidentially.

I hope the Government does not reject this report knee-jerk, and doesn’t rule out any changes which might lead to better outcomes for New Zealand and New Zealanders. The proposed warning system for drug use provides good incentives for people to stop.

I think I agree with Trevor

August 8th, 2010 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The HoS reports:

A drug dealing 12-year-old took a kilogram of cannabis to sell to his mates at an intermediate school.

The kid with the stash, worth about $7000, was busted when his friends at Auckland’s Manurewa Intermediate were caught smoking some of the cannabis.

The 12-year-old had been given the drugs by a family member to sell at school.

I hope that family member is now in jail.

Labour’s education spokesman, Trevor Mallard, said police and Child, Youth and Family (CYF) should be told of every drugs case in primary and intermediate schools.

“The sharing of this information could well help the kid in the long run. It might be that CYF and police decide to do nothing but they should have that information.

“That’s something that the minister should look at.”

But Education Minister Anne Tolley indicated on Friday that was unlikely. “This issue should be of concern to everyone – parents, communities, boards of trustees and teachers,” she said.

“Boards manage schools and develop their own policies – and most would notify the police or CYF in the event of a drugs issue. That’s a commonsense approach – and schools shouldn’t need the Government to tell them that.”

I’m basically with Trevor on this one. If we are talking kids not yet at secondary school, then I think there must be mandatory notification. This is too important to leave to school discretion. Sure you don’t want schools having to report every 17 year old who is caught with some pot, but hell if a kid is into drugs at age 10 or 12, then they are at serious risk of a life of dysfunctionality.