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Cannabis Conundrums and Other Drug Policy Challenges: What it will take to reduce drug harms in Aotearoa New Zealand

Ngā panga e pā ana ki te Cannabis me ētahi atu wero kaupapahere pūroi

Tuesday 26 February 2019

Big news… João Goulão (Portugal) and Eric Costen (Canada) have now been confirmed as keynote speakers. See below

Note Free Public Lecture by Eric Costen also being held at 5.15pm

The need for drug law reform has never been more stark. In the last year, over 45 deaths were attributed to dangerous synthetic cannabinoids. The scars from readily available methamphetamine are visible in many communities. Māori are more likely to be stopped, arrested and convicted of drug-related offences than non-Māori.

New Zealand is on the cusp of making some big decisions about drugs. A referendum about whether to permit adult use of cannabis within a regulated market is one part of this. Politicians are also debating what the government can best do to reduce harms from other drugs. Changes to groundbreaking Psychoactive substances legislation are already being considered, with other law change possibly on the way. Public health and human rights principles should be at the heart of a comprehensive response.

Using real-world examples of successful public health approaches from Portugal and Canada, this symposium will address the questions: What does a public health approach to drugs and reducing drug-related harm for Aotearoa New Zealand actually look like? and How do we overcome the political conundrums to make progress a reality?

Topics covered

  1. Current drug law and how we ended up where we are now
  2. International examples of drug law change that promote health and human rights, including Portugal and Canada
  3. A model for a public health approach to drug law reform, including perspectives on Māori equity, human rights and protecting vulnerable populations from harm
  4. How we can protect and enhance wellbeing through drug-related education, prevention, treatment and regulation

Style of course

Symposium – Multi-speaker presentations and panel discussion in lecture theatre setting

Who should attend?

This course is aimed at:

  • Policy makers from central government, DHBs, local bodies
  • Staff from health, social service and youth development NGOs
  • Iwi, hāpu, and Māori organisation representatives keen to explore other options to reduce harm in Māori communities
  • Advocates for drug law reform
  • Health professionals
  • Members of the public interested in health, social justice and human rights

Draft timetable

Time Session Presenter(s)
8:30am Registration  
9:00am Welcome, Introduction and warm up Ross Bell, Kali Mercier
  Overview of drug law and drug use in Aotearoa New Zealand – past and present. We’ll talk about how our approach affects people, especially our most vulnerable, and ask -are people still being arrested for drug use?

A conversation about the Law Commission’s proposed reforms in 2011: What were they aiming to achieve? What’s changed since then?

Mini workshop – We’ll brainstorm what the goals of a legal framework for drugs should actually be and discuss what a public health approach means in practise.  
Warren Young and Kali Mercier, with audience participation
10:30am Morning tea  
11:00am Case study: Portugal
Exploring why Portugal did away with criminal penalties for drug use, and what the effect has been on public health and criminal justice
João Goulão
  We’ll cover how these learnings can be applied in Aotearoa New Zealand. How are we distinct? In particular, what might taking a public health approach mean for Māori? Khylee Quince, with audience participation
12:30pm Lunch break  
1:30pm Case study: Canada
The highs and the lows of Canada’s public health approach to the legalisation of cannabis: what were the aims, how did they balance priorities and…has it worked?
Eric Costen
  Cannabis regulation in Aotearoa New Zealand: We’ll talk about what we can learn from Canada, and which curly issues we most need to find policy solutions for. Chlōe Swarbrick
3:00pm Afternoon tea  
3:30pm The politics of drug law reform in Aotearoa – where we are headed, and how we will ensure we keep a strong public health focus in any new legislation. (TBC) Key politicians
5:00pm Finish  
5:15pm Public Lecture: Canada has been there: What NZ can learn from their cannabis legalisation and regulation process  Eric Costen

Teaching staff

Ross Bell, Executive Director, NZ Drug Foundation

Ross has been leading the work of the Drug Foundation since 2004. His role spans public health advocacy at local, national and international levels, with an emphasis on bringing key players together. He has been instrumental in ensuring a community voice on alcohol and other drugs to the decision-makers table. Ross has supported the work of the International Drug Policy Consortium in advisory and governance roles since 2006.

Prior positions Ross has filled include university researcher, foreign affairs adviser, and social justice advocate. He studied geography and Māori studies for a Bachelor of Arts before going on to complete a MA in Development Studies, both from Auckland University.

Kali Mercier, Policy and Advocacy Manager, NZ Drug Foundation

Kali’s extensive background in international human rights has taken her to Berlin, London, Mexico City and Botswana. A highlight of that period was helping Survival International to run a high-profile campaign on behalf of the Kalahari ‘Bushmen’, seeing their land rights case successfully through the High Court of Botswana. She has BA LLB (Hons); MdevStud.

Before starting at the Drug Foundation, Kali helped develop youth crime policy at the Ministry of Justice. Now she works on a range of policy issues including drug law reform, methamphetamine-contaminated houses and emergency overdose harm reduction.

Warren Young, General Manager of the Independent Police Conduct Authority

Warren is General Manager at the Independent Police Conduct Authority, and a member of the criminal justice reform advisory group, Hāpaitia te Oranga Tangata. During his time as Deputy President of the NZ Law Commission, Warren led the Commission’s review of the Misuse of Drugs Act. He was formerly Deputy Secretary for Justice, a Professor of Law and Director of the Institute of Criminology at Victoria University of Wellington.

Dr João Goulão, Chairman of Portugal's Institute on Drugs and Drug Addiction

Dr João Goulão is often called the architect of Portugal’s health-based drug policy. He played a key role in both developing and implementing the recommendations that led to the decriminalisation of the use of all drugs in the country in 2001. Since 2005, he has been Director-General of SICAD, a government agency that promotes the reduction of the use of licit and illicit substances and the decrease of addictions. He is also chairman of Portugal's Institute on Drugs and Drug Addiction, and former chair of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. He is sought internationally to share his expertise and has spoken at dozens of conferences around the world.

Eric Costen, Associate Assistant Deputy Minister of Health Canada's Controlled Substances and Cannabis Branch.

Eric Costen is currently the Associate Assistant Deputy Minister of Health Canada's Controlled Substances and Cannabis Branch. In this role he is responsible for the department's opioid response and controlled substances policies and programs. Previously, he was Director General, Strategic Policy for cannabis legalization and regulation, where he was responsible for leading the development of the Cannabis Act, Cannabis Regulations, and for establishing and maintaining intergovernmental, Indigenous, and global partnerships. In 2016 he headed a federal Secretariat to the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, chaired by the Honourable Anne McLellan, which led a national dialogue on cannabis law reform in Canada.

Eric has held a range of health policy positions over his 14 years in the federal government. Between 2013-2016, he established and served as the first Executive Director of the Office of Medical Cannabis, implementing new federal regulations for the establishment a system of regulated cannabis production and sale. Prior to this, between 2006-2011, he served as the Director of First Nations and Inuit mental Health and substance use programs and policies.

Eric has a degree from the University of Ottawa. He is the proud father of four boys.

Chlöe Swarbrick, Member of Parliament and Green Party spokesperson for Mental Health and Drug Law Reform.

Despite being New Zealand’s youngest MP, Chlöe has been making a splash, pushing hard for regulation of cannabis, decriminalisation of drug use and the rights of patients to access affordable and effective cannabis-based medicine.

Khylee Quince, Senior Lecturer and Associate Head of School at AUT School of Law.

Khylee is Ngapuhi and Ngati Porou. She has nearly 20 years’ experience teaching and researching criminal law, youth justice, and issues relating to Māori and the criminal justice system.

Further guest speakers currently being confirmed - watch this space!

Course cost and registration

$300 early bird, $400 after 20 December 2018.

A 50% discount is available to full-time students, those unwaged and University of Otago staff.