Māori health organisations Te Rau Ora and Hāpai Te Hauora have joined the New Zealand Drug Foundation and four other public health and social justice organisations to set up the Health not Handcuffs coalition, a vehicle for people who want to overhaul our outdated drug law.

The campaign is calling on the Government to: remove criminal penalties for drug use and possession and move instead to a health-referral model; double New Zealand’s yearly budget for drug-related prevention, education, harm reduction and treatment; and regulate the legal supply of cannabis, to improve public health.

“Tinkering with Aotearoa’s drug law is not good enough for tangata whenua, we need a complete overhaul” said Te Rau Ora CEO Dr Maria Baker.

“41% of those charged for minor drug charges are Māori, while more than 50 percent of people imprisoned for those same offences are Māori. Māori adults are seen at alcohol and other drug treatment services nearly twice as often than non-Māori.

“We need to make sure everyone who needs help can get it, and end the disproportionate punishment of Māori in the criminal justice system,” said Dr Baker.

“The vast majority of Māori have seen the human cost of our punitive and discriminatory law first-hand, and know that it’s time for a new approach,” said Hāpai Te Hauora Chief Operating Manager Selah Hart.

“Shifting resources away from police, prisons, and the courts and into kaupapa Māori treatment and prevention is essential to reduce drug harm in Māori communities.

“Our people need a cloak of love and support, not punishment and stigma,” said Ms Hart.

The first campaign action is to collect 120 reasons from the public about why we should treat drug use as a health and social issue. Each of our 120 MPs will be sent 120 reasons to give them insight into the first-hand impacts of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.

The campaign will call for ‘He Korowai Aroha’ and a focus on supporting whānau who need care not judgement - kākahungia te tangata ki te aroha, kaua ki te whakawhiu.