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Opinion

Wilhelmina Shrimpton: New Zealand's war on drugs isn't working, so here's my solution

Opinion: I've said it before, and I’ll say it again … the war on drugs isn’t working. 

As a nation, we’re wasting money and resource policing something that people will always find a way to supply and take. 

People aren’t worried about getting caught anymore, they’re concerned about taking the wrong thing. 

Case in point ... last weekend when 12 people were hospitalised for taking powdered fentanyl they thought was cocaine. An easy mistake to make, with police telling me yesterday it was impossible to tell the difference with the naked eye. 

It reminded me of a two-part investigation I did last year into the party drug MDMA. Many experts have argued that the harm associated with MDMA is low, and much lower than alcohol. 

But during the pandemic, supply became short, so synthetic cathinones were being sold in their place. 

They're cheaper and easier to make and some of the ingredients aren't illegal overseas.

There was one called n-ethylpentylone, and another called eutylone doing the rounds. These cathinones mimic the look and effect of MDMA … but are more potent, and wear off quickly - so people take more and that’s when they overdose. 

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It’s a dangerous game of drug roulette and one that could be avoided with legalisation and regulation. 

Legalisation and regulation would mean the drug and its potency would be controlled, and the risk of taking something dodgy would be eliminated. 

We might be a small market, but we’re a pretty lucrative one. Last year police told me a kilo of MDMA fetched NZ$4000 overseas, but here it’s closer to $100,000. 

Legalisation and regulation would drive that price right down, and make us a less attractive destination for illegal imports. 

It would also bring the black market into the light, cutting the main source of income and resource to many of our gangs. 

Legalisation and regulation would also mean all the money and resource we currently spend on raids, investigations and crack-downs could be filtered into our health system. 

We could treat it as a health issue instead of a criminal one. 

Perhaps the idea is still a little far-fetched given we couldn’t even get the cannabis referendum over the line. 

But what is apparent is our current strategy isn’t working, and something has to change.