Hard News by Russell Brown


Drug policy: women lead the way

There's a game you can play at conferences in any sector: count the women scheduled to speak and contemplate how far the event is from a true share of voices. The New Zealand Drug Foundation's two-day Parliamentary Drug Law Symposium in Wellington next week is a little different. All 14 of the speakers accorded biographies on the symposium website are women.

There's a reason for that, one I've commented on before. And it's that drug policy is a sector where women work at the coalface and where women drive change. Last year, I had the privilege of interviewing the late Helen Kelly, who changed the conversation about cannabis in New Zealand. Last week, I talked to Tricia Walsh, who turned around a harrowing life story and now addresses the harm wreaked by meth among East Coast whanau, in a way that only someone who's been there could do.

The symposium lineup features a number of other remarkable New Zealand women, including Julia Whaipooti, the chair of JustSpeak, and Professor Khylee Quince of the AUT School of Law. There will also be a presentation by Wendy Allison, who has done more than anyone to bring harm reduction at events to the threshold of acceptability. (I have a very interesting story on Wendy's work drug-checking at festivals in the issue of Matters of Substance that's out next week.)

They'll be joined by the likes of Ann Fordham, the executive director of the International Drug Policy Consortium, the umbrella group for drug policy NGOs, and Alison Holcomb, who has worked with the American Civil Liberties Union on criminal justice reform initiatives and directed the cannabis legalisation campaign in Washington state.

I'll be there too. I considered touting a story to another media organisation but decided it made more sense to cover the symposium here on Public Address. I'll cover proceedings in general and also look to do several substantial interviews. Hey, maybe even some video vox-pops.

I've paid to attend and I've even bought a new laptop to travel with, so if you're interest in this subject and you're in a position to help, you'd be very welcome to toss me a little coin via our Press Patron page (you can make a one-off or ongoing donation by clicking that red button). I'd be ever so grateful.

You can also still register for the symposium yourself – but be aware that registration closes on Friday.

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