Hone Harawira and the War on Drugs

On the Nation this weekend, Mana Party leader Hone Harawira raised the idea of executing Chinese drug dealers, imprisoning them for life or deporting them, as a response to the methamphetamine problem in his area. “We can pass a law to say any Chinese that brings meth or precursors into this country is either going to jail forever, is going to be sent back and never allowed here again, is going to get executed.” he says.

I felt sick to my guts when I watched this. Hone is deliberately targeting and scapegoating migrants while upping the ante for a punitive and violent war on drugs.

His ‘war on drugs’ rhetoric is political demagoguery, He is deliberately exploiting an important issue in our communities by fanning the flames of prejudice and ignorance and shutting down any reasoned deliberation about drug policy in NZ for short term political gain.

The most fundamental demagogic technique is scapegoating, and this is a deliberate tactic that Hone has used before in the media. It’s dog whistling politics of the lowest common denominator.

Hone is just jumping on the xenophobic bandwagon that is being created and exploited by all the major political parties this election. We need informed, reasoned debate about drug policy in this country, not populist media stunts and the dumbing down of issues.

Harawira’s chilling rhetoric reflects that of Duterte in the Phillipines where his violent war on drugs has resulted in the extra judicial murder of thousands. Hone’s rhetoric is one small step away from calling for all drug dealers and users to be executed. 

“ Since Duterte took office in June, Philippine national police and vigilante death squads have embarked on a campaign to slaughter drug users as well as drug dealers. “Hitler massacred three million Jews [sic], now, there’s three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them,” he said in September. Last month, he told a group of jobless Filipinos that they should “kill all the drug addicts.” Police have killed over 7,000 people, devastated poor areas of Manila and other cities, and used the drug war as a pretext to murder government officials and community leaders.”




The War on Drugs and the Mass Incarceration of Maori


Currently Māori are bearing the brunt of our current ‘war on drugs’ . Maori are four times more likely to get a drug conviction, we make up about 40 per cent of the prisoner population for drug offences.

Māori are more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested and convicted for minor drug offences than other New Zealanders. These laws are creating more harm for Māori than it prevents.

Meth (and other drugs) are causing harm in our communities but we don’t end harm by creating more harm. Using the criminal justice system as the intervention has not worked and, in fact has made it worse. It will do nothing to stop the devastation of drug abuse in our communities .

We have seen in America that the War on Drugs first promulgated by Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan has resulted as a war on people of colour and poor communities, directly resulting in the expansion of the prison industrial complex. We see the same failed policies replicated here in New Zealand.

We have seen world over punitive drug policies that cause the widespread violation of human rights, as well as unprecedented levels of incarceration.

Here, Michelle Alexander, Author of The New Jim Crow, speaks about the political strategy behind the War on Drugs and its connection to the mass incarceration of Black and Brown people in the United States.



What to do ?


There are many examples of researched and enlightened drug policies around the world that we can use as examples to counter the problems associated with drug abuse in our communities that does not cause harm or result in a boom in mass incarceration.

In 2001, Portugal decriminalised all illicit substances after a nasty war on drugs. Since then, the country’s drug use and overdose rates have fallen. Drug-related crime decreased and demand for health clinic and addiction services surged.


For 15 years Portugal has implemented a decriminalisation approach. As a result overdoses have decreased dramatically, people get the help they need, HIV & Hep C has decreased, and incarceration has decreased.



There is some amazing mahi being done by Māori working in the drug and alcohol field working on transformative anti oppressive kaupapa Māori change. Tuari Potiki (Ngai Tahu) presented a positive and inspiring speech at the UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem last year.

“ Sometimes, when we are threatened, we go to war.

And sometimes, we go to war against the wrong people.

If we decide to wage a war against cancer. Would we do that by bombing the people who have cancer?

Many nations have joined up to wage a war against drugs. And have ended up attacking and harming people who really need our help and support.”

“I believe that if you are not a part of the solution then you are a part of the problem, and that the major part of the world drug problem is those countries that continue to block progress towards compassionate, proportionate and health focused responses to drug use and drug users.

So the first thing I call for in standing before you today – is to stop punishing people who are in need of our help. We must stop criminalising people who are in need of our help and support.”

“If there is a war to be fought, and I believe that there is, it should be a war on poverty, on disparity, on dispossession, on the multitude of political and historical factors that have left, and continue to leave, so many people vulnerable and in jeopardy.”


This is the type of courageous Māori leadership that we need, that is measured and intelligent and will provide real solutions to the issues our communities are facing with drugs. We need to be  weary of knee-jerk responses that stigmatise those already struggling with drugs who need tautoko,support and kaupapa Maori health based approaches, not rhetoric and vitriol.

Sina Brown-Davis

Te Uriohau, Te Roroa, Fale Ula, Va’vau







Author: Te Wharepora Hou

Te Wharepora Hou is a collective of wāhine who are mainly Tāmaki Makaurau based, but we have strong participation from wāhine based elsewhere in Aotearoa and the world. We have come together to ensure a stronger voice for wāhine and are concerned primarily with the wellbeing of whānau, hapū, iwi and all that pertains to Papatūānuku and the sustenance of our people.

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