Historical use of recreational drugs
Traditionally Māori did not use intoxicants, and they did not come into contact with recreational drug use until the urbanisation of the post-Second World War years. During the 1970s use of marijuana became common among those in their teens and twenties. As these early users grew older, marijuana was increasingly normalised within Māori communities. Other drugs were used, but by small numbers of younger Māori.
In the 1980s some Māori in their teens and 20s began sniffing, breathing in or ‘huffing’ aerosols, glue, petrol, butane, paint thinners, paint or methylated spirits. Known in New Zealand as ‘solvents’, these volatile substances gave off vapours that produced a mind-altering effect. Use of solvents occasionally resulted in death.
A 2007–8 survey found that of Māori aged 16 to 64, 64.6% had used drugs (excluding BZP party pills) recreationally at some time in their life, a higher rate than that of any other ethnic group in New Zealand. Of Māori who had ever used drugs, 30.8% first did so at age 14 or younger, compared with 16.9% of non-Māori. 28% of Māori had used drugs recreationally in the previous 12 months, compared with 17% of Europeans, 17.9% of Pacific people and 5.7% of Asian people.
Drugs in recreational use in New Zealand in the 2000s included cannabis, ecstasy, amphetamines, prescription stimulants, synthetic and naturally occurring hallucinogens, ketamine, GHB, nitrous oxide and BZP (benzylpiperazine) party pills. Marijuana and BZP party pills were the drugs of choice among Māori, who used both at a higher rate than the population as a whole. In 2012 the United Nations reported that use of marijuana was particularly high in Oceania (which includes New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific Islands) – 9–15% of the population, compared to 3–5% worldwide – so the rate of use by Māori was amongst the highest in the world.
Party pills containing BZP were introduced to New Zealand in 2000. They were made a restricted substance in 2005 and became illegal in 2008. Prior to this, 23% of Māori adults had tried them, compared with 14.4% of Europeans (the group with the next-highest rate of use).
Other drugs used by Māori included methamphetamine (sometimes called ‘P’) and solvents. A 2007–8 survey found that Māori had the highest rate of lifetime use of amphetamines, with 9.8% having tried them, compared with 7.9% of Europeans, 3.7% of Pacific people and 1.8% of Asian people. Non-Māori motorcycle gangs have dominated the lucrative business of making and selling methamphetamine, but the Mongrel Mob, Black Power and Tribesmen gangs also became involved. Use of methamphetamine in New Zealand dropped by half between 2007–8 and 2011.
A very small number of Māori youth continued to use solvents. In the 2000s the most frequently used substances were those that contained butane and butane-propane. Between 2000 and 2011, 61 people, 30 of them Māori, died as a result of butane use.