I am writing this long overdue blog post while I am flying back from Budapest where I travelled to yet another conference as part of this summer’s academic “conference season.” This will be part one of a five-part series of travel blogs that will look at my experience of travelling to four countries over the course of six weeks to attend various academic conferences as part of my PhD research.
The first conference I will be discussing in this series of travel blogs is the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy’s New Zealand Satellite Conference. Shortly after starting my Marie Curie ITN Fellowship I became a member of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy (ISSDP). One of the main benefits of being a member of this society is the opportunity to attend their annual conference which takes place each spring. Last year I was able to go to my first ISSDP conference which was held in Ghent and as a result of my strong positive experience at that conference I wanted to attend this year’s conference as well. As the main conference was being held in Sydney this year which is a long way to travel for most researchers located in other countries; the society organised a series of “satellite” events in New Zealand and Australia to entice researchers to make the long journey “down under.” Fortunately for me, my fantastic supervisor Tammy was happy for me to go and I was able to attend two of the events, the satellite event in Auckland as well as the main conference in Sydney which I will cover in Part 2 of this series of travel blogs.
Although the flight from London to Auckland can be quite brutal (around 24 hours depending on where you do your layover) I was fortunate enough to be able to schedule a quick 36-hour layover in Dubai where I able to visit my sister and two-year-old niece who I had not seen since starting my Marie Curie Fellowship. After fulfilling my responsibilities as an uncle during my brief layover in Dubai it was time to continue my journey onto Auckland.
After a long flight that saw me leave on a Saturday and arrive on a Monday I finally arrived in Auckland. After having a day to catch up on some much needed rest as well as do some sightseeing it was time to attend the conference. What I originally thought would be a long and complicated commute from my hotel in Auckland City Centre to the conference venue located in the quiet suburb of Devonport turned out to be one of the most relaxing and beautiful commutes to work I have ever had as demonstrated by the picture below.
After taking the ferry across the harbour and walking through the picturesque neighbourhood of Devonport I arrived at the conference venue which was located right on quiet beach overlooking Rangitoto Island.
For me the highlight of the conference took place during the second day of the conference which started with a series of very interesting presentations on New Zealand’s unique legal high legislation. For those of you who are unfamiliar with New Zealand’s history with legal highs I will do my best to provide a very quick overview of what makes their situation so unique. In the mid 2000s New Zealand like many other countries experienced a huge increase in the use of the legal high BZP. At the height of its popularity BZP use within the general population had reached levels that saw more than 15% of the population having used the drug within the past 12 months. In order to better regulate the market New Zealand law makers decided to take a unique approach to drug policy by removing the burden of proving that a substance is harmful from the government and placing the responsibility on the manufacturers to prove that a substance causes minimal harm. In a sense this meant that all psychoactive substances would become illegal unless it good be proven that they posed minimal harm to consumers. While there are some flaws with New Zealand’s approach to regulating psychoactive substances in this way, namely the difficulties with doing the necessary clinical testing needed to prove that these substances are low risk required by the legislation (which is apparently a huge challenge in New Zealand to the current ban on animal testing); their approach remains very interesting nonetheless.
Overall the conference proved to be very stimulating particularly the sessions which looked at New Zealand’s approach to regulating the legal high market. It was really nice to be able to hear from and talk to people who had first hand experience with this interesting form of drug legislation which I have read so much about during the course of my literature review. Before I end this blog I must give some acknowledgment to the team led by Dr. Chris Wilkins at the SHORE and Whāriki Research Centre who did an excellent job of organising and hosting the conference.
Well that is all I have to say about my trip to Auckland, in my next blog post I will discuss the second conference that I attended as part of my “conference season” travels, the annual ISSDP Conference which took place in Sydney Australia.
Until next time.