Drug law proposals set to be rejected
A Law Commission report calling for possible decriminalisation of some drug use and allowing cannabis for medicinal use is set to be rejected by the Government.
The commission said it agreed with vigorous law enforcement on commercial drug dealers, but that there should be less emphasis on punishment of personal possession and use, and more emphasis on delivering effective treatment to addicts.
However, Justice Minister Simon Power says there is no prospect drug laws will be relaxed.
The commission report says there is no doubt that alcohol and illegal drugs both cause harm to the community, but "while the harms and costs associated with alcohol are typically understated and misunderstood, those associated with illegal drugs are often generalised and overblown".
It said the focus of drug laws should be on preventing the harm to others from drug use, not on preventing self-harm or reflecting moral values.
"The (Misuse Of Drugs) Act seems poorly aligned with the policy platform of harm minimisation," it said.
"Its focus is on controlling the supply of drugs by eliminating their illegal importation, production and supply.
"The use of drugs, even by those who are dependent on them, is largely treated as a matter solely of criminal policy rather than health policy. It should, however, be the concern of both."
The commission said evidence suggested that drug regulations neither increased nor decreased drug use, and that for personal use the law would best focus on dealing with the harm the drug use caused.
"We think that the criminal justice system has a key role to play in identifying individuals whose drug use is causing harm and diverting them into drug education, assessment and treatment.
"Simply punishing a drug user, without taking steps to address their drug use, is a wasted opportunity."
The commission suggested three options when police found personal drug use:
- Police could issue up to three caution notices, with someone receiving a third caution assessed with a view to receiving treatment. A prosecution would follow any further uses.
- Police issuing infringement notices requiring a fixed monetary penalty for less serious drugs.
- A menu of options ranging from cautions or infringements to referral to drug assessment to prosecution.
When a prosecution was commenced, options included:
- Greater use of the police adult diversion scheme;
- Less severe penalties, possibly extending the presumption against imprisonment for use of Class C drugs to all personal use offences;
- Court-based diversion into assessment and treatment.
The commission also questioned whether possession of utensils for the purpose of using drugs should be a criminal offence.
It also said cannabis should be allowed for medicinal purposes, provided the potential for misuse could be controlled.
It said cultivators of cannabis should be licensed, which would minimise the risk the drug would be diverted into illegal activity.
To help addicts, the commission suggested there was place for a limited compulsory civil detention and treatment regime provided it had appropriate safeguards.
Mr Power said that while he was prepared to listen to submissions, "there's not a single, solitary chance that as long as I'm the Minister of Justice, we'll be relaxing drug laws in New Zealand".
"The Prime Minister has made the war against P and drugs a key part of his leadership and as long as I'm the Minister of Justice, we will not be relaxing drug laws."