Petty drug crimes

Ben Heather at Stuff reports:

Hundreds of people are locked up for petty drug offences every year – many for crimes our top legal body says should not exist.

Justice Ministry figures show a significant amount of court time is taken up by minor drug cases, with nearly as many people imprisoned for possessing a small quantity of cannabis as for dealing.

Among these offenders are hundreds imprisoned for possessing a pipe or a needle, an offence the recommended legalising last year.

I wonder if those imprisoned for possession of a pipe or needle only convicted for that offence?

The figures also show fewer than one in three minor drug offenders is offered diversion, allowing them to avoid a criminal record.

How many were eligible for diversion? It is only available for first time offenders.

In the past six years, possession of small amounts of cannabis or smoking utensils, such as a pipe, made up about half of all drug charges laid by police.

While most offenders received a fine or community work, more than 2800 were imprisoned on minor drug offences.

These included possession of needles, pipes, and small amounts of cannabis or methamphetamine.

I note that proportions going to prison were:

  • Cannabis possession 6.8%
  • Cannabis utensil 9.7%
  • P possession 22.4%
  • P utensil 19.8%

Rather than dealing with people through the criminal justice system, the Government could introduce a mandatory cautioning scheme, he said.

“For a drug like cannabis you could get three cautions before being diverted to a treatment programme. We are not talking about decriminalising or legalising, it’s about a more pragmatic way to get help for people that need it.”

However, Ms Collins said the justice system was the right place for all drug offenders.

“The Government relies on enforcement agencies such as police to make appropriate decisions on how to charge someone for their offending, and the judiciary to make appropriate sentencing decisions based on the circumstances of individual cases.”

Personally I think the Law Commission proposal of a mandatory cautioning scheme is a sensible initiative, and would like to see it implemented. And I am not sure that the justice system is the right place for all drug offenders.

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