Law Commission on drug laws

Simon Power must have a very sore kneecap after what was an un-necessary kneejerk rejection of pretty much everything in the Law Commission’s review of drug laws.

“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.

Though he was “interested” in submissions on regulations limiting the supply of new drugs – including party pills – he had “no intention of changing the current rules”.

“I’m happy to hear what the submissions have to say but I have advised the Law Commission that I have other things on my work agenda.”

I’m surprised and somewhat disappointed by such a response – especially that Simon is generally seen as one of the more liberal and considered Ministers.

I’ll turn to the detail of the options put out by the Law Commission, but note at this point that to categorise them all as “liberalization” is in fact incorrect. The Police Association President Greg O’Connor was quite supportive on radio of many of the ideas, as was the Drug Foundation which aims to minimise harm from drugs.

Personally I’m far from convinced our current laws are working for low level drugs like cannabis. I’m hardline and back the Govt’s initiatives when it comes to drugs like P and Heroin, but am very open to the argument that instant offence fines from Police would be better than dragging people through court for minor possession offences.

I’m one of the few people of my age that has never even tried illegal drugs, so my advocacy of a different approach is not motivated by self-interest. Cannabis could be legal and sold at New World with coupon discounts, and I still wouldn’t smoke it. But at least 46% of New Zealanders have used cannabis and I’m not sure we want to drag two million New Zealanders through court if they were all busted.

Some of the options put forward by the Law Commission are:

  • Move from a three tier system (Class A, B and C) to a two tier classification system, to more clearly distinguish between the very harmful and less harmful drugs.
  • Rather than have arguments over whether drugs were for purpose of use or supply, have two different possession offences with a higher maximum penalty for the higher quantity offence.
  • A formal cautioning scheme, with up to three cautions for personal use offences, with requirements to undertake an intervention session and counselling
  • Option of infringement notices requiring a fine and/or attend a drug education session for less serious drugs
  • Prohibit any new psychoactive substance from being manufactured, produced or imported without prior approval

Now some of the options the Law Commission put up are not things I would support. I’l plead guilty to not being too worried about the Bill of Rights implications that someone found with 10 kgs of Heroin has to prove it was for personal use, reversing the normal onus of proof.

But there are some options there well worth considering. The Police already use their discretion a lot for minor drug offences. I’d rather there was a formal statutory framework around use of cautions. I also like the idea of infringement notices rather than criminal sanctions for first or second time offenders, and greater use of referrals to drug counselling sessions.

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