New Zealand Commission Urges Drug Law Reform

The New Zealand Law Commission Monday urged a broad overhaul of the island nation's drug laws to bring them into the 21st Century. The call came as the commission unveiled its review of the country's drug laws in a report, Controlling and Regulating Drugs: A Review of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.

Will Auckland become more like Oakland? It will if the Law Commission has its way. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
The Law Commission is an independent, but government-funded, body whose mission is to review areas of law that need developing or reforming and to make recommendations to parliament. It was asked by the then Labor government in 2007 to review the drug laws.

The commission called for steps toward legalizing medical marijuana, decriminalizing drug possession and small-time drug dealing, and doing away with drug paraphernalia laws. In response to the arrival of new synthetic drugs, it called for the reversal of current policy, which allows them until they are proven dangerous, and its replacement with a policy that bans them until they are proven safe.

The review calls for clinical trials on medical marijuana "as soon as practicable" and said medical marijuana patients should not be arrested in the meantime. "Given the strong belief of those who already use cannabis for medicinal purposes that it is an effective form of pain relief with fewer harmful side effects than other legally available drugs, we think that the proper moral position is to promote clinical trials as soon as practicable. We recommend that the government consider doing this."

People caught with drugs for personal use should be "cautioned" instead of arrested, the report said. "We recommend that a presumption against imprisonment should apply whenever the circumstances indicate that a drug offense was committed in a personal use context," the review said.

There should also be a statutory presumption against imprisonment for small-time drug dealing, the review said. ''We consider that the supply by drug users of small amounts of drugs with no significant element of commerciality ("social dealing") is entirely different from commercial dealing.''

Get rid of drug paraphernalia laws, the review said. ''We are not aware of any evidence that existence of the offense itself deters drug use."

The report highlights four key recommendations:

  • A mandatory cautioning scheme for all personal possession and use offences that come to the attention of the police, removing minor drug offenders from the criminal justice system and providing greater opportunities for those in need of treatment to access it.
  • A full scale review of the current drug classification system which is used to determine restrictiveness of controls and severity of penalties, addressing existing inconsistencies and focusing solely on assessing a drug's risk of harm, including social harm.
  • Making separate funding available for the treatment of offenders through the justice sector to support courts when they impose rehabilitative sentences to address alcohol and drug dependence problems.
  • Consideration of a pilot drug court, allowing the government to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of deferring sentencing of some offenders until they had undergone court-imposed alcohol and/or drug treatment.

"There are adverse social consequences from a distinctly punitive approach to lower level offending," Law Commission head Grant Hammond told the New Zealand Herald. "Quite large numbers of young New Zealanders receive criminal convictions -- which might subsist for life -- as a result of minor drug offenses. This is a disproportionate response to the harm those offenses cause. More can be done through the criminal justice system to achieve better outcomes for those individuals and for society at large."

The review won plaudits from Green Party leader Metiria Turei. "Current drug law is 35 years out-of-date and is hurting our families," she said. "Too many resources are directed into criminalizing people rather than providing them with the medical help they most need. The Law Commission's report recognizes this and seeks to redress it by adopting a harm reduction approach for dealing with personal drug use by adults. This new approach, if adopted, will actually save money enabling greater resources to be directed into health services for breaking the cycle of drug abuse and addiction. It will also free police to tackle more serious crime."

But Bob McCoskrie, director of the tough-on-drugs group Family First found little to like in the review. "A weak-kneed approach to drug use will simply send all the wrong messages that small amounts of drug use or dealing aren't that big a deal -- the completely wrong message, especially for younger people," he warned. "A cautioning scheme will simply be held in contempt by users, and fails to acknowledge the harm done by drug use which is undetected. The report is correct to call for better treatment facilities for addiction and mental illness, but a zero-tolerance approach to the use of drugs combined with treatment options is a far better solution."

A spokesman for the governing center-right National Party said the government welcomed the report, but needed time to study it.

Auckland
New Zealand
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Think of the children and the

Think of the children and the signals we are sending. 

I swear, it makes me sick to listen to politicians talking about ''sending signals'' or ''sending messages''. Like they are freaking radio towers or something. 

"...a zero-tolerance

"...a zero-tolerance approach..."   Head firmly buried in the sand.

Bob McCoskrie

Fails to understand that drug use will occur regardless of the criminality of the act. In some situations the taboo nature of the act may enhances its appeal especially in young people eager to rebel.

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For crying out loud, when are they going to let it go

"...but a zero-tolerance approach to the use of drugs combined with treatment options is a far better solution"

When are they going to realize that they can't have it both ways; they either criminalize or they offer help, they can't do both. To treat someone like a criminal is, by definition, to punish them. To punish is, by definition, to hurt. Criminalizing people and helping people are literally opposites. Not to mention, that if they have some kind of anger towards drug users that they need to process somehow through punishment, all they need to do is relax and understand that as long as the drug is genuinely harmful, the punishment will be inherent in the drug taking itself. Just offer people education, harm reduction, and treatment. Punishment is unnecessary and counterproductive. It is literally the opposite of what is needed to improve the situation. 

It really makes no sense as to why the laws are how they are...

The drug laws are terrible, they are definitely outdated and they don't make sense. Humans are destroying the earth with nuclear, carbon, oil, just to name a few. Reveiwing these laws could potentially slow the destruction of the earth by using HEMP products, for one, why is the hemp plant even banned when it has a million uses and nobody can get high off it?! How stupid are we being? Stop cutting down trees, use hemp for fuel, for paper, build an industry, as far as I know New Zealands climate is perfect for growing hemp so why not?

Not only that, but a drug possession charge of CANNABIS is on my criminal record and in these times where there are not many jobs as it is has slowed my progress of getting a job I find it so frustrating. I am not a criminal,
I never harmed anyone except for myself.


There are a million reasons why the drug laws should be reviewed, I will make a list:

- Hemp used for purposes including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food and fuel.

- Hemp is one of the faster growing biomasses known.

- Hemp seeds contain all the essential amino acids and essential fatty acids necessary to maintain .
healthy human life.

- cannabis has a long history of medicinal use, with evidence dating back to 2,737 BCE.

- Increased well being.

- Medical cannabis was shown to have established effects in the treatment of nausea, vomiting, premenstrual syndrome, unintentional weight loss, insomnia, and lack of appetite + others effects that are well confirmed by yet to be proven.

- Cannabis is a natural product.

- More tax for the government, they will have more control over the market and we take cannabis away from the "blackmarket".

- There are other drugs/substances that are legal but are FAR more dangerous than many of the banned substances namely cannabis.



I'm going to stop rambling on, they should get some people together to sort this issue out!

It really makes no sense as to why the laws are how they are...

The drug laws are terrible, they are definitely outdated and they don't make sense. Humans are destroying the earth with nuclear, carbon, oil, just to name a few. Reveiwing these laws could potentially slow the destruction of the earth by using HEMP products, for one, why is the hemp plant even banned when it has a million uses and nobody can get high off it?! How stupid are we being? Stop cutting down trees, use hemp for fuel, for paper, build an industry, as far as I know New Zealands climate is perfect for growing hemp so why not?

Not only that, but a drug possession charge of CANNABIS is on my criminal record and in these times where there are not many jobs as it is has slowed my progress of getting a job I find it so frustrating. I am not a criminal,
I never harmed anyone except for myself.


There are a million reasons why the drug laws should be reviewed, I will make a list:

- Hemp used for purposes including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food and fuel.

- Hemp is one of the faster growing biomasses known.

- Hemp seeds contain all the essential amino acids and essential fatty acids necessary to maintain .
healthy human life.

- cannabis has a long history of medicinal use, with evidence dating back to 2,737 BCE.

- Increased well being.

- Medical cannabis was shown to have established effects in the treatment of nausea, vomiting, premenstrual syndrome, unintentional weight loss, insomnia, and lack of appetite + others effects that are well confirmed by yet to be proven.

- Cannabis is a natural product.

- More tax for the government, they will have more control over the market and we take cannabis away from the "blackmarket".

- There are other drugs/substances that are legal but are FAR more dangerous than many of the banned substances namely cannabis.



I'm going to stop rambling on, they should get some people together to sort this issue out!

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