Newsbrief: New Zealand Moves to Heighten Methamphetamine Penalties -- Life Sentences for Some Offenses 3/14/03

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The government of New Zealand is moving to reclassify methamphetamine from a Class B to a Class A drug, the New Zealand Herald reported Thursday. The change in status will significantly increase the penalties facing methamphetamine violators.

Currently, persons convicted of meth manufacture, trafficking or distribution face a maximum of 14 years in prison; if meth is moved to Class A status, that penalty increases to a possible life sentence. Similarly, persons convicted of simple meth possession currently face up to three months in jail; under the government's proposal that sentence would be increased to six months and a $1000 (NZ) fine. Changing meth to a Class A drug would also enable police to conduct searches for meth labs without first obtaining a search warrant.

While New Zealand law enforcement officials said they had been pushing for the change for years, the government appears to have been prodded to act by an Auckland judge's decision earlier this week to throw out charges in a meth manufacturing case because police used an illegal search warrant.

Methamphetamine use is reportedly on the rise in New Zealand -- police shut down 147 meth labs last year, compared to eight in 1999 -- and has been linked in press stories to several sensational murders.

The parliamentary Health Select Committee recommended Wednesday that meth be upgraded, saying stiffer penalties would deter its use and adding that the upgrade was needed to protect "vulnerable" groups, such as Maoris and young people. An Order in Council to change the drug's classification will come before Parliament in a matter of weeks, the Herald reported.

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