Tougher measures against drug dealing, police to go easier on users

The Government announced new measures to combat drug problems, especially synthetic drugs that have been causing a number of deaths. Two common ingredients of synthetics will be reclassified, making selling them punishable by up to life imprisonment, balanced with instructions to police to go easier on drug users.

Generally this is a big and welcome step forward, but it has a complication – it’s common for drug users to also sell drugs to finance their habit.

And Police have expressed concerns about what the changes will mean for them. They already use their discretion in dealing with drug users.

Beehive: Crackdown on synthetic drug dealers

I don’t know why they have chosen to focus just on the getting tough bit in their headline.

The Government is responding to increased drug-related deaths by cracking down on the suppliers of synthetic drugs while making it easier for those with addiction problems to get treatment, Health Minister Dr David Clark and Police Minister Stuart Nash have announced.

“Under current laws synthetics and other dangerous drugs are killing people and fuelling crime while dealers and manufacturers get rich. The current approach is failing to keep Kiwis safe and can’t be continued,” David Clark said.

“It’s time to do what will work. We need to go harder on the manufactures of dangerous drugs like synthetics, and treat the use of drugs as a health issue by removing barriers to people seeking help.”

I hope the measures will work better – they should – but it is not going to solve all drug problems.

The Government has today announced a suite of measures to tackle synthetic drugs. The measures include:

  • Classifying as Class A the main two synthetic drugs (5F-ADB and AMB-FUBINACA) that have been linked to recent deaths. This will give police the search and seizure powers they need crackdown on suppliers and manufacturers, who will also face tougher penalties – up to life imprisonment.
  • Creating a temporary drug classification category, C1, so new drugs can easily be brought under the Misuse of Drugs Act, giving police the search and seizure powers needed to interrupt supply – an important part of a health response.
  • Amending the Misuse of Drugs Act to specify in law that Police should use their discretion and not prosecute for possession and personal use where a therapeutic approach would be more beneficial, or there is no public interest in a prosecution. This will apply to the use of all illegal drugs, so there is no perverse incentive created encouraging people to switch to a particular drug.
  • Allocate $16.6 million to boost community addiction treatment services, and provide communities with the support to provide emergency “surge” responses, when there is a spate of overdoses or deaths, for example.

“To be clear, this is not the full decriminalisation of drugs recommended by the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry. These are immediate steps we can take in response to the challenge we face with synthetics. We are considering the Inquiry’s recommendations separately,” Dr Clark said.

National have grizzled about it being a path to decriminalisation but given their lack of action through their 9 year term i feel like telling them to get stuffed.

Police targeting dealers

Police Minister Stuart Nash says frontline Police are targeting dealers and suppliers with an increased focus on organised crime and trans-national crime as a result of extra resourcing in Budget 2018.

“Misuse of drugs remains illegal and people should not be complacent about the risks of getting caught. Whether a drug user ends up getting Police diversion, goes through an alternative resolution process, or is referred for health treatment, they will still come to the notice of Police,” Stuart Nash said.

That’s fine, when a user isn’t also doing some dealing.

Police Association:  Police Association conditional support to drug initiatives

The Police Association supports the government’s move to go after the manufacturers and suppliers of lethal synthetic drugs.

Association President Chris Cahill says he is pleased to see a commitment to classification of two synthetic drugs as Class A, and the intention to create a temporary drug classification, C1, so new drugs can easily be brought under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

The association supports a greater focus on treatment of drug addiction rather than prosecution. However, there is concern about some aspects of the government announcement.

“It has an air of drug reform on the fly, rather than a more considered debate and informed legislation. I am worried that by codifying Police discretion the government is potentially asking officers to be the spearhead of decriminalisation. If decriminalisation is what parliament wants, then that’s what the law should say,” Mr Cahill said.

Police officers already use discretion and follow very clear guidelines to determine whether a prosecution is appropriate for the particular person and whether a prosecution would be in the public interest.

“This is often a difficult decision, taking into account factors about the offender, the offence and the victim. Evidence of discretion-in-action is apparent in research from Massey University’s Dr Chris Wilkins which notes that apprehensions for cannabis use have declined by 70 per cent between 1994 and 2014, and about half of all arrests now result in warnings only,” Mr Cahill said.

“Now the government wants officers to apply that discretion when it comes to drug users who are suffering from addiction or mental health problems so, instead of going to court, they can undergo addiction treatment. However, we know the treatment facilities are just not available.

For this all to work it is critical that substantially more treatment facilities and options are made available.

Russell Brown has a good post on it –Just quietly, this is a big deal

Finding the actual nature of that balance has not been an easy matter, and both official and independent expert advice has been sought on how to manage it. But this is what they’re doing, per this morning’s announcement:

Amending the Misuse of Drugs Act to specify in law that Police should use their discretion and not prosecute for possession and personal use where a therapeutic approach would be more beneficial, or there is no public interest in a prosecution. This will apply to the use of all illegal drugs, so there is no perverse incentive created encouraging people to switch to a particular drug.

Yes, you read that correctly. The Misuse of Drugs Act will be amended to guide Police discretion in such a way that the default will be to not prosecute personal use and possession of any illegal drug. The government is at pains to emphasise that this is not the full Portugal-style decriminalisation  repeatedly called for in last week’s Report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction, and you may even expect reform advocates to play it down a bit.

But it’s a really big deal.

If you are interest in these changes Russell’s whole post is worth reading.

9 Comments

  1. Trevors_Elbow

     /  December 13, 2018

    Why bother. Just effin legalise the whole shebang. 18 and over (though personally I think probably a higher age due to use not interfering in body development, brain development)
    Sell it through legitimate companies and tax the shizzle out of it to fund the inevitable health downsides.
    Make it illegal to be under the influence in charge of vehicle, machinery etc – just like alcohol.
    Then step back and let the serious users die from their habits without being criminals.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  December 13, 2018

      If possession isn’t a crime but misuse is, will it be all right to own them but not use them? Or is getting stoned not misuse ?

  2. Kitty Catkin

     /  December 13, 2018

    There’s no market without customers. I can’t see why it’s all right to buy them but not sell them.

  3. I feel a bit remorsefull, just a month ago I was giving David Clark a solid D+ on drug issues…..
    It’s closer to a B+ with this announcement.

    • the times they ARE a-changin’ the facts are on TV

      keep up the great work MCANZ, it aint over yet.. 😉

    • btw: I heard Reti & others call youz: Med-Cannabis Aotearoa/NZ, I thought it was MC-Awareness-NZ ?

  4. PartisanZ

     /  December 14, 2018

    @PG – “That’s fine, when a user isn’t also doing some dealing.”

    Is everyone else reading different material or a different language from me?

    I don’t see anything much that’s “fine” about this at all.

    Synthetic *shit-poison* is still being called “synthetic cannabis” and the real medicinal herb cannabis is lumped together with all the other ‘classes’ of “illegal drugs” … and “users” will still come to attention of the Police, might be prosecuted, and even if given diversion or a “warning” will have been arrested in the process … You’ll still have broken the law …

    Okay, there’s some accommodation and funding for “treatment” … which is actually saying that if you use the medicinal-therapeutic-recreational herb cannabis you are “mentally-ill” … and it’s literally ‘treating’ you that way … There’s something ‘wrong’ with you …

    Is there something ‘wrong’ with the countless alcoholics and problem-drinkers in this country?

    How do they get ‘treatment’? [I think the mechanisms are 1) They come to the attention of the law by MVA, domestic violence and committing various crimes … or 2) Voluntarily …

    ““It has an air of drug reform on the fly, rather than a more considered debate and informed legislation. I am worried that by codifying Police discretion the government is potentially asking officers to be the spearhead of decriminalisation. If decriminalisation is what parliament wants, then that’s what the law should say,” Mr Cahill said.” …

    This is exceedingly sound thinking on the part of the Police Association …

    It’s like solving a problem by creating a pseudo-solution in a parallel reality and then applying it back into this reality …

    What’s changed? ……. Our police are pouring more resources into catching & prosecuting suppliers and organised crime …?

    Well, if we had a competent police force they’d have been doing that for fucken years … and if they haven’t been, why the fuck not!?

    “Struck a careful balance” of what!? Spin doctoring …?

    It’s a careful balance of not really doing anything IMHO …