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.

Geoff Noller on current synthetic problems

On a previous post Geoff Noller commented, this is worth a separate post:

I think that the current raft of problems we’re facing with synthetics are primarily a clear cut case of the prohibition chickens coming home to roost.

An NZ report in 1973 (the ‘Blake-Palmer’ report) warned that continuing the ban on natural or ‘raw’ cannabis (the Law Commission’s [2011] term) would likely result in a black market – which at that time was barely in existence – and increased use. It proposed education, along with accepting that a generational shift towards drugs other than alcohol might be occurring.

Fast forward 40 years and…gee, maybe someone should have listened.

The Psychotic Substances Act represents a further attempt to engage with this issue and is actually a major shift in NZ’s approach to recreational drug taking. Unfortunately, those responsible for it didn’t appreciate the need for education around drug taking that follows from unlocking the lolly jar, so long kept behind the counter.

As a result we’ve seen possibly thousands of NZ’ers, many of them young and inexperienced, accessing a class of drugs about which they know nothing, far too frequently and heavily.

What that boils down to is that with access to whatever substances, also comes the responsibility of appropriate use. This is something we all have to own.

For those interested in synthetics and an assessment of their current impact in NZ, along with comparators, have a look at a recent report here:

http://www.thestartrust.org/images/pdf/Synthetic%20cannab%20harms%20NZ%20final%20draft-3.pdf