.

  • Written by Max Abbott, Professor of Psychology and Public Health, AUT, Auckland University of Technology
The new measures that give police discretion not to prosecute are in keeping with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's decision not to join US President Donald Trump's "war on drugs". from www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

New Zealand passed the Misuse of Drugs Amendment into law last month, giving police discretion to take a health-centred approach rather than prosecuting those in possession of drugs, including class A drugs like methamphetamine, heroine and cocaine.

The new law also classifies two synthetic cannabinoids as class A drugs and allows for temporary drug class orders to be issued for emerging substances.

The New Zealand Drug Foundation hailed the amendment as “a massive leap” towards treating drug use as a health issue, while the New Zealand Police Association argued that it would essentially decriminalise the possession of class A drugs.

Drug use remains a criminal offence in New Zealand – police “discretion” not to prosecute is not tantamount to decriminalisation. I argue that the law change is a positive step towards a health and social response to drug use and misuse, so long as it doesn’t get lost in translation.


Read more: Drug laws on possession: several countries are revisiting them and these are their options


A ‘health-centred’ approach to drug policy

The amendment requires police to use their discretion not to prosecute when they find someone in possession of an illicit drug for personal use. Police are directed to consider whether prosecution is required in the public interest or whether a health-centred approach would be more beneficial.

The law change is one of several related government initiatives. The previous amendment, passed in December 2018, enabled the development of a medicinal cannabis scheme and legal defence against prosecution for terminally ill patients. And a referendum on recreational cannabis legislation will be held in conjunction with the 2020 general election.


Read more: Potential cost to patient safety as NZ debates access to medicinal cannabis


These measures are in keeping with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s decision not to join US President Donald Trump’s “war on drugs”. Instead, Ardern said New Zealand would pursue a “health-based” approach.

While driven in part by a shift in government policy, the amendment was also a response to the chief coroner’s report highlighting that 55 or more people died of synthetic cannabinoid drugs in the past two years. Two of the most dangerous of these, AMVB-FUBINACA and 5F-ABA, have been reclassified as class A drugs. Provisions have been made for temporary class drug orders to control new and potentially harmful drugs.

This will mean increased investigative powers for police and heavier sentences for importers, manufacturers and dealers of these substances. It will also enable government to react quickly to emerging high-risk drugs.

Criminalising drug use doesn’t work

To support the new legislation, the government has increased funding for addiction treatment services and is establishing a multi-agency drug early warning system. The amendment emphasises a health response to personal drug use. It applies to all classes of drug.

In practice, police already exercise discretion not to prosecute and have been doing so increasingly in recent years. Police charges for cannabis possession or use have fallen 70% in the past decade. On the other hand, drug offences for methamphetamine possession or use have risen sharply. Last year, for the first time, they outnumbered cannabis charges.

Overall, thousands of people continue to be convicted each year for minor drug use or possession. These people are disproportionately young and Māori.

There is no evidence that convicting and sentencing drug users reduces drug use overall or benefits them individually. To the contrary, criminal convictions often have adverse consequences for career and life opportunities. The costs to the criminal justice system and taxpayer are considerable.

Potential outcomes of the law change

The devil is in the detail. Reduced fear of prosecution will probably lead more people with drug-related problems to seek professional help. Potentially thousands who come to police attention will avoid being prosecuted each year. Instead, many will receive treatment and other forms of support that change their lives in positive ways.

Police and the courts should be freed up to focus on serious drug-related offences and other crime. The proportion of Māori being sentenced and imprisoned should reduce.

But these outcomes depend greatly on how police exercise their discretion not to prosecute. A huge shift in police culture, mindset and professional skill is required. The outcomes presuppose that accessible, specialist addiction and support services are readily available.

The recent government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction noted severe strain on existing services and called for an expanded range of treatment and detox services. This depends not only on additional funding, but requires strong leadership and significant change in the size and composition of New Zealand’s addiction-related workforce.

The amendment’s other provisions should help address the devastating impacts of new substances. The rate of their development will most likely accelerate, and some may be as, or more, dangerous than AMVB-FUBINACA and 5F-ABA. The effectiveness of the multi-agency early warning system will be critical in rapidly identifying these drugs.

The long road to ‘far-reaching’ drug reform

While regarded as a significant step in the right direction, many see this and the December 2018 amendment falling far short of being a comprehensive health and social response to drug use and misuse. Both the Law Commission in 2011 and the Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction in 2018 called for a complete rewrite of the Misuse of Drugs Act (1975).

Drug use remains a criminal offence, even for terminally ill patients. Police discretion means that many people are still being arrested for possession and personal use of cannabis and other drugs. Māori could well continue to be unfairly targeted.

Many drug users are reliant on criminal gangs for supply. This both sustains gangs and other criminal operators, and brings users under the influence of dealers who can encourage progression to more harmful substances and criminal activity to sustain their drug use or addiction.

The upcoming referendum may in part address this in relation to cannabis. But more far-reaching reform will be required across the full spectrum of substances. In the interim, new measures will need to be carefully monitored and adapted to ensure that they conform with their intent.

Max Abbott does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Authors: Max Abbott, Professor of Psychology and Public Health, AUT, Auckland University of Technology

Read more http://theconversation.com/new-law-gives-nz-police-discretion-not-to-prosecute-drug-users-but-to-offer-addiction-support-instead-122323

'An insult' – politicians sing the praises of the cashless welfare card, but those forced to use it disagree

The grey cashless debit card cannot be used at any alcohol or gambling outlet, nor used to withdraw cash. www.shutterstock.com“This is a bit controversial, we know that,” deputy prime mini...

Eve Vincent, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie University - avatar Eve Vincent, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie University

As pressure on Iran mounts, there is little room for quiet diplomacy to free detained Australians

Former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has offered to help free three detained Australians in Iran, but the attacks on Saudi oil facilities have made the situation vastly more complicated. Stringer/EPAA...

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University - avatar Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

The gloves are off: 'predatory' climate deniers are a threat to our children

A child jumps from a rock outcrop into a lagoon in the low-lying Pacific island of Tuvalu. AAP/Mick TsikasIn this age of rapidly melting glaciers, terrifying megafires and ever more puissant hurricane...

Tim Flannery, Professorial fellow, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne - avatar Tim Flannery, Professorial fellow, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne

Civilization: The Way We Live Now – powerful, troubling photographs of a crowded planet and uncertain future

Cyril Porchet, Swiss born 1984, Untitled 2014 from the series Crowd, inkjet print 139.0 x 169.0 x 3.5 cm. © Cyril PorchetIn 1955, an enormous photographic exhibition, The Family of Man, challenge...

Sasha Grishin, Adjunct Professor of Art History, Australian National University - avatar Sasha Grishin, Adjunct Professor of Art History, Australian National University

Keeping the city cool isn't just about tree cover – it calls for a commons-based climate response

Where’s the shade? Trees are not an immediate or whole answer to keeping cool. Cameron Tonkinwise, Author providedThis story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than ...

Abby Mellick Lopes, Senior Lecturer in Design, Western Sydney University - avatar Abby Mellick Lopes, Senior Lecturer in Design, Western Sydney University

Why it's time for New Zealanders to learn more about their own country's history

New Zealand is one of few places in the world where teaching the country's own history has not been compulsory. from www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-NDFrom 2022, New Zealand history will be taught at all ...

Michael Belgrave, Professor History, Massey University - avatar Michael Belgrave, Professor History, Massey University

Curious Kids: why are some twins identical and some not?

Identical twins look the same, are the same sex, share the same birthday and shares the same genes. www.shuttershock.com , CC BYIf you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to...

Alison McEwen, Head of Discipline of Genetic Counselling, Graduate School of Health, University of Technology Sydney - avatar Alison McEwen, Head of Discipline of Genetic Counselling, Graduate School of Health, University of Technology Sydney

Suddenly, the world's biggest trade agreement won't allow corporations to sue governments

The 16 nations negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership account for almost half the world's population. Shutterstock/DatawrapperThe Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership has b...

Pat Ranald, Research fellow, University of Sydney - avatar Pat Ranald, Research fellow, University of Sydney

Greens' challenge aptly described by Paddy Manning, but with no solutions in sight

Paddy Manning’s excellent account of the Australian Greens will not be the last word on Australia’s most successful third party, but will doubtless remain important and influential for man...

Marc Hudson, Researcher, University of Manchester - avatar Marc Hudson, Researcher, University of Manchester

Explainer: what happens when magnetic north and true north align?

Very rarely, depending on where you are in the world, your compass can actually point to true north. https://www.shutterstock.comAt some point in recent weeks, a once-in-a-lifetime event happened f...

Paul Wilkes, Senior Research Geophysicist, CSIRO - avatar Paul Wilkes, Senior Research Geophysicist, CSIRO

Politics with Michelle Grattan: Jim Chalmers on the need to change economic course

Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers says it’s time to change Australia’s economic course “in a responsible and affordable way which doesn’t jeopardise the surplus”. Chalmers p...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Reality slippages and narcissistic stereotyping - watching Content, a TV show made for smart phones

Lucy spends much of her life living through her phone screen – what happens when we are let into this vantage point? Mia Forrest/ABCLucy (Charlotte Nicado) is a pink-haired millennial having a q...

Emma Maguire, Lecturer in English and Creative Writing, James Cook University - avatar Emma Maguire, Lecturer in English and Creative Writing, James Cook University

You can help track 4 billion bogong moths with your smartphone – and save pygmy possums from extinction

Healesville Sanctuary, Werribee Open Range ZooEach year, from September to mid-October, the tiny and very precious mountain pygmy-possums arise from their months of hibernation under the snow and beg...

Sally Sherwen, Director Wildlife Conservation and Science, Zoos Victoria, University of Melbourne - avatar Sally Sherwen, Director Wildlife Conservation and Science, Zoos Victoria, University of Melbourne

Is vigorous exercise safe during the third trimester of pregnancy?

Vigorous exercise is safe while pregnant, even in the final trimester. But if you don't feel up to it, lighter exercise is beneficial too. From shutterstock.comExpectant mothers receive an avalanche o...

Kassia Beetham, Exercise Physiology Lecturer, Australian Catholic University - avatar Kassia Beetham, Exercise Physiology Lecturer, Australian Catholic University

Climate change is the defining issue of our time – we're giving it the attention it deserves

The Conversation has joined more than 250 news outlets around the world to focus on climate change coverage. We provide 100% evidence-based coverage on climate change. Stay informed BY subscribing to...

Nicole Hasham, Section Editor: Energy + Environment - avatar Nicole Hasham, Section Editor: Energy + Environment

Australia to attend climate summit empty-handed despite UN pleas to ‘come with a plan'

The Port Kembla industrial area in NSW. Industry emissions can be cut by improving efficiency, shifting to electricity and closing old plants. Dean Lewins/AAPThis story is part of Covering Climate Now...

Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University - avatar Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

'Climigration': when communities must move because of climate change

Flood damage in Bundaberg, Queensland, in 2013. Most communities are at some risk from extreme events, but repeated disasters raise the question of relocation. srv007/Flickr, CC BY-NCThis story is par...

Tony Matthews, Senior Lecturer in Urban and Environmental Planning, Griffith University - avatar Tony Matthews, Senior Lecturer in Urban and Environmental Planning, Griffith University

As Scott Morrison heads to Washington, the US-Australia alliance is unlikely to change

Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-NDPrime Minister Scott Morrison’s official visit to Washington this week carries some prestige. It is just the second “official visit” (includin...

David Smith, Senior Lecturer in American Politics and Foreign Policy, Academic Director of the US Studies Centre, University of Sydney - avatar David Smith, Senior Lecturer in American Politics and Foreign Policy, Academic Director of the US Studies Centre, University of Sydney

Apple's iPhone 11 Pro wants to take your laptop's job (and price tag)

What a week it has been in the Apple core. In recent days the tech giant has released a litany of products, including new phones, watches, tablets, and more. The big-ticket items are clearly the new ...

Andrew Maxwell, Senior Lecturer, University of Southern Queensland - avatar Andrew Maxwell, Senior Lecturer, University of Southern Queensland

Sick and Tired of Your Dead End Job? Try Teaching!

Tired of the same old grind at the office? Want an opportunity to impact lives both in your community and around the world? Do you love to travel and have new experiences? Teaching English is the perfect job for you! All you need is a willingness to ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Impact of an Aging Population in Australia

There’s an issue on the horizon that Australia needs to prepare for. The portion of elderly citizens that make up the country’s overall population is increasing, and we might not have the infrastructure in place to support this. Australians h...

News Company - avatar News Company

LifeStyle

Picking The Right Crystal Yoni Egg: Tips And Instructions

When you are ready to pick your own crystal yoni egg, you need to decide what you will use it for...

Top 5 Tips for Paddleboarding In Whitewater

Paddleboarding can be relaxing as well as intense. If you occasionally want to do something differen...

3 Most Promising Career Occupations for Graduates in 2019

Studying in college is a great adventure which opens up lots of career opportunities. Yet, at times...

SCARmed Silicone Gel

AUSTRALIA LEADS WAY WITH ALL-NEW RAPID-DRYING SILICONE GEL WORKING WONDERS IN SCAR REDUCTION   ...