It seems that our New Zealand cousins are finally taking some much needed action on drug law reform. Australia should take note of this and consider carefully what they are doing.
Old, antiquated drug laws and policies continue to wreak carnage on society while our government continue to apply the same old failed strategies, hoping for some miraculous turn around. For over 40 years, we have followed in the foot steps of the US which is only now starting to see the damage they have inflicted on their own people. Likewise in Australia, we have ruined so many lives from a "Tough on Drugs" mentality and the laws are causing more problems than drugs themselves.
Why do NZ have a better understanding of this than Australia? SA and WA had started seeing good results from a more sensible approach to cannabis use but decided to ignore the success by reintroducing tougher laws. These acts of arrogance were in complete opposition to the current world trend and in defiance of expert opinion. Even the Australian federal government continues to cherry pick advice from key advisory groups purely to suit their political needs. All this while the evidence keeps pouring in that our drug policies are probably some of the worst decisions ever made by a government. New Zealand is at least doing something about it.
Too many resources are directed into criminalising people rather than providing them with the medical help they most need. Current drug law is 35 years out-of-date and is hurting our families.
Too many resources are directed into criminalising people rather than providing them with the medical help they most need. The Law Commission's report recognises 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.
The suggestions made by NZ Law Commission are a good start for a future without drug prohibition ... the single most destructive policy in 100 years. Most of us have never experienced a world where recreational drugs were regulated which makes it hard for the public to imagine how ending drug prohibition would work. We have to gradually introduce recommendations like those from the NZ Law Commission and give them time to take hold. As predicted by the experts, the results will speak for themselves, slowly shifting the public's perception. Well done NZ!
NZLC R122 Controlling and Regulating Drugs - A Review of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975
Published 3 May 2011
The Law Commission today issued its latest report, Controlling and Regulating Drugs – A Review of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.
Among the key proposals contained in the report are:
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
No More Prisons, Says English
Finance minister Bill English says there will be no more prisons built under his watch as finance minister.
He's called prisons a moral and fiscal failure and there are other ways of dealing with criminals and potential criminals.
Asked by Guyon Espiner on Q A this morning if the government was going to continue building prisons once the 1000-bed facility in the Auckland suburb of Wiri was completed, English said Wiri was likely to be the last.
"They're very, very expensive," English said. "$250,000 a bed, $90,000 a year to run ... when we're tight for money."
He said the aim instead is to reduce recidivism, and prevent young people from entering the system at all.
"The public service has done a lot of very smart work on this and, over the next two or three years, we're going to see the need for prison beds drop a bit at least."
But a spokesperson for victims says English is wrong. Sensible Sentencing spokesperson Garth McVicar says it's not the right tactic.
"Just as they were starting to bear fruit through the 'tough on crime' message that they were sending out, he capitulates and waves a white flag," McVicar told ONE News.
"It just sends the wrong message to criminals. I know people think criminals are dumb but they're quite smart and they'll understand if we're not going to build more prisons out there, then ultimately we're not going to send them to prison."
One advocate for penal reform agrees with English and is certain having more prisons will just breed more criminals.
"We could put more prisoners into trades; we could put more prisoners into work on farms," Peter Williams QC told ONE News.
"We've got to put more emphasis on rehabilitation, drug programmes, anti-alcohol programmes without just locking these people up in small containers."
English said the government is committed to building Wiri's prison so that won't change.
"That's well through the process, and we need the extra 1000 beds because it's been part of this government's policy and public pressure for tougher sentences and a safer community," he said.
The Labour Government built four prisons but National has been saving money by housing some prisoners in purpose-adapted containers.