Police Association gives conditional support to drug initiatives
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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 coroner’s report that 45 people had been killed by synthetic drugs in the year to June 2018 was a staggering wake-up for New Zealand, and the government has clearly taken note,” Mr Cahill said.
“No other illicit drug has killed so many people in such a short time in New Zealand’s history, so something concrete has to be done to crack down on suppliers and manufacturers.
“Given the manufacturers are able to change the compounds rapidly, the new C1 classification will allow law enforcement to keep pace with this ever-changing and deadly drug. The Class A classification for compounds 5F-ADB and AMB-FUBINACA will mean Police will have emergency powers to use electronic surveillance during synthetic drug investigations,” he said.
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.
“Only this week, a Christchurch judge said she had no option but to send an offender to prison because of the underfunding of mental health and drug and alcohol assessments,” Mr Cahill said.
“Police officers are already shouldering too much of the burden when it comes to caring for people who need professional help for mental health issues and drug and alcohol addictions. For this new initiative to be more than lip service to drug reform, the rehabilitative services that ministers Clark and Nash refer to need to be in place before this law comes into force,” he said.