NORML’s Submission on the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill


Description from the Parliament website: “This bill is an omnibus bill, introduced in accordance with Standing Order 263. This bill will classify AMB-FUBINACA and 5F-ADB as Class A drugs, affirm the existing discretion to prosecute for possession and use of all drugs, and enable temporary drug class orders to be issued for emerging and potentially harmful substances.”

Learn more about the bill:

Text of NORML’s submission on the bill:

11 April 2019

To the Health Committee
Parliament Buildings
Wellington

Submission on Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill

We would like to speak to this bill if there is an opportunity.

NORML New Zealand Inc supports the intention of this Bill, especially the provision mandating police discretion and directing a health-based approach. Our main concern is about granting a wide power for any Minister of Health to prohibit more substances or even “articles” and we recommend changing this. We also recommend directing police discretion and a healthcare-based approach before arrest, rather than at prosecution.

About NORML

NORML New Zealand is a non-profit membership-based society, incorporated in 1980. We work to end cannabis prohibition in New Zealand and bring about progressive drug policies. Our mission is to move public opinion sufficiently to legalise the responsible use of cannabis by adults, and to serve as an advocate for consumers to assure they have access to high quality cannabis that is safe, convenient and affordable.

NORML’s aims are to reform our cannabis laws, provide information about cannabis, engage in political action appropriate to our aims, and inform people of their rights. We give advice and support to the victims of prohibition. For over thirty years NORML has operated a “Bustline” to assist people in the cannabis community who are facing legal issues. We have interacted with, and helped, thousands of people adversely affected by our current drug policies.

Commentary on the Bill

NORML shares the concerns over synthetic and novel drugs and analogues and acknowledges the harms that come with illicit markets. We support the intention of Sections 4,5,7 and 8 to prevent harmful substances from being available.  

We are generally opposed to ratcheting up prohibition, and we note the two substances listed in Section 7 are already unlawful in New Zealand. Putting these into Schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Act gives the police additional search powers however these would be the same if they were put into Class C1 (the same as cannabis).

Section 4C also allows any future Minister of Health to issue temporary drug class notices for any “substance, preparation, mixture, or article” that has “a risk of harm”. The effect of this is to make the object of that notice effectively a Class C drug, without any input from the public or oversight from parliament.

The proposed temporary drug notices circumvent the usual process by which the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs make recommendations to the Minister. The EACD has long been dysfunctional. It seldom meets and is inadequately resourced. The EACD could instead be expanded and resourced with dedicated staff who could investigate, research, and respond to emerging drug issues. With appropriate resourcing, they could act as quickly as required, while still maintaining rigorous evidence-based standards.

We support and commend Section 6 of the Bill. This affirms that “there is a discretion to prosecute for an offence against this section, and a prosecution should not be brought unless it is required in the public interest” and that “When considering whether a prosecution is required in the public interest, in addition to any other relevant matters, consideration should be given to whether a health-centred or therapeutic approach would be more beneficial.”

Cannabis is enjoyed by almost one-in-ten adult New Zealanders, and the vast majority of them do not experience any adverse effects other than if they are unlucky enough to attract the attention of law enforcement. A small proportion, perhaps 10 per cent or so, may experience health care issues such as dependency, over the lifetime of their cannabis use trajectory. In almost all cases, a health-centred or therapeutic approach would be more beneficial than an arrest, prosecution or other law enforcement-based approach. There should be a variety of healthcare approaches so that those referred to them have options and can do what works for them.

Police have always had a discretion to arrest or prosecute, and their Police Diversion scheme is evidence of that. However, that discretion has often been exercised inconsistently, and we share the view of New Zealand researchers of a law enforcement bias against Maori and young men, who are more likely to be apprehended, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned. There is no current policy among the police to identify or help those who need it.

The proposed reform is a welcome step to give police and the public certainly and consistency, while sending a clear signal to police their focus should be redirecting into other areas. This amendment could be the most significant change to New Zealand’s drug policy since the Misuse of Drugs Act was passed in 1975.

However, Section 6 proposes to change only the prosecution of the possession and use of controlled drugs. It should instead cover their decision to apprehend or arrest people for minor drug offences, and these should include personal cultivation of cannabis and small-scale social dealing. This was recommended by the Law Commission in their 2011 inquiry into the Misuse of Drugs Act[1].

Our experience is that the average police officer has little or no training in how to identify or help those who have healthcare issues relating to their drug use. Police not only need better support and training, but they should not be the frontline response to healthcare issues.

Recommendations

We recommend the following:

  1. Drug control laws should respect human diversity and fundamental human rights.
  2. Modify the proposed new power for any Minister of Health to issue temporary drug class notices for any “substance, preparation, mixture, or article” that has “a risk of harm” by requiring a recommendation from the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs and adequately resource them to react and respond to emerging issues.
  3. Police should be adequately resourced and properly trained in order to use any discretion appropriately.
  4. Police should not be considered the frontline response to healthcare issues such as addiction and mental health.
  5. Compulsory treatment should be reserved for exceptional cases.
  6. Health problems caused by cannabis, tobacco, alcohol and other drugs should be funded adequately and treated consistently. 
  7. Use this opportunity to remove all criminal penalties for the personal use of drugs or possession for personal use.
  8. Do not allow passage of this Bill to delay other reforms. Implement the central recommendation of the Law Commission’s inquiry into the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 and replace it with a new approach focused on healthcare instead of law enforcement.

Yours faithfully,

Chris Fowlie
for NORML New Zealand Inc, Board of Directors


[1] Law Commission, Controlling and Regulating Drugs – A Review of the Misuse of Drugs Act (R 122). 3 May 2011 < https://www.lawcom.govt.nz/sites/default/files/projectAvailableFormats/NZLC%20R122.pdf>

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