A better course for drug cases

By Anna Wallis


The Law Commission's recommendation last year that petty drug offences be removed from our court system has merit.

That could mean either doing away with the crimes altogether or decriminalising, such as imposing instant fines.

But either way, the amount of police and court time being taken up with minor drug charges is ridiculous.

The Drug Foundation agrees.

In an article in the Dominion Post this week, its executive director Ross Bell described locking up minor drug offenders as stupid policy and called for a mandatory cautioning system instead.

However, any talk of removing minor drug offences from the criminal justice system won't wash with Justice Minister Judith Collins, who says all drug offending - no matter how minor - should be dealt with in that way.

But the point of the article was that in the past six years, nearly as many people have been jailed for possessing a small amount of cannabis as dealing.

About half of all drug charges laid by police in that period were for possession of a small amount or smoking utensils.

This is not a discussion about over-use of cannabis or inappropriate use, such as when at work or while driving.

It is about putting people through the court system for possession of small amounts of cannabis, or being found with utensils such as a pipe.

There has been some movement to deal with such petty offences through the diversion system but this is a one-time only offering. Most minor drug charges usually end in a conviction. Changing how we treat minor offences has several benefits. It means police and court time is not taken up with trivial matters. And it goes some way to treating drug dependence as a health issue, not a criminal one.

But more importantly, it would see fewer people - often younger, vulnerable and impressionable - caught up in the court and prison system.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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