Justice Minister Simon Power is not shy of dismissing recommendations out of hand, no matter their source.

Last year, he summarily rejected the concept of "executive amnesties", which was advanced by the Chief Justice, Dame Sian Elias, as a means of reducing prison overcrowding. This week, he was at it again, instantly banishing to Coventry a Law Commission report that called for a softening of the drug laws relating to personal use.

"There's not a single, solitary chance that as long as I'm the Minister of Justice we'll be relaxing drug laws," he thundered. On both occasions, his response to new, albeit controversial, approaches to long-standing problems was unfortunate.

Mr Power's problem with the Law Commission recommendations seems to stem from from the Prime Minister's declared war on methamphetamine and drugs. Any relaxation would be perceived as contrary to that. It could also be argued, as John Key did yesterday, that softening the law on the possession of drugs for personal use would send the wrong message to youngsters.

Given such political reality, there was a strong whiff of naivety in the commission's suggestions. There was also, however, a solid strain of reason and rationality.

The commission, for example, is right to note that "while the harms and costs associated with alcohol are understated and misunderstood, those associated with illegal drugs are often generalised and overblown". There is also much to say that drug policy should focus on dealing with problematic drug-users, rather than the many people whose drug use poses no serious threat to their own well-being or others.

This, says the commission, does not mean there should not be vigorous law enforcement on commercial drug dealers. That would remain important, and there would be more emphasis on delivering effective treatment to addicts, rather than punishment for personal possession and use.

The point of reference for such an approach is Portugal, which in 2001 decriminalised all drugs, including cocaine and heroin. Nightmare scenarios, including Lisbon becoming a haven for drug tourists, were advanced by critics. In the event, drug-use rates have remained much the same, and enhanced treatment programmes have reduced the number of drug-related deaths.

The commission's recommendations may seem radical to a Government in the midst of a war on drugs. They should not, however, be overstated. Many European nations have developed forms of de facto decriminalisation, whereby drugs deemed to be less problematic, such as cannabis, rarely lead to criminal prosecution.

New Zealand has begun to steer that way. Currently, the courts operate under a presumption that class-C cannabis offenders will not be sent to jail. The commission says that presumption should be extended to possession for personal use for all drug types.

Its report was sought by the previous Government. Predictably, it has received a better reception from that quarter. The Labour Party's justice spokeswoman, Lianne Dalziel, said the paper identified "a range of issues that demand wide debate, including resourcing of treatment and assessment options for people facing drug dependence".

Pointedly, she did not voice support for possible decriminalisation of some drug use. Given the damage wrought by P, that would surely be too radical for a Labour government.

Ms Dalziel is, however, right to say the report raises issues that warrant debate. Current policies have proved only spasmodically successful, and there is a disconnect between the law on drugs and those for alcohol and tobacco. Mr Power should not be effectively shutting down that debate before it has even begun.