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Ardern defends drug reform: 'Police already use their discretion'

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Section
Audio,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 18 December 2018, 8:39a.m.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Government's drug law reform which will see police using more discretion when dealing with people caught using the drugs isn't decriminalisation by stealth. 

Under the changes, two compounds found in most synthetic drugs - AMB Fubinaca and 5FABD - will be reclassified as Class A drugs, attracting a maximum penalty of life in prison for manufacture and supply.

A new classification, Class C1, will be created to give police greater search and seizure powers for other new and emerging drugs. It is essentially a holding classification before those drugs are then made Class A.

The move is part of a two-pronged approach to stop those "peddling in death in our communities", according to Police Minister Stuart Nash. 

Jacinda Ardern told Mike Yardley it's about cracking down on makers and suppliers and treating drug use as a health issue rather than a criminal issue.

"They've [the police] have said this is essentially what they already do, that this is a process that they already undertake. What we are saying is, if you're found to be in possession that we want police to use their discretion, they will still absolutely have the ability to prosecute and if it's in the public interest will do so. That might be for instance, if there's violence attached or any other criminality for instance."

"If there is any supply or manufacture obviously they will be prosecuted for supply or manufacture."

"The police already use their discretion in this matter so they say this is a reinforcement of what they do. It will still be a criminal act to be in possession of drugs in New Zealand."

When asked whether people would be prosecuted for "drug-related crimes" like burglary, Ardern replied, "absolutely".

"Of course, then they are prosecuted for burglary, no one for a moment is saying it detracts from that. If though we are talking about someone who has been found to be in possession for personal use, that's the singular issue that police are considering."

"If there's repeat use, for instance, those are all things the police will take into account and we are going to work through the guidance and some of the expectations of that discretion when this goes through a properer process."

Ardern said this still needs to go through Parliament and when it does there will be debate and input from police and members of the public.

The measures are:

• Reclassifying the two main ingredients found in synthetics linked to recent deaths - AMB Fubinaca and 5FABD - as class A drugs

• Creating a temporary C1 classification for new and emerging drugs to give police greater search and seizure powers

• Toughening penalties to up to life imprisonment for suppliers and manufacturers of drugs that include the AMB Fubinaca and 5FABD compounds

• Amending the Misuse of Drugs Act to specify in law that police should use discretion and not prosecute for possession and personal use where a therapeutic approach would be more beneficial, or there is no public interest in a prosecution. That will apply to all illegal drugs

• Allocating $16.6 million to boost community addiction treatment services, and provide communities with the support to provide emergency "surge" responses, when there are events such as a spate of overdoses or deaths

ON AIR: Mike Hosking Breakfast

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