As part of their agreement with the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, the Labour Party under Prime Minister designate Jacinda Ardern, has agreed to hold a referendum on cannabis. Whilst it will not happen until the latter part of the new Parliamentary term – possibly 2020 – the referendum which will be on whether or not legalize cannabis, comes as New Zealanders acknowledge that the “war on drugs” is not working and that it might be time for a new approach.
There will be some unequivocally opposed to cannabis being legitimized in any form. It will not matter whether it is the decriminalization of cannabis so that small amounts are acceptable, or legalizing the drug. The differences between decriminalization and legalization are significant and it would be true that there are people who do not understand the difference, either as a matter of being deliberately ignorant or or not having had it explained to them properly.
I have been of more conservative persuasion in the past on cannabis. But rather than view it as a criminal issue, I am starting to lean towards the view that addiction to cannabis is a health issue. Rather than criminalizing people and cannabis, I am now of the opinion that the money being pumped into dealing with minor scale cannabis offences should be diverted into helping those who have developed an addiction and setting up associated programmes.
Laws are just that. So are the courts where the sentences are handed down and the jails where the worst of them are carried out. None of them address the causes of addiction to cannabis in the first place, or seek to help anyone other than the victims of criminal offending.
The worst will offend no matter what happens. No matter how one helps them, punishes them or shows sympathy, determined offenders will offend. But what about those who were brought up in a culture of drugs, who have only ever known the debilitating effects that drugs have on families – you cannot blame them for not knowing better if they have not been shown better.
With synthetic cannabis reducing its victims to zombies, and an influx of liquid methamphetamine starting to make its presence felt, a change in how New Zealand is dealing with the lesser end of the narcotics scourge might just be what the doctor ordered. Now we just need to see if New Zealand agrees.
So, another dairy has been robbed. An occurrence happening all too frequently the length and breadth of New Zealand with the perpetrators getting away just as frequently.
But the worst part of this horror show is the courts. Soft as butter judges playing namby pamby games with peoples lives and livelihoods. The conservative parts of society might call for a return to the gravel pits for such offenders, but this fails to address the core societal issues that are leading to these horrendous crimes in the first place. By this I am talking about the lack of role models in their lives and the presence of drugs; their failure in the school system and a lack of a job.
But at the same time the courts have a job to do and they are failing at it in an abject way. It is almost like in some cases the judges do not care any more. I find it hard to believe that human rights laws for children have advanced to the degree that some say they have and that as a result the judges somehow have their hands tied.
I wonder if part of the justice process, a judge has ever asked an offender what their ambitions in life are. I am certainly not suggesting showing sympathy, but almost none of these offenders have probably thought about where they want to go in life. Maybe – I could be totally wrong, but just assume for a moment I am not – they simply need someone in a position of authority to show them right from wrong. If they don’t care, then that is a different story.
So, what are some of the steps that need to be taken? Several steps:
- For starters I think Civics/Legal Studies needs to be compulsory in Year 12. Students need to know how the law works because at some point they are going to have to deal with it, so they better learn.
- A youth policing section needs to be established so that young people learn to work with the police and see that they will only be in their lives if they commit crime or are the victims of crime
- Synthetic cannabis needs to be banned immediately and all shops given one weeks grace to hand over their stock – all in possession of it should be given an equally short grace period to hand over their private stock
- Small amounts of cannabis should be decriminalized – police are wasting their time and resources dealing with anything under say 5 grams
- Importers/dealers and manufacturers of illegal substances should have a 10 year starting jail sentence plus anything purchased using the profits of their criminal activity should be seized and sold – money raised goes to funding drug treatment; non New Zealanders should be deported and permanently barred from reentering
But none of this will work if there is not a co-ordinated approach involving the co-operation of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Social Welfare and the Ministry of Education.
If a rise in tax is necessary to fund this, do it. Done properly, it will pay for itself in time.
Synthetic cannabis is known for inducing what could be described as a zombie like state of being in affected individuals. In the U.S. it is called K2 or spice.
In the last few months, synthetic cannabis has been linked to four deaths in New Zealand and about 20 cased have been referred to the authorities in Auckland on a daily basis. St John Ambulance say that they have seen a spike in synthetic cannabis cases with life threatening consequences.
In July 2017 8 people died in New Zealand from synthetic cannabis. The drug is illegal, having been banned in 2014.
No specific treatment exists for treating people with conditions related to it. The cannabinoids have been linked to cardiac arrest, and loss of faculties, inability to control ones limbs.
We need a comprehensive drug detox programme in New Zealand. The cost of administering such a programme will be paid for in kind by the socio-economic benefits of helping those affected by these substances. Also of concern, which needs an overhaul is the penalty regime for manufacturers as the low penalties ensure that it is an attractive industry for manufacturers of illegal substances to get into. To get on top of this, there needs to be a Ministry of Health/Ministry of Justice task force set up to tackle the supply and the distribution and the effects of damaged individuals in the public domain.
In a broader sense there needs to be an overhaul of the law. How much of the synthetic cannabis problem is because we have tightened on substances that can be inhaled/ingested to the point that people are prepared to commit violent crime in order to fund their habits? And if the law was amended to allow a small amount of cannabis to be on a person, would that be enough to tear the bottom out of the black market, without endangering the community?
But one thing is certain, if this is the way the supposed “War on Drugs” is going, I can understand people wanting out. It has not worked. It was an ideological concept borrowed from the United States. There it has cost billions, been a devastating part of U.S. foreign policy. We do not need to follow suit in prosecuting this war any further.
The comments by former Maori M.P. and Mana Party leader Hone Harawira that New Zealand should execute methamphetamine dealers from China are completely wrong.
There is no doubt that New Zealand is a nation that has a major drug problem. Methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, cannabis – all of them are serious contributors to crime, declines in important socio-economic indicators, affect peoples ability to get jobs. Cannabis is perhaps the least problematic of these, but all need a comprehensive policy for dealing with all of them. It needs to deal with how we educate people, treat those on it or who are a victim of it, those who have recovered but now have problems finding jobs.
Much of the crime wave of violent offences striking New Zealand at the moment is likely to have to do with drugs – most likely finding ways of funding drug addictions, or being able to source money for paying back drug debts.
However executing Chinese methamphetamine dealers is the wrong way to go about it and sends the wrong message. I would however go one step further and say that Mr Harawira is completely wrong about using the death penalty at all. It is nothing less than state sanctioned murder and there is no justification in my book for it.
Whilst the mechanisms that I am about to mention might already exist in law, how well are they used for their intended purpose? Are they even used? I am talking about:
- Being permanently denied the right to hold a passport – no country is going to want another nations violent criminals
- Confiscation of 100% of property gained using drug money as well as and in particular any cash – use the proceeds to help the victims with court/medical/other costs
- Being subject to police monitoring even after the sentences are finished and the corrections department is obligated to release the prisoner/s in question
- Non New Zealanders are deported and permanently barred from entering the country
If these instruments exist, how well are they used? There is little point in changing the law if they are a) well used and b) effective.
Part of Mr Harawira’s political repertoire has always been to speak his mind by saying provocative things, and then defend them and there is no doubt in this case, he has achieved that. It is a piece of race baiting in some respects by singling out Chinese dealers, and ignoring home grown ones and their supply chains. Perhaps Mr Harawira means well. It is certainly a departure from what I expected him to say on the issue – I was not expecting him to advocate for a reduction in penalties, but violating human rights statutes that New Zealand has ratified is not acceptable in any shape or form.