Govt won't decriminalise cannabis

Govt won't decriminalise cannabis

The Government is considering a softer approach to low-level drug offences, but says it's not considering decriminalising cannabis.

The shift in policy comes as a study is released showing the war on drugs has done more harm than good.

It's been almost 45 years since former US president Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs, and now it's been declared a failure.

A new study by the John Hopkins University in the US concluded the international War on Drugs approach to drug offending hasn't worked, and could even have made things worse.

"I agree entirely," says Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne. "It has failed, and we've been saying that from New Zealand's perspective for some time now."

Last year Mr Dunne said New Zealand would take a health, rather than a criminal, approach in its drug policy.

"Treat drug addiction as primarily a health issue. There is a legal issue involved and we're not running away from those, but the primary impact on the affected person is a health issue."

That means a review on penalties for possession of illegal drugs and drug utensils.

But decriminalising cannabis isnt on the agenda, which Legalise Cannabis Party leader Julian Crawford says is disappointing. He has about five cannabis convictions -- all for personal use -- which he says shouldn't be a crime.

"No one likes going through the court system for what they believe is a victimless offence," says Mr Crawford.

The Drug Foundation's Ross Bell agrees.

"The change we need to see is removing the criminal penalties around drug use and replace that system with a health system," says Mr Bell.

So when someone like Mr Crawford is caught with cannabis, he's given treatment rather than a conviction.

This debate around drug policy comes a month before a once-in-a-decade meeting on drugs at the United Nations in New York.

Mr Dunne will attend to present New Zealand's position on the world drug problem -- supporting a health-based approach to drug offences, but not decriminalisation.