Drug use a health issue, not criminal - Police Minister Stuart Nash

Police Minister Stuart Nash is refusing to say whether he's for or against ending marijuana prohibition, but appears to be leaning in favour.

The Police Association this week is discussing how legalisation would affect its members' work.

"It's a little bit foreign and you'd sort of go, 'Ooh that's a bit unusual' - but society changes," president Chris Cahill told Newshub on Wednesday, talking about how new roadside tests and standards will need to be developed.

The Police Association represents officers and employees, but not the NZ Police organisation itself.

It won't be taking a stance either way, and nor would Mr Nash when asked on The AM Show on Thursday.

"I'm not going to give you a yes or no, because I want to see what this looks like," he told host Duncan Garner.

"I'll weigh up the benefits and I'll vote accordingly."

But as long as there are sufficient social services in place to deal with the harmful effects of marijuana, Mr Nash appears to be in favour of legalisation.

He recommended AM Show viewers and listeners check out a book by Johann Hari, Chasing the Scream, all about how the long-running war on drugs has failed.

"I was incredibly proud of Jacinda Ardern not to sign up to Donald Trump's new war on drugs," he added. "We need to treat this as a health issue - the police are doing this, we're doing this as a society."

He said the police are already using discretion not to criminalise drug users - even those consuming hard drugs.

"We refuse to treat every single addict out there as a criminal. This is a health issue… An example - Operation Daydream, this is going after the meth dealers and suppliers. Police did that, they rounded them up.

"After that they went to all the addicts and instead of putting them in front of a judge, as they have done in the past, they put them in front of social services to help these people. That's the sort of society we need to create."

Stuart Nash.
Stuart Nash.

Otherwise, whether drug reform happens or not, Mr Nash said police will enforce the law "no matter what it will be".  

Unless the Government pulls another oil ban-style unilateral decision to legalise marijuana before then, a non-binding referendum will be held on the topic by 2020.