Government finally introduces synthetics crackdown legislation

The Government has finally introduced legislation that would give police stronger powers of search and seizure to crackdown on synthetics drugs. 

The idea was proposed by the Government in December, when Health Minister Dr David Clark and Police Minister Stuart Nash revealed their plans to tackle the problem.  

They said the Government would classify the two main synthetic drugs (5F-ADB and AMB-FUBINACA) as Class A. That would give police the search and seizure powers they need to crackdown on suppliers and manufactures. 

Those caught possessing and using drugs would face lighter charges under the Government's proposal, so that police would not prosecute for possession and that personal use would merit a therapeutic approach.  

The Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill, introduced by the Government on Thursday, would make those proposals law if it's adopted. The legislation supports targeting suppliers of synthetic drugs, but also calls for police to consider a health-based approach before prosecuting. 

"Our current approach has failed," Dr David Clark said on Thursday. "Since June 2017, as many as 50 to 55 deaths have been provisionally linked to the use of 5F-ADB and AMB-FUBINACA."

"Interrupting supply is a key part of a health response. Classifying these synthetics as Class A drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act (MoDA) gives police the powers they need to target the criminals that are getting rich from peddling them. 

"We also want people caught up in the web of addiction to get the support they need to get off drugs. We don't want to ruin lives by putting people in jail at a cost to taxpayers of $110,000 a year when we can help them to get the treatment they need."

Both of the Government's coalition partners - New Zealand First and the Green Party - have expressed support for the Bill. 

The Green Party's spokesperson on drug law reform, Chlöe Swarbrick said: "Today we're living up to the rhetoric as a country that implements evidence-based policy and one that prioritises compassion."

New Zealand First's Law and Order spokesperson Darroch Ball said the Bill is a "much-needed bold but balanced approach to dealing with the scourge of synthetic drug use". 

"We endorse this move to toughen up on the suppliers of synthetics with a potential maximum sentence of life in prison, but also back the more holistic approach the Bill takes in providing greater opportunity to rehabilitate users." 

During 2018, 280kg of methamphetamine was seized, alongside 216kg of cocaine, over 21,000 MDMA tablets, 37kg of synthetic cannabis, 2kg of synthetic cannabinoid powder, and over 45,000 cannabis plants, according to NZ Police and Customs. 

Police Minister Stuart Nash said the legislation would help police stay a step ahead of drug dealers by creating a new temporary drug classification category. 

That would mean emerging drugs could be easily brought under the Misuse of Drugs Act in future, making it easier for police to target.