Proposed law changes will 'decriminalise drugs', make prosecutions harder, MPs told

MPs have been told planned drug law changes will essentially decriminalise all drugs and make it difficult for police to prosecute for possession of drugs.

The Government has insisted drug use prosecutions will still happen under the proposed changes, but experts have struggled to think of how the law could possibly allow that.

New Zealand has a very visible drug problem. The vulnerable, including the homeless, use synthetics in plain sight and the death toll keeps climbing. 

"Eighty people died from synthetic drugs in less than two years," National MP Simeon Brown told Parliament on Wednesday. 

But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Government does "not believe that the best way to prevent their death is by arresting them and putting them in prison". 

A planned new law will attempt to deal with the deadly drugs by reclassifying synthetics as class-A. Under the new law, dealers will be punished while rehabilitating users.

All drug users will be treated that way - whether it's cannabis, synthetics or even methamphetamine and heroin. If meth users, for example, had committed no other crime, possession alone may no longer be enough to prosecute.

At a select committee on the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill on Wednesday, Police Association President Chris Cahill said there needs to be wider debate within the public. 

Police Association President Chris Cahill.
Police Association President Chris Cahill. Photo credit: Newshub

"You're actually directing police officers not to prosecute, in a general sense, for all drugs - and if that's what the Parliament wants, then that should be debated more widely with the public." 

The Police Association believe the new law will mean very few, if any, prosecutions of drug users. 

But the Prime Minister told Newshub: "It still is possible for them to prosecute through the law if it's in the public interest to do so."

That public interest test could mean police can't charge drug users for possession alone. The Law Society couldn't think of a scenario when prosecuting a user would actually be in the public interest. 

Experts agreed with the Government's overall approach of treating drug use as a health issue rather than a criminal one, but raised serious concerns about a lack of rehabilitation resources which are already stretched to capacity.