National MP Simeon Brown has slammed the Government for not being concerned for lives lost to synthetic drugs after voting down his Bill to hand harsher penalties to suppliers.
On Wednesday, the Psychoactive Substances (Increasing Penalty for Supply and Distribution) Amendment Bill was voted down in its third reading.
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The Bill, which sought to increase the maximum penalty for supplying synthetic drugs to 14 years imprisonment, was opposed by all Government parties and ACT, while National and Jami-Lee Ross voted in support.
"We have had 80 deaths from these drugs over the last year and a bit, and currently the maximum sentence for someone supplying these drugs is two years," Brown told Magic Talk's Peter Williams.
New Zealand First had previously supported the proposed legislation, but Brown said it pulled that support after the Government introduced their own crackdown on synthetic drug dealers - the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill.
That would classify two main synthetic drugs as Class A, increasing the penalty for supplying them, but Brown said as that has only just been introduced to Parliament in March, it's implementation would be a while off.
"The only reason why the Government parties decided, including New Zealand First, to vote it down is because they have decided that they are going to take the go-slow train and put their own Bill through and do the exactly the same thing but take a lot longer," he said.
"The Government needs to take this issue seriously, they have voted down my piece of legislation, but still 18 months on almost since I put my Bill before Parliament done nothing and people continue to die from these drugs."
"I find that absolutely abhorrent."
Brown is concerned that the Government's legislation only focussed on two strands, rather than installing a blanket penalty increase. He says dealers may tinker with the strands to make them different to what is in the Government's Bill.
He also criticised Minister for Health David Clark, saying that the Minister has the power to classify the drugs as Class A overnight. Brown said the inaction by the Government came as people continued to lose their lives to the drugs.
Clark said earlier this month that the Government was moving with "appropriate speed".
"We know that these drugs are harmful to the citizens that we represent, to the people of New Zealand, but we also know that we need a thorough process."
Last month it was revealed that synthetic drugs had either caused or contributed to more than 80 people had died in less than two years.
Critics of Brown's legislation, like the Green Party, suggested there was little evidence that increased penalties resulted in reduced offending.
But they welcomed the Government's proposed legislation last December, which came with a commitment to increase funding to addiction treatment services.
"We know that when we take people down the criminal pathway we do nothing to reduce drug use or demand. Instead, we increase the harm to those with addiction problems and to communities. We also increase gang control and associated criminality," said Green Party drug reform spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick.
"This Government has listened to the evidence and is acting with compassion to create a pathway of care and recovery for people with addiction problems."
What the Government's Bill seeks to do:
- Classify the two main synthetic drugs (5F-ADB and AMB-FUBINACA) linked to recent deaths as Class A. This will give police the search and seizure powers they need to crackdown on suppliers and manufacturers, who will also face tougher penalties - up to life imprisonment.
- Create a temporary drug classification category, C1, so new drugs can easily be brought under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
- Specify in law that police should not prosecute for possession and personal use where a therapeutic approach would be more beneficial, or there is no public interest in a prosecution. This will apply to the use of all illegal drugs.
- Allocate $16.6 million to boost community addiction treatment services.