Winston Peters calls for more police if cannabis vote doesn't pass

Winston Peters believes more police will be needed if New Zealanders vote against legalising recreational cannabis at the 2020 election. 

Peters, leader of NZ First, has said in the past he doesn't personally support legalising cannabis, but his party formed a coalition Government with Labour and the Greens - the latter who were promised a referendum. 

"Of course we have our views on it, but we don't think that 120 Parliamentarians are more capable of making a decision on this matter than the public and adult voters of this country," Peters said. 

The Government announced on Tuesday that New Zealanders will vote on legislation to legalise recreational use of the drug at the 2020 election, rather than a 'self-executing' referendum that was preferred by the Greens. 

A Newshub poll found 65 percent of people agreed with legalising recreational cannabis use. But Peters was asked what the ramifications would be if New Zealanders decided against legalising it.

He said more police would be needed to ensure people still obey the law, telling Magic Talk: "We will need more than the 1800 police that we're getting now to ensure that the law is followed in this country."

The Government announced in August last year that 1800 new police officers and 485 support staff would come into force by 2020, with 200 to focus on preventing gang-related and drug-related crime.

National's police spokesperson Chris Bishop.
National's police spokesperson Chris Bishop. Photo credit: Getty

Last month National's police spokesperson Chris Bishop said the Government was well-behind on its target, despite Police Minister Stuart Nash insisting the Government would reach the 1800 mark. 

Nash told RNZ: "If we can't do it in three years, then we will still deliver 1800. We've got one of the lowest levels of attrition in the state sector, but we've still got around 400 to 500 officers leaving each year." 

Bishop said while he supported more police, the Government needed to be "realistic", adding: "New Zealanders deserve a Government that is open, transparent and sets achievable goals."

Peters said: "We're getting 1800 more frontline police because they're desperately needed plus over 450 backup staff as well."

Will police discretion help?

Peters was asked if the Government was being too soft on drugs, pointing to changes proposed in the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill that would allow "police discretion" - giving them the freedom to decide if prosecution is necessary. 

"The reality is, what we want to do is ensure that the police get the drug pusher not the user, because in the end, the person pushing that sort of degradation in our society is one we want to get out," Peters said. 

"We want the police to say, 'Well, maybe this user here will be better getting treatment rather than us putting him behind the slammer and missing the man or woman that's been providing him those drugs'."

Under the proposed legislation, the two main synthetic drugs (5F-ADB and AMB-FUBINACA) would be reclassified as Class A, and police would have more search and seizure powers to crackdown on suppliers. 

But those caught possessing and using drugs would face lighter charges, so police would not prosecute for possession and personal use would merit a "therapeutic" approach.  

Peters told Magic Talk: "We saw a whole lot of young people die from synthetic drugs that were killing people in serious numbers, so we reclassified them to make them Class A."