New Zealand’s 35-year-old drug law is in for a major shake-up if the New Zealand Government adopts all recommendations for reform made in a recent drug law review conducted by the independent Law Commission.

The report, released earlier this month, contains 144 recommendations to reform the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.  The Commission noted that:

"There are adverse social consequences from a distinctly punitive approach to lower level offending. Quite large numbers of young New Zealanders receive criminal convictions - which might subsist for life - as a result of minor drug offences. This is a disproportionate response to the harm those offences cause.”

Among the key proposals contained in the report are:

  • A mandatory cautioning scheme for all personal possession and use offences that come to the attention of the police, removing minor drug offenders from the criminal justice system and providing greater opportunities for those in need of treatment to access it.
  • A full scale review of the current drug classification system which is used to determine restrictiveness of controls and severity of penalties, addressing existing inconsistencies and focusing solely on assessing a drug’s risk of harm, including social harm.
  • Making separate funding available for the treatment of offenders through the justice sector to support courts when they impose rehabilitative sentences to address alcohol and drug dependence problems;
  • Consideration of a pilot drug court, allowing the government to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of deferring sentencing of  some  offenders until they had undergone court-imposed alcohol and/or drug treatment.

The full report can be accessed here.

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