Pubdate: Wed, 20 Jul 2016
Source: Nelson Mail, The (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2016 Fairfax New Zealand Limited
Authors: Jo Moir and Adele Redmond


Decriminalising cannabis would generate money for the Government and 
ease pressure on New Zealand's courts according to an informal Treasury report.

The documents obtained under the Official Information Act by Nelson 
lawyer Sue Grey came from an internal Treasury forum "to test policy 
thinking on a range of issues in the public domain," Finance Minister 
Bill English said.

The documents reveal Government spends about $400 million annually 
enforcing prohibition whereas decriminalisation would generate about 
$150m in revenue from taxing cannabis.

Moreover, it said reforming drug policies would "ease pressure on the 
justice sector, and lead to fewer criminal convictions for youth and Maori".

Drug prohibition in New Zealand disproportionately affects males, 
Maori and youth. In 2001 Maori made up 14.5 per cent of the 
population but received 43 per cent of convictions for cannabis use.

The report also noted that "drug reform isn't a particularly radical 
idea these days". "It's supported by The Economist and the Global 
Commission on Drug Policy, as well as reports by our Health Select 
Committee and the Law Commission.

"There are a range of palatable options. Drug use can be kept 
illegal, satisfying international treaties, but with criminal 
penalties swapped for civil penalties, like rehabilitation treatment 
for people who need it."

It noted that Denmark, Germany, Portugal and parts of Australia and 
the United States had decriminalised cannabis and "don't seem to have 
increased drug use".

Secretary to the Treasury Gabriel Makhlouf said that while the 
figures in the report were drawn from "high-level estimates", they 
were not official Treasury estimates and did not represent a position 
on drug policy reform.

English added that the documents were "not intended to be distributed 
more widely than as speaking notes for the forum". "It was a document 
prepared by a single staff member for an internal forum and did not 
come to me."

He declined to comment on whether he had considered the document or 
its recommendations.

Sue Grey, whose request made the information public, said that 
regardless of whether the documents were official advice or not, they 
proved Treasury had information that drug prohibition cost New Zealand.

"With information comes responsibility. [The Government's] main 
argument is that cannabis presents a huge cost to the community but 
the report shows the costs are made up of enforcement."

According to Treasury police spent 600,000 hours on illicit drug 
enforcement in 2005. About 6 per cent of cannabis users are caught by 
police but 95 per cent of those continue to use cannabis.

Rebecca Reider, prosecuted for importing medicinal cannabis products 
in March, said many who used the drug medicinally got criminal convictions.

"For some of us getting busted is a sad rite of passage. From a 
patient's perspective the numbers that were released to Sue were 
common sense but it's amazing that someone in the New Zealand 
government had done those calculations.

"My experience so far has been that everyone is ready for cannabis 
law reform except the people in government."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom