Tuesday, May 03, 2011

A massive relaxation of the law

I've read a little more of the Law Commission's report on the Misuse of Drugs Act. The central thrust of their recommendations is for a massive relaxation of the law and a shift from persecution to harm minimisation. Some of the measures they recommend:

  • Drug classifications to be made by Parliament on the advice of an expert committee, rather than the Minister by Order in Council. Which means no more sudden reclassifications because Peter Dunne or Jim Anderton saw someone having fun.
  • Removing the current presumption that possession of more than a specified amount is for the purposes of supply. This effectively assumes the defendant guilty, and is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act. Instead, they recommend a new offence of "aggravated possession".
  • A presumption against imprisonment for "social dealing" (meaning supply to friends where there is no profit motive). The Law Commission recognises that this isn't a problem, and sticking people in jail for it creates more problems than it solves.
  • Moving from prosecution for personal possession and use to a mandatory cautioning scheme. Instead of the government wasting money taking people to court for drug use, the police will warn them a specified number of times (depending on the class of drug), with the final warning including advice on addiction treatment.
  • For those who are prosecuted following a final warning for personal use and possession, a presumption against imprisonment.
  • Retention of warrantless search powers, with the exception of the power to search places in the case of class C drugs. So the police won't be able to invite themselves in if they "smell cannabis".
These changes would make a real difference and reduce the amount of harm caused by the war on drugs. And they certainly seem like a much better way to unclog the courts than eliminating the right to trial by jury. So of course, the government will ignore them.