Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The LawCom hates the War on Drugs

Back in 2007, the government asked the Law Commission to review the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 with an eye to modernising it and brining it into line with the principle of harm minimisation and our obligations under international law. Today, they reported back. Its a substantial report - two fat PDFs - and it will take a while to digest. But just skimming the Forward shows that substantial changes are in store:

the 1975 statute is inconsistent with the official drug policy adopted in New Zealand. That policy is based on the principle of harm minimisation and supports a balance of measures under the pillars of supply control, demand reduction and problem limitation. The Misuse of Drugs Act, however, emphasises the supply problem whilst distinctly neglecting these other two important pillars. Much greater legislative recognition of demand reduction and harm reduction strategies is needed.

Third, the existing supply control focussed approach consumes a very considerable resource through demands on detection, enforcement, justice and corrections.

Fourth, 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. More can be done through the criminal justice system to achieve better outcomes for those individuals and for society at large.

Or, to summarise, the war on Drugs is a waste of time and money and we can do much better by caring a little less about what people stick into their bodies.

Somehow, I suspect that this broad, evidence-based conclusion is not going to be acceptable to the government. Its an election year, and they have a Tough On Crime drum to bang; they don't want petty things like evidence getting in the way of that.