A tale of two countries: While Canada legalises cannabis, NZ Police charge more people

By   /   March 30, 2017  /   18 Comments

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The latest figures obtained by NORML show they are not charging fewer people for cannabis, but more. Ignoring the wishes of the community, they are spending more time and more money on it, and filling our courts and jails with even more canna-folk. In the 8 months to August 2016, police laid 3387 charges for possession of cannabis (around fourteen people every day). This compares to 3891 in all of 2015.

As Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes good on his campaign pledge to make cannabis legal by 2018, the latest figures obtained by NORML show the New Zealand Police are now charging more people for cannabis offences.

Trudeau announced yesterday that legislation would be introduced in April, and regulations enacted by the end of the year, to create a legal, adults-only, and taxable market for cannabis.

Retail stores selling government-procured cannabis will be R18, and adults will also be able to grow their own, with a standard limit of four plants per household. Under the proposals, cannabis lounges or “social clubs” will be able to operate as long as they are alcohol- and tobacco-free.

Medicinal cannabis has been legal in Canada since 1999 and will still be an option for many, with prices expected to be lower than for the regular adult market.

To satisfy the Single Convention on Drugs – which both New Zealand and Canada signed up to way back in 1961 – Canada’s legal cannabis supplies will be purchased by a single federal agency which will then onsell them to local stores.

It’s kinda similar to how commodities used to be sold in NZ, with the old Apple and Pear Marketing Board. Wool and most of our other farming products were also bought by central co-ops then on sold to the marketplace.

If that sounds old fashioned, it’s actually an imaginative and novel approach to satisfying the demands of the international drug control treaties, which the international community failed to amend last year. UNGASS 2016 was the big chance to end the devastating War on Drugs but countries including New Zealand – represented by Peter Dunne – did little other than talk about it.

It’s also similar to the Cannabis Social Club as Incorporated Societies model proposed last year by Dr Chris Wilkins of Massey University. I blogged about that here.

What’s really old fashioned is the attitude of the New Zealand Police.

The latest figures obtained by NORML show they are not charging fewer people for cannabis, but more. Ignoring the wishes of the community, they are spending more time and more money on it, and filling our courts and jails with even more canna-folk.

In the 8 months to August 2016, police laid 3387 charges for possession of cannabis (around fourteen people every day). This compares to 3891 in all of 2015.

But if those first 8 months in 2016 are typical and the same rate occurred in the rest of the year, it would be around 5080 arrests – an increase of 30 per cent over the year before.

Thirty per cent!

The same pattern is apparent for providers charged with growing or selling cannabis.

The data is for charges (not arrests) so they each represent a person who the police have decided to not let go with a warning but to throw at them the full weight of the law. Admittedly, it is down from the peak arrest rate in 2009, but it still begs the question of why NZ Police have now decided to charge more people with cannabis offences.

It’s worth considering the context. This increase in charges was at the same time as Helen Kelly was bravely fighting lung cancer and very publicly using cannabis medicinally. Cannabis has been in the media most days and we’ve been having a massive public debate about our laws. Three major polls put support for medicinal cannabis law reform in the 75-80 per cent range, and support for wider reforms (like Canada) at a healthy 60 per cent.

Government figures also emerged during this period that showed one-in-twenty New Zealanders is using cannabis medicinally – almost half of all cannabis consumption. How are police to know whether a cannabis consumer is using it medicinally or not? They have no training in it, there is no policy and they’re given no guidance on how to make the decision to arrest or not.

It’s no wonder there was a strong backlash on social media to their posts which boast and taunt about how much cannabis they are seizing (and the resources they are wasting).

Our police should take a leaf from police around the world who are realising how destructive and counter-productive the War on Drugs really is. Reforms in Canada and elsewhere have the support of their police. It’s about time police here stopped hiding behind a false claim that they just enforce the law, and start advocating for law reform, so they can get on with fighting crimes that matter.

Their former union leader, Greg O’Connor, is a convert and in a delicious irony is running against Peter Dunne. That’s a contest we’re looking forward to, and frankly I’m backing the cop.

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About the author

Chris Fowlie

Former editor of NORML News, Chris Fowlie is president of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, manager of The Hempstore, and court-recognised expert witness for serious cannabis charges.

18 Comments

  1. countryboy says:

    Our entire socioeconomic entity is built upon layer upon layer of bullshit. The first layer was laid in 1882 when the SS Dunedin sailed to the UK with a load of refrigerated meat, a world first. Then the NZ Meat Board, excreted out of a cadre of lazy swine keen to capitalise on the ignorance and the propensity for hard work being next to Godliness that was the attitude of the first European settlers here was put in place in 1922 ( The New Zealand Meat Board was established in 1922 as the New Zealand Meat Producers Board, under an Act of Parliament, the Meat-export Control Act 1921-22) . ” Work harder and shut up ” is the mission statement of our agricultural economy.
    Anything at all, that threatens to destabilise the dyed in the wool logical fallacies driven home to us to look the other way while neo swine steal away with our wealth is going to come up against fierce resistance.
    Freeing up cannabis is another meter melted off the tip of the crooked iceberg.
    Cannabis growing threatens traditional lies that some few are very interested in keeping buried.

    • Tamati Tautuhi says:

      They will legalize it and control it through the multinationals, you will probably need a license to grow it?

  2. simbit says:

    The Canadian legislation doesn’t exist yet, and will ultimately be administered the Provincial govt. Wrong village…

  3. simbit says:

    The Canadian legislation doesn’t exist yet, and will ultimately be administered the Provincial govt. Where i am (SK), they’re bound to be bastards.

    Wrong village…

  4. doc says:

    A northland woman/mother held in high regard for her services to the community is sentenced to two years prison for possession of around 8 oz of cannabis, appeal fails. recently a drugged out methadone user kills two people whilst driving, sentence three years, get the picture

  5. Kim dandy says:

    What century do we live in again…?
    Once thought NZ to be ahead of the times – now we are SO backwards it just ain’t funny anymore.

  6. simonm says:

    “It’s actually an imaginative and novel approach to satisfying the demands of the international drug control treaties, which the international community failed to amend last year. UNGASS 2016 was the big chance to end the devastating War on Drugs but countries including New Zealand – represented by Peter Dunne – did little other than talk about it.”

    Yes, the 2016 UNGASS forum was a travesty. The two countries that were most vehemently opposed to updating the drug control treaties so they would follow a harm reduction approach rather than a zero-tolerance approach were Russia and China. This is hugely ironic given they are the two countries have been proven to be the worst drug cheats in sports. The governments of Russia and China have both sanctioned drug-enhancement programmes to illegally support the performance of their athletes at past Olympic Games and other sporting events.

  7. her says:

    Meanwhile in the countries with open access to pot the researchers are striping it down to the active ingredients and marketing it to sick people it can really help. More billions of dollars and jobs we are missing out on.
    I’m not sick but I wouldn’t mind trying the Whoopie Goldberg range. She has a pot infused hot Chocolate drink that apparently can give you a really good nights sleep.

  8. Samwise says:

    What? Legalise cannabis?

    But, what will the criminal gangs do for an income? Won’t anyone the poor wee Bairns??

  9. Glenn says:

    “You know what they say, cops have the best dope.”

    Chevy Chase ‘Foul Play’

  10. Helena says:

    It’s all about the money. Bums on beds in prison. All out down tools Nationwide will end the madness.

    • countryboy says:

      @ HELENA. I agree. That’s a good idea. I watched Hypernormalisation, an Adam Curtis documentary, and in there, it was suggested, indeed proven, that social media was the way to organise groups of people to engage in passive/ aggressive acts that would destabilise the status quo, the one we have now that’s proving disastrous for us, and profitable for them, on all levels.
      Politicians and their corporate masters live in fear that one day, we will discover that we, all of us, are as one entity basically. An holistic organism and when we can act as one, we can defeat the greedy fuckers who plot to control our lives, harm us, deprive us in a land of plenty for all and create monsters out of our friends, family and neighbours and whom we must live amongst as they rage and destroy like Zombies.

      You’ve got to watch ‘Hypernormalisation’. In the interests of a well rounded education if nothing else. https://youtu.be/-fny99f8amMaggressive

      ( Cheers @ NITRIUM. )

  11. Tamati Tautuhi says:

    Got to keep those prison beds full, soft work for the police arresting people for marijuana possession, the police are shit scared of the gangs for fear of retaliation on their families especially the likes of the Headhunters and Tribesmen who use intimidation tactics.

    Time for the NZ Police to harden up on organised crime as the Asian Crime Syndicates are distributing the likes of P through the Headhunters and the Tribesmen. We need someone with balls like Winston Peters at NZF to sort this nonsense out, not like the soft c**ks Key and English?

  12. Tamati Tautuhi says:

    Decriminalising marijuana out of the gangs control will deprive them of cash flow, on the East Coast the gangs have been trading crayfish and paua with the Asian Crime Syndicates for drugs such as methamphetamine here in NZ for the past 10-15 years.

  13. Tamati Tautuhi says:

    New Zealand need to follow the lead of country’s like Portugal who decriminalized drugs 16 years ago, you basically deprive the gangs of income and say time and effort on police expenses.

    We need to start looking at drug addiction as a mental health issue rather than a crime, people resort to drugs when they have problems and are not coping with life these may be legal drugs such a prozac diazipam, marijuana, cocaine, heroine or methamphetamine.

    Unfortunately metamphetamine eats the brain, it causes increased serotonine levels in the brain but when it wears off the body craves for more of it however it is an artificial high and highly addictive.

    People should actually eat more bananas as that increases the serotonine levels in the brain and is less toxic to the body and the brain, also high levels of vitamin B increase people well being and sense of happiness. A study in the USA prisons in the 1950’s should vastly improved behaviour of prisoners when given a healthy diet and high dosage of vitamin B.

    Maybe it is time we started educating people, stoking people with a feather rather than bashing them with a hammer.