‘Petty’ Marijuana Users Not Filling Our Prisons

By February 14, 2017 Media Release

Media Release 14 February 2017
Family First NZ says that Ministry of Justice statistics debunk claims by supporters of weakening laws around marijuana that hundreds of people are being locked up for petty drug offences each year, and that the current illegal status around recreational marijuana must be maintained for the sake of public health and enforcement.

Statistics obtained from the Ministry of Justice by Family First NZ under the Official Information Act show that less than 10 people have been given a prison sentence for cannabis possession offences in each of the last three years, and that even these sentences may be ‘influenced by their previous offending history’.

Claims have been made that hundreds of minor drug offenders are being locked up for petty drug offences every year, that the system isn’t working, and that by locking them up, they can come out as a ‘meth cook’. That simply isn’t true. It will be difficult to meet somebody who says they’ve been behind bars for smoking a joint, and that’s their only crime,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.

“In other words, very few are in prison merely for simple drug possession, or even small-level dealing for that matter, according to the stats. International studies have shown that most are imprisoned for aggravated drug crimes, that is, crimes committed while on drugs (murder, armed robbery, theft, assault, child abuse, etc.) or crimes committed in order to obtain drugs. The statistics from the Ministry of Justice appear to confirm that.”

“Erroneous claims that we are wasting time and resources focusing on the criminal aspect fail to understand that there has been a substantial decline in arrests for cannabis use in New Zealand over the past decade, and that police diversion and Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment (AODT) Courts have been increasingly used. But it is the application of the law which enables these orders to be made and enforced in the first place,” says Mr McCoskrie.

“Drug use is both a criminal and a health issue. There is a false dichotomy that criminal sanctions apparently haven’t worked so we should ditch them all together and we should focus only on education and health initiatives. We should maintain both.”

“While Family First welcomes a cautious approach based on extensive research and appropriate safeguards around medicinal marijuana, any hint of decriminalising / legalising marijuana is the wrong path if we care about public health, public safety, and about our young people, and the government should maintain the drug’s illegal status.”