Claim cops are ‘decriminalising dope by stealth’
Police have been accused of “decriminalisation by stealth” after a study showed cannabis possession arrests have halved in the last 18 years.
A Massey University research centre report shows despite the number of users remaining constant, arrests for cannabis possession since the late 1990s have fallen.
The Government says its policy is anti-cannabis and anti-decriminalisation, but the research shows there were 454 arrests for every 100,000 people in 1998, but only 227 by 2006.
Labour Justice spokesman Charles Chauvel said police had recognised the current approach to cannabis was failing, and had implemented changes in spite of the law. “It’s pretty much decriminalisation by stealth.”
He said a recent Law Commission report recommended cannabis be treated more as a health than a criminal issue, but Parliament “failed to act”.
A strong case can be made for decriminalisation, and Campbell Larsen made it in the comment linked above. I’ll quote it in full here:
Discretion is no substitute for a more appropriate law based on harm reduction. While it is certainly a good thing that minor infringements of the drug and other laws do not make their way into the justice system, it should not be seen a solution but rather a temporary fix until legislative changes can adjust the threshold of criminality in law to allow the situation to be dealt with more appropriately.
Police already have considerable ‘discretion’ in this country – if we allow the separation between the letter of the law and what is actually enforced to widen or persist then we run the risk of Police using enforcement as a stand over tactic when it suits them to be hard-line. Discretion does not provide the consistency of case-law and the judiciary and this is required for Justice. The days of the all-powerful and oft corrupt ‘Sherriff’ are gone and I would not see them return.
We should always be striving to ensure that our laws reflect the values and priorities of our communities. The criminalization of Cannabis is a hangover from the days of alcohol prohibition and a legacy of the failed war on drugs. It is a law which unjustly persecutes citizens – enforcing it merely brings the Police and the law into disrepute.
As a leftie who’s all in favour of leaving people alone to get on with their lives I’d like to be swayed by that argument, I really would. But I’ve heard the counter arguments from too many doctors about the impact of heavy pot use on health, and I’ve seen young lives damaged and held back by it. This is an issue where I confess that I reluctantly come down on the side of legal regulation. But if the police are backing off enforcing the current law, then it is time to have the decriminalisation debate. If we keep regulation, we need to decide what form it should take for the future.