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Drug reform: makes a hell of a lot of cents

Written By: - Date published: 6:21 am, June 7th, 2011 - 48 comments
Categories: budget 2011, crime, drugs - Tags:

I’ve been thinking about the budget. Its economic vacuousness: borrowing and crossing fingers for strong growth, while keeping tax cuts for the rich. The bare-faced cheek of counting the asset sales in its projections and passing Kiwisaver cuts without getting a mandate. But also, the cuts to vital public services without a more imaginative and sensible solution: drug reform.

The Law Commission proved in its report earlier this year that all the money the government sinks on the ‘war on drugs’ each year is more or less wasted. And the amount poured into this blackhole is mind-boggling.

There’s the policing cost:

“In a report prepared for the New Zealand Police in 2008, economists Business and Economic Research (BERL) estimated that the cost of enforcing the law against illegal drugs amounted to a total of $303 million in 2005/06. Enforcement activity targeting illegal stimulants was estimated to account for 48 per cent of that sum and 257,140 of the 598,000 policing hours dedicated to illicit drug enforcement. Activities targeting cannabis comprised another 38 per cent, or $116.2 million of the total budget, and accounted for 333,684 policing hours.”

600,000 police hours is equivalent to nearly 300 cops employed full-time on drugs. Remember that next time they’re too busy to attend a burglary.

There’s also the cost of imprisoning people and other sentences. There are about 1,000 people imprisoned for drugs offences, at $100,000 per head. That’s $100 million a year to lock them up.Bill English calls prison a “moral and fiscal failure”, well stopping locking so many people up for drugs crimes would be a good first step in addressing it.

Then there’s another 4,000 on other sentences, at the cost of many more millions.

Add to that the cost of all the court cases, 25,000 charges a year.

Not to mention the lost tax take from sending such a large industry underground.

All up, the ALCP reckons that marijuana prohibition alone costs half a billion dollars. That may be on the high side but gives you an idea of the scale of money being wasted on trying, and failing, to stop people consuming drugs.

All of this money is spent for virtually no effect on drug consumption. The Law Commission report makes that clear, as does the fact that 400,000 New Zealanders are regular consumers of cannabis.

What the ‘war on drugs’ does do is force drug users into close association with the criminal underworld and make it harder to get medical treatment – both of which lead to more crime problems.

It’s not just direct fiscal costs that can be reduced from focusing on drugs as a health problem, not a criminal one:

“for every $1 spent on addiction treatment, there is a $4 to $7 reduction in the cost associated with drug-related crimes, and that for some non-residential programmes, total savings can exceed costs by a ratio of 12:1”

What many people don’t realise is that governments spending fortunes hopelessly trying to fight drugs is a recent invention. Until the 1940s, you could legally buy heroin in this country. Since the international ‘war on drugs’ began, it has shown no signs off success and each failure has been met with more funding, with the same results. The UN, which pushed countries into tougher and tougher drug laws at the US’s bidding last century, now admits: “global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world”

In my dream world, the Prime Minister would listen to his Law Commission report on drugs and change the law as the Commission suggests: remove the focus on prosecuting and punishing drug users and focus instead on productive areas – treating addiction as a medical problem and focusing on harm reduction.

And, on a very much related note, he would listen to the report he commissioned from his science adviser that concluded we need to start investing more in young children, rather than wasting it trying to scare young offenders straight with silly boot camps.

Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen with this Prime Minister, who launched his silly ‘War on P’ and seems determined to just keep pouring taxpayer money down the drain.

48 comments on “Drug reform: makes a hell of a lot of cents”

  1. Lanthanide 1

    So which drugs are you advocating should be decriminalised/legalised?
     
    Surely not all of them?

    • MikeE 1.1

      why not? why should someone be prevent from putting something inside their own body?

      Hard drugs only exist due to the economic incentives created due to prohibition. there would be no crack, p etc, if people were able to get cleaner, safer alternatives legally.

      I’m sure more than a fair share of readers on here have consumed all manner of class A, B and C substances recreationally with zero harm to themselves and others (while others have had negative consequences, but I’m guessing far more have had negative consequences due to drinking and crap food).

      Drug police doesn’t belong to the police. If it is *any* business of governemnts, surely its a health and taxation issue, not a criminal one.

      • Lanthanide 1.1.1

        “Hard drugs only exist due to the economic incentives created due to prohibition. there would be no crack, p etc, if people were able to get cleaner, safer alternatives legally.”
         
        I seriously, seriously doubt that. Alcohol is already legal, and all of the lesser drugs are generally available to anyone who is using the harder drugs (“gateway” drugs, dontchaknow), and yet they choose to use the harder drugs.

        • ZeeBop 1.1.1.1

          Agreed. I’m against legalization. I for semi-legalization for the old, for
          the sick, for the stupid. Take the fashion out of illegal drugs, make
          them a lifestyle choice of failures. Too often its the rich who can
          afford them, and should be in rehab not on our tv talking to us about
          ethics and morals. Drugs are something old people do. Government
          should farm and sell them to those who have a prescription from a doctor.
          Then drug screening for all professionals.

        • Rich 1.1.1.2

          Not the case.

          Meth is easy to make and hence is a lot more widely available then E, which needs a hard to get key ingredient and rather more difficult chemistry.

        • felix 1.1.1.3

          Err Lanth, I think you misunderstood that. Alcohol and tobacco aren’t clean or safe.

          • Lanthanide 1.1.1.3.1

            Mike’s statement seems to be on the basis that the only reason people do hard drugs is because economically you get more bang for your buck, and people don’t actually care about the type of high that they get. Which is just silly.

            His position makes even less sense if you legalise all drugs, because then the supposed economic difference he says makes people do hard drugs would be even more diminished.

    • Deadly_NZ 1.2

      http://ironwolf.dangerousgames.com/blog/archives/458

      Just the top 10 on the list OOPss there goes Alcohol and Tobacco.

      • Sonny 1.2.1

        If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em (safe option, I will look after you).

  2. Why not all of them? Horse riding is more damaging than dope according to the sacked health officer in the UK. So called hard drugs are only dangerous because of their illegality. The only control should be over drug use and driving etc that puts others at risk. But ultimately people will always use opiates in capitalist society, its a question of what is least damaging until we can build a society in which recreational drugs are not a heavy scene. We definitely shouldnt criminalise what is mass consumption in the working class, nor deliberately cultivate crime in breaking the prohibition. And that’s not even taking into consideration the opportunity cost of prohibition lost.

    • You think they should legalize all drugs???

      What are you, high??

      I can understand dope, I guess there is not a lot of crime caused by people who smoke dope.

      Surly you dont think P should be legal?? If it becomes legal it becomes legal to sell or course, I dont want to go down to the warehouse and while Im buying some dvds, walk past the P aisle.

      How would they market it too,

      Become brian dead, become violent, have some P only $9.99

      $9.99, you will be out of your mind.

      • zug zug 2.1.1

        “But new research on Portugal’s drug policy suggests that this isn’t necessarily so. Portugal decriminalized possession of all drugs in 2001. The outcome, after nearly a decade, according to a study published in the November issue of the British Journal of Criminology: less teen drug use, fewer HIV infections, fewer AIDS cases and more drugs seized by law enforcement. Adult drug use rates did slightly increase — but this increase was not greater than that seen in nearby countries that did not change their drug policies. The use of drugs by injection declined.”

        Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2010/11/23/portugals-drug-experience-new-study-confirms-decriminalization-was-a-success/#ixzz1OYVxTEh8

        Maybe if your opinions were actually based on facts, supported by evidence, overseas examples etc you would have a leg to stand on. At present your emotional knee-jerk answer is just ignorance and arrogance…

        http://www.leap.cc

  3. David 3

    Whilst I am slightly uneasy about the idea of legalising all drugs, I agree strongly with Eddie that this country needs drug law reform urgently.

    We are simply hurting ourselves more the longer we don’t have reform.

    Dave Brown, I highly recommend you look at the summary of the Law Commission’s report:

    LINK: http://www.lawcom.govt.nz/project/review-misuse-drugs-act-1975?quicktabs_23=report

    Personally, I’d rather have National in government but I think it’s a shame they stick so strongly to their rather old fashioned views on drugs.

    • Deadly_NZ 3.1

      Bugger the NATS they will sell anything that’s not bolted down.. As to the drug thing how hard would it be to legislate and distribute pot, make it cheaper and of a consistent quality Then No sale to under 18’s just like the other poisons on the market Alcohol and Nicotine. Allow a person at home to grow a couple of plants. etc etc I have mentioned this before on here and whoever said that $500K Per year was a lot to waste on the ‘enforcement’ (more like just burning cash) I actually think that $500k is light, way light. there would also be the untold millions that would be saved from not jailing every poor bastard that grows a weed. it would gut the gangs take as well if anyone can grow a bit for them selves, or who can go to an approved outlet or licensed Marijuana Cafe. And also violent crime should drop as well. I have NEVER seen an aggressive stoner yet and I don’t expect to. But a weekend in any main centre is like a bloody battleground sometimes because of Alcohol, so more savings there. Now to all those of you who will inevitably come out of the woodwork about psychosis, and other nasties. Get a life. You are happy to medicate anyone who is deemed to be ‘psychotic’ with a weird and wonderful cocktail of very strong chemicals, or even worse leave them out in public, to drink and take what ever. So who is to say a little pot won’t help rather than hinder. And I have not even touched on the other benefit of Marijuana. HEMP, Cheap and abundant.

      As to health read
      https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Cannabis_%28drug%29

  4. David 4

    Brett, I think you know in your own mind that your comment is plain and simple hyperbole.

    You don’t walk past the smokes or piss aisle at The Warehouse do you?

    If we were all a bit more sensible about the idea of legalisation, control and treatment we’d all be a lot better off

    • I do at a supermarket, yeah there needs to be reform, but to legalize all drugs, is beyond belief, its the worst thing this country can do.

      • zug zug 4.1.1

        http://www.leap.cc

        So Brett Dale knows more about drugs than for former head of Narcotics at Scotland yard, and a growing list of retired judges, DEA agents and police officers does he?

        The experts say legalise yet you know better do you?

        If you got diagnosed with a medical condition I bet you give your 2 cents to the doctor too, cos y’know, what the fuck do experts know?

  5. Afewknowthetruth 5

    NZ society is addicted to oil. That ‘drug’ addiction is far more costly and far more damaging than all the others put together. ….. balance of payments, a daily toll of deaths and injuries, and long term environmental impacts likely to render most of the Earth uninhabitable.

    Oil addiction is sancrosanct, of course, since the boys and girls at the top are making far too much money out of it.

    • I doubt oil kills more people than tobacco.

      • Afewknowthetruth 5.1.1

        Tobacco is prett awful but addicts tend to kill themselves more than they kill other people. Oil tends to kill cyclists, pedestrians and 20-somethings.

        Oil addiction is in the process of killing the planet we live on. The effects take a long time to build up, but we are rapidly appeoaching the point of envionmental collapse [due to oil and coal] killing more people than anything else on Earth. Atmospheric is CO2 up again -now 394ppm.

        And, inrterestingly, oil addiction is slowly killing the NZ economy, along with most other economies. We may have 3 or 4 years before we reach a state similar to Greece now. .

  6. her 6

    Have you read the recent report

    http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/Report

    There are some great ideas from some of the most intelligent successful people of our time.

    To save that kind of money you’d have to sack a lot of public servants, every year.

  7. bbfloyd 7

    “are youout of your mind”… no, he’s just using a longer view than you are.

    this reaction is all too uncommom from the people who have yet to fathom that they are using the very logic that the drug dealers, who have been successfully framing the debate, would have us all believing..

    consider for one, the fact that the massive amoounts of money involved in the trade mean that there has to be involvement by people who inhabit the boardooms of our largest corporates. the task of laundering such vast sums can’t be done without their involvement…so a large percentage of illegal drug profits are going into government/corporate coffers.. (amounts to the same thing)

    you might be interested to know what mexico’s view on decriminalisation is, for instance.. it would cost their economy hundreds of millions of dollars at the least.. just one of many examples of why governments/corporates have a vested interest in keeping the laws,as they stand intact.

    in assuming a position according to the official wisdom, you do no more than allow the drug dealers to frame the debate to suit the maintainence of profits…

    drugs (alcohol, cannabis, opium, mescalin,etc) have been around, and used by humans for as long as there have been humans … we are letting laws passed in the thirties by a government who were simply trying to rid themselves of competition for jobs from(legal)immigrants fracture our society, and isolate us from our own…..

    time for the blinkers to come off.. prohibition has been proven over and over again to do harm without achieving any of it’s goals…..unless driving up profits is the aim of course…. then you could call the tactic a raging success.

    come to think of it, john key would probably approve of the increase in gdp that toughening the laws would cause.

  8. infused 8

    In my life I’ve taken Acid, E, smoked P once before I knew the hardfully effects, smoked a lot of pot.

    E and Acid were great fun.

    For some drugs, I don’t see what the issue is. More people die via alch problems.

    Acid: All you do is stare at how cool stuff is. That drug is a real eye opener.
    E: Just awesome fun
    Pot: Mellows me out and lets me focus/unwind.

    It’s a waste of time enforcing some of these, biggest one being pot imo.

  9. infused 9

    Hmm no comment? E and Acid are great. Let me know how many people have died on acid vs alch. Acid is an eye opener.

    • Deadly_NZ 9.1

      Umm how about E vs Alcohol and Tobacco??? E was 250 in 4 years vs 114,000 a year from tobacco and up to 40000 from Alcohol and that was in England only

      The tables further down make for interesting reading and this is just an English study, google up more if you don’t believe me, or this.

      http://www.drugscope.org.uk/resources/faqs/faqpages/how-many-people-die-from-drugs

      • Sonny 9.1.1

        Don’t leave me to fight alone???? I need you, I need an honourable man to fight for me, where are you? Where are you hiding, come out of hiding and show yourself!

        You have to make that choice- NOW!

  10. randal 10

    the problem with drugs is that the user always wants more and according to those who know the primary goal of addiction is to prevent the addict feeling their own true thoughts and feelings.
    address these problems and then there might be a way forward.

    • Lord Zealand 10.1

      The problem with you statement Randal is that you’ve used the words “drugs and addicition” when you should have used the words “money and Banker”.

  11. TightyRighty 11

    This is the one single policy that could tick all the boxes. Save the public purse, grow the public purse, protect the children, attack organised crime, otherwise sensible new zealanders not being locked up or having their ability to travel and work impaired due to the random fact they got caught. Imagine the tourism benefits? As Amsterdam taketh away, NZ giveth to all.

  12. Treetop 12

    Addiction is a health issue and stealing is a criminal issue. When a person commits a crime to feed their addiction the person may go to jail, which is not going to assist recovery for a health issue.

    I find it interesting that the government realises that an addict may require a medical benefit due to their addiction and on the other hand they are processed by the courts when caught stealing to fund their addiction. A balance has to be found on how best to manage the cost of being incarcerated, but not being rehabilitated due to the incarceration.

    Last night (while house sitting) I saw most of a National Geographic doco on how heroin addicts are being managed in Holland. Once or twice a day the person goes to a clinic and the addict administers their heroin. Stealing has reduced by 50 % and addicts are able to hold down limited employment, relationships are not as strained and they are not as shallow.

    In Holland addicts are being offered a solution to prevent commiting crime and drug dealers are finding business being slowed.

    NZ does have to take a look at decriminalising a person having a marijuana pot plant for their own use. Anything more than marijuana is not advisable. A true addict has a disease and their addiction makes them a criminal if they are stealing to feed their habit.

    No one can stop their addiction other than the person who is messing up their body and their life by taking drugs.

    • Lanthanide 12.1

      “on how heroin addicts are being managed in Holland. Once or twice a day the person goes to a clinic and the addict administers their heroin.”
       
      I’m betting this is probably methadone, not heroin. We have the same system in New Zealand already.

      • Blighty 12.1.1

        nah, it’s heroin. They do the same in Switzerland

      • Treetop 12.1.2

        Medical grade heroin, the bottle was shown and it is a clear liquid. There were about eight people on the room shooting up.

        I am unable to supply a reference as I do not have Sky but it was on at 10.30 pm.

        • bbfloyd 12.1.2.1

          the dutch, being sensible and clever, have noted the fact that methadone is more addictive than heroin… which has been one of the failings of nz’s programs.

          similar reasoning as introducing cane toads into australia to kill another imported pest… worked just like replacing one addiction with a stronger one would… ……not.

          • Lanthanide 12.1.2.1.1

            My sister has assisted a methadone addict while she was volunteering with Women’s Refuge. From her description of the whole procedure, I get the impression that a good part of the methadone system in place is specifically designed to dehumanise and punish the addicts.

      • Lord Zealand 12.1.3

        Anytime you want to use some facts feel free. Prohibition is bankrupting us both morally and spiritually as a country. There are many in high places that will fight any changes tooth and nail, not because of any thought for the children of today and tomorrow, but because of the money they are making feeding the masses their poisons! We need to i) Gain control of the drug market so we can ii) manipulate the drug market. At the moment we are letting the gangs look after it, this is unacceptable. We’ve almost missed the boat in hemp technologies, and the patents for the med side of things are comming in thick and fast from the big boys – Do we want a good economy were all the peasants are rich, happy and enjoying life for THEIR OWN PLEASURE? God dammit man, you’ve lost your mind! Happy People? For goodness sake noooo!

  13. Cin77 13

    Legalize pot, make it 18+ and the unlicensed sale is banned. As long as I can grow it at home I don’t really care about how they deal with the sale of the stuff. But that right there is the problem, most smokers are going to opt to grow their own; so less revenue for the government.

    There’s a place (somewhere, I don’t remember where but probably Australia) they were giving fines for pot possession like a driving offence, pay a fine, skip the conviction. I’d be into that.

    • felix 13.1

      Why should anyone be fined for possession of weed though? Sure, it’s not be as bad as locking people up but FFS it’s just as unjustified.

      • Cin77 13.1.1

        I agree, in a perfect world i’d be toking up hard from the half acre patch I’m growing with no recriminations.

  14. The Voice of Reason 14

    All you need to know about the war on drugs here and here. Ol’ Bill Lee was quite the straight shooter!

  15. Craig 15

    I certainly think that there’s a case for partially decriminalising pot, especially for palliative aid reasons, and having mere spot fines, as well as an R18 age of consent for smoking it. And perhaps too, penalties against distributing it to people living with schizophrenia, given that a subset will develop cannabis-related psychosis. I’d scrap the Class C section of the Misuse of Drugs Act altogether, trial supervised injecting facilities as is the case in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Vancouver’s Insite programme, emphasise harm minimisation and risk reduction with Class B drugs like E.

    As for Class A, P/crystal meth is unlike the others. While there’s some leeway for dealing with pot, E and party drugs, that doesn’t apply to P. It’s in a different category altogether and traditional interdiction strategies are the best in that context. Added to which, in the States, meth labs have grown in proportion to Bush era welfare privatisation in poor rural and inner city areas.

    • dave brown 15.1

      So P is the new alcohol booster for poor youth? Like lots of other drugs that make alcohol cheaper.
      Prohibition of P doesnt work any more than prohibition for alcohol. All it does is create crime and uncontrolled destruction. Better to have it in the open and regulated, confronting social causes, not demonising individuals, and providing well funded support services until such time as the real cause capitalist poverty is eliminated.

      • dave brown 15.1.1

        End ‘war on drugs’ now
        Far more harm and social destruction has been caused by the West’s anti-drug laws than by the actual misuse of narcotics, says Eddie Ford

        By any measure, the 24-page report published on June 2 by the 19-member Global Commission on Drug Policy is a scathing indictment of the madness that is the current ‘war on drugs’, and especially the role played in it by the United States.[1] Far from reducing the supply and use of drugs, or curbing the power of organised crime, it has had the opposite effect – with total predictability, of course. Yet those who insist on conducting this ‘war’, as the report notes, know full well that it is a doomed venture, but pretend to the world that victory is within sight. [read more]
        http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004423

  16. Craig 16

    I agree that addressing the destructive New Right social policies that led to the rise of our national P/crystal meth problem is neccessary beforehand, but I wasn’t suggesting ‘demonising’ P users. However, P/crystal meth is heavily implicated in domestic violence, unsafe sex and carries toxicity risks if children are present in meth labs. I’m sceptical that in this particular instance, harm minimisation and risk reduction measures that would work in the context of other drugs, actually do.

    What was it Phil Goff said- tough on crime and on the causes of crime?

    • Lord Zealand 16.1

      So you think that although it doesn’t work, lock up P addicts ’cause we need a scape goat? No way – how many kids will never try P because they smoked some legal weed , got the munchies and went to circle K for a slushy instead? Prohibition and criminalization are the drivers behind the harms of drug use. P addicts are a symptom of a wider problem, throwing them in jail only allows them to hook up with a really good network of non-narks. I know it’s hard to accept but the law is an ass, un-enforcable, unjust and against the will of the people.

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