Bill introduced for synthetics crackdown

  • Hon Dr David Clark
  • Hon Stuart Nash
Health Police

The Police will get stronger powers of search and seizure to crackdown on synthetic drugs under new legislation, which makes the two main synthetics (5F-ADB and AMB-FUBINACA) Class A drugs.

The Government has today introduced the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill which targets suppliers of synthetic drugs, while at the same time affirming that Police should consider whether a health-centred or therapeutic approach would be more beneficial when deciding whether or not to prosecute for possession and use (of all drugs).

“Our current approach has failed. Since June 2017 as many as 50-55 deaths have been provisionally linked to the use of 5F-ADB and AMB-FUBINACA,” Dr Clark says.

“We need to treat drug use as a health issue – and that’s exactly what this Bill does.

“Interrupting supply is a key part of a health response. Classifying these synthetics as Class A drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act (MoDA) gives Police the powers they need to target the criminals that are getting rich from peddling them. We want to get these synthetic drugs off our streets.

“We also want people caught up in the web of addiction to get the support they need to get off drugs. We don’t want to ruin lives by putting people in jail at a cost to taxpayers of $110,000 a year when we can help them to get the treatment they need.

“Fear of prosecution can deter people from seeking help to deal with addiction issues. This Bill reaffirms in law the existing Police discretion about when to prosecute and explicitly requires consideration of whether a health-centred or therapeutic approach would be more beneficial,” Dr Clark says.

Police Minister Stuart Nash says the law change reaffirms the approach currently used by Police, who already exercise discretion about whether to prosecute.

“Every day, frontline Police make decisions about whether to prosecute in areas like road policing, shoplifting and possession of drugs for personal use. Police supports these changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act, which affirm a practice already in place. 

“For example, an organised crime operation during 2019 has resulted in 32 referrals to addiction services in the greater Auckland area. The ongoing Te Ara Oranga programme in Northland has seen Police refer 257 people to the DHB for addiction treatment.

“Police are now developing comprehensive training for officers to enable them to successfully implement the changes and are drawing up guidance for health-based referrals. They are also preparing for greater search and seizure powers to target dealers, manufacturers and importers of any new drugs classified as Class A under the MoDA.

“A health-based approach recognises we cannot arrest our way out of our drug abuse problems. Many of those with addictions or dependence issues need treatment or education about harm reduction. 

“However, people should be under no illusion about the risks of getting caught. Misuse of drugs remains illegal and drug users will still come to the attention of Police, irrespective of whether they go through an alternative resolution process or are referred for treatment.

“Prosecutions for drug possession are decided on the merits of each case and follow prosecution guidelines from Crown Law. Police will continue to prosecute people for personal possession and use when appropriate,” Mr Nash says. 

In 2017/18, 52 people were imprisoned for drug possession and/or drug use offences as their most serious offence from a number of charges they faced, while a further 25 people were imprisoned for drug possession and/or drug use alone.

During the 2018 calendar year, Police and Customs seized 280 kg of methamphetamine; 216 kg of cocaine; more than 21,000 MDMA tablets; 37 kg of synthetic cannabis plant material and two kg of synthetic cannabinoid powder; as well as 45,000 cannabis plants, amongst other drugs detected.

The legislation will also help Police stay one step ahead of drug dealers by creating a new temporary drug classification category. This will mean emerging drugs can easily be brought under the Misuse of Drugs Act in future, making it easier for Police to target dealers.