With a proposed bill, the government of New Zealand could increase penalties for synthetic cannabis. The amendment to the country’s Psychoactive Substances Act that is up for debate would quadruple maximum prison sentences for suppliers of the drug from two to eight years.
The Proposed Bill
The bill was introduced by Member of Parliament (MP) Simeon Brown of the New Zealand National Party (known as National), which has been campaigning on a law and order platform.
The bill also has at least temporary support from the New Zealand First Party (NZ First), a minority nationalist and populist party. Together, the two parties may have a majority of votes and be able to pass the bill without the support of the ruling Labour Party.
In a statement to the press, Brown defended his party’s get-tough stance.
“With around 20 reported deaths associated with the consumption of psychoactive substances last year, I expect that this bill will gain full support across Parliament and I will be talking to each party to ensure that it does,” he said.
“At the moment it’s a two-year penalty if you’re found supplying those products, I think it should be aligned to eight years along with Class C drugs in the Misuse of Drugs Act. Ensuring that it progresses successfully through Parliament will allow us to better protect our communities and young people from these harmful drugs.”
Darroch Ball, a drug policy spokesperson for NZ First, explained why the party is joining forces to combat synthetic cannabis with National.
“Traditionally NZ First is strong on law and order and we’ve always been that way,” he said.
The bill is opposed by Labour and the Green Party. MP Chloe Swarbrick said the bill would mark a return to the failed drug policies of the past and is contradictory to international trends.
“The war on drugs has failed. This has been proposed despite all evidence that the war on drugs has failed,” Swarbrick said.
“Why are we wasting Parliament’s time on doing this when the direction of travel for pretty much every jurisdiction that’s been looking at updating their drug laws has moved towards one that focuses on health and on harm reduction? This is further criminalization and all evidence shows it is just not going to work.”
Final Hit: New Zealand Could Increase Penalties for Synthetic Cannabis
Swarbrick also noted that many people charged with being suppliers of drugs are actually addicts who would be better served through rehabilitation, rather than harsh prison sentences.
“When you are looking at most drug offenses when you have over a certain quantum then it is presumed that you have it for supply,” Swarbrick said.
Together, National and NZ First may have the political power to pass several proposed law and order bills over the objections of Labour. One bill would allow for concurrent sentencing, which could greatly increase the time spent in prison by some offenders.
Such bills could hamper Labour’s efforts to reduce the number of New Zealanders behind bars. After a boost in conviction rates of serious violent and sexual crimes, prison populations have exploded 20 percent since 2015. Labour has committed to a 30 percent reduction of prison populations over the next 15 years.