Police rebuff call for cannabis law change

Police say they do not support the decriminalisation of natural cannabis despite calls by Auckland's Deputy Mayor that it's safer than banned synthetic versions.

Penny Hulse said it was time New Zealanders discussed the decriminalisation of cannabis, much as they had had discussions on prostitution and same-sex marriage.

But a police national headquarters spokesman said there was no political will for decriminalisation and their stance on the issue was clear.

"Police do not support the decriminalisation of cannabis."

Last week Prime Minister John Key told the Herald he did not support the decriminalisation or legalisation of drugs.

On Wednesday Ms Hulse told an Auckland Council committee drawing up a policy on legal highs that it made no sense to regulate synthetic cannabis without considering safer alternatives.

She said she was "in no way pre-empting what that decision may be" and was "not calling for the legalisation of marijuana. I never have done, I am calling for a discussion".

Ms Hulse said she had been overwhelmed with support for her stance about decriminalisation, but noted cannabis was a "toxic, dangerous drug" that was "not without side effects and not without negative implications".

"However, compared to the legal highs that's a discussion we need to have. Legal highs are certainly not safe, nor are they good for people."

Ms Hulse was backed by AUT University's Professor Max Abbott who strongly supports the call to review cannabis law.

Professor Abbott, who was previously national director of the Mental Health Foundation, said natural cannabis was safer than synthetic versions.

He said the law had failed to reduce cannabis use, needlessly criminalised people, wasted police and court resources and fuelled organised crime.

"I don't advocate the use of cannabis and other substances that cause harm.

"I advocate the abolition of laws that are illogical, waste time and money, do the opposite of what they were designed to accomplish, and overall do much more harm than good."

Auckland councillor Cameron Brewer said Ms Hulse had sent out "confusing messages" and she needed to apologise for undermining organisations and people's work to educate people and combat drug use in the community.

Yesterday the New Zealand Herald was shown figures from Waikato police that showed cannabis was a contributing factor in more fatal road crashes than alcohol was in the region last year.

The Waikato recorded its lowest road toll with 22 deaths last year. Five of those deaths had cannabis as a contributing factor ahead of the three that were alcohol-related.

ESR research shows that around a quarter of all drivers and motorcyclists killed in road crashes were found to have cannabis present in their system - with or without other substances.

The research showed cannabis to be the second most common drug found in blood samples of deceased drivers after alcohol.

In 2012 alcohol/drugs was a factor in 102 road deaths, and carried a social cost of $710 million.

Drug driving

Of 1046 drivers who died between 2004 and 2009, nearly half (48% or 500 drivers) tested positive for alcohol or drugs in the ESR study.

72% (365 drivers) had either used cannabis, alcohol and cannabis, or a combination of drugs.

27% (135 drivers) only had alcohol in their system.

19% (96) had used cannabis alone.

28% (142) had used both alcohol and cannabis.

(127) had used a combination of drugs, which may have included alcohol and/or cannabis.

Source: ESR

 

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