A New Zealand police officer is arguing for the decriminalisation of cannabis, saying the punishment does not fit the crime.
The frontline officer shared his opinion in a September ‘I Am Keen’ column for Police Association magazine Police News, where officers have the opportunity to anonymously voice their views on police operations.
“People who are stoned are generally quite jovial and the last thing they want to do is fight me,” he says.
“That is a very simple reason for me to not treat cannabis possession with the same enforcement enthusiasm I once did.”
He says his perspective on the crime has changed over his time as an officer.
“I have dealt with drugs on an almost daily basis in the course of the job, whether it’s seizing them or dealing with the after-effects on users.
“But I often question why we prosecute people who have small quantities of cannabis on them.
“Initially, I had a zero-tolerance approach. Anyone I found with a ‘tinny’ would find themselves before the courts. Now, however, I am more likely to tell them to get rid of it in a nearby drain and be on their way.”
The author says there is no organisational ruling to minimise the punishments for these types of offenders.
“[But] as individual officers we seem to have taken it upon ourselves to deal with this matter in a more liberal way.”
Compared with alcohol, the officer feels the harm from the drug is minimal.
“Yet we readily accept alcohol as part of our daily lives.”
Under the influence of alcohol, people are generally more violent and unable to take care of themselves, he says.
“Another reason is, does punishing a user of a drug, any drug, actually impact on their decision to use that drug? I don’t think so.
“People use drugs for various reasons. The thought of being prosecuted for such behaviour is obviously something they have considered briefly and then decided not to worry about it.
“Punitive measures often have very little impact on the fight against drug use.”
He argues treatment and education are the answers to drug problems, not criminal sentences.
“Slapping someone with a criminal conviction for possessing one gram of anything is a disproportionate punishment.”
He would like to see New Zealand follow the example of US states Washington and Colorado in decriminalising.
Medical trials have shown benefits in using medical cannabis for palliative care, he says, citing the use of the drug by high-profile New Zealanders.
“This war on drugs is not sustainable and cannabis reform needs to be at the heart of a wider debate about how we deal with drugs. Making criminals out of users benefits nobody.”