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Since 2009, the government has had a $63 million windfall of cash and assets forfeited under proceeds of crime law, half of which is attributed to the methamphetamine trade. In the past three years, over $14 million of this has gone to government agencies to fund law enforcement and treatment.
Much has been written about the problems associated with criminal asset forfeiture schemes: guilty until proven innocent, perverse incentives created for law enforcement and so on. There are certainly cases in New Zealand where low-level offenders have suffered greatly under these powers, for example, a small-scale cannabis grower losing his home. We should continue to critically examine the proceeds of crime scheme to ensure powers aren’t abused, but I want to touch on how the forfeited assets are distributed. In other words, how do I get my hands on that cash?
The redistributed proceeds of crime scheme forms part of the Prime Minister’s Methamphetamine Action Plan, which is progressive, with a good balance between supply control and demand reduction. But that balance is not reflected in where the funds go.
The lion’s share (70 percent) has gone to Police, Customs, Justice and Corrections. Health gets the rest.
Some of the funding has gone to residential treatment, AOD and pregnancy services, screening and brief intervention services for young people and media guidelines for reporting on the use of volatile substances (a Drug Foundation project).
From an outside perspective, the decisions look scattergun, and often funds appear to go to initiatives that should normally be covered by departments’ baselines. This includes drug testing devices for Customs, staff and equipment for Police crime labs, anti-cannabis surveillance flights and training for drug detection dogs to sniff out even more to be seized! The Police also get a decent chunk to help finance administering and prosecuting under the Act.
Our good friend Shane White works for a Māori drug rehabilitation programme on Hoani Waititi Marae. He’s argued that these proceeds of crime come from the community and should therefore go back to communities to support drug harm reduction efforts and essential treatment services. I absolutely agree.
Here’s how the Prime Minister could improve this funding scheme.
First, prioritise funding towards initiatives already identified under the new health-focused National Drug Policy (many of which are important but don’t yet have funding attached). This would be a strategic way to get those funds back to the community.
Second, just as has been done with gaming funding, the decision-making panel should include community representatives who could best assess any proposals for their potential community benefit. I nominate Shane.