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Data published today in the NZ Drug Foundation’s State of the Nation 2019 report shows that last year low-level methampethamine convictions overtook cannabis for the first time. Cannabis-related convictions have remained stable while those for methaphetamine have continued to rise.

Figures obtaned from the Ministry of Justice show that in 2018, 1,949 people were convicted with a low-level methamphetamine offence as their most serious charge, compared with 1,791 convictions for cannabis. Low-level  methamphetamine-related convictions have doubled over the past five years. 

“It is discouraging to see methamphetamine convictions growing over the past few years. People who have a problem with methamphetamine use, or any other drug for that matter, need support, not a conviction,” says Kali Mercier, Poilcy and Advocacy Manager.

“It is now widely accepted that we should treat harmful drug use as a health and social issue, but these figures show there is still some way to go before this becomes a reality.”

Other data published for the first time show variations in the way low level drug offences are dealt with. For instance, some police districts are more likely to divert people away from court towards therapy, warnings or youth aid for low-level drug offences than others.

“In one part of the country you may be given a stern warning whereas in another you’re convicted for the same offence,” Ms Mercier said.

“It’s hard to fathom why people doing exactly the same thing should be dealt with so differently. This is one of many signs the current punitive approach to drugs is overdue for a complete rewrite. We need to start over and build a law that works to improve health and social outcomes.”

Other significant changes reported on include a dramatic drop in synthetic cannabinoids seizures by Customs and Police, from 208kg in 2017 to 44kg in 2018. Reports of incidents involving synthetic cannabinoids received by St John Ambulance dropped from 263 in July and August 2018 to 122 in the corresponding period in 2019. While the rate of deaths caused by synthetic cannabinoids has declined in recent months, the harm caused by these substances remains cause for great concern.

“The response of communities and health services has been very welcome. We are now  better set-up to respond if a dangerous drug arrives on our shore. However, we do need to remain on alert as new synthetic substances appear on the market frequently. Further crises are likely unless significant effort is put into addressing the complex social and economic issues underlying their use.”

The Drug Foundation’s State of the Nation report is compiled from publicly available sources, including Ministry of Health databases, and data obtained from government released under the Official Information Act.

“Regrettably New Zealand actually doesn’t do a great job of tracking illicit drug use, or the harm it causes to individuals and in communities,” Kali Mercier said.

“How do we assess the impact of the law change and other efforts to reduce drug harm, if we don’t have good data? We expect Government will be looking at gathering and publishing much more robust data on all drugs to inform the many decisions they’ll need to make if cannabis legalisation goes ahead.” 

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