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The latest figures from the Ministry of Justice show New Zealand is still arresting, charging and convicting thousands of people every year for drug-related offences. Many of these are low-level offences.
5,011 people were convicted of drug offences in 2016 alone. Over the last ten years, a massive 63, 967 people have been convicted.
|Offence type (illicit drugs)||2016||Past 10 years|
Import or export
|Deal or traffic||1,115||10,308|
|Manufacture or cultivate||903||13,001|
|Possess or use||1,340||22,675|
|Other (mostly utensils)||1,577||17,352|
More than half of the people convicted had low-level drug offences as their most serious drug offence. These offences include possessing or using drugs or drug utensils. In 2016, 799 people were imprisoned for possession and/or use of an illicit drug or drug utensil.
These convictions continue despite the mounting evidence that shows punishing and threatening people does not stop drug use.
Note that the category 'other drug offences' in the graph below mostly relates to the offence of possessing or using a drug utensil, such as a bong or pipe.
People under 30 years make up nearly half of all convictions for low-level drug offences (possession, use and utensils). Young people with a conviction find it harder to travel, get credit and get a job. Generally the more contact someone has with the justice system the more likely they are to return. So it is best not bring them into the system unnecessarily, especially if they are young.
Māori received 42% of all drug convictions and 42% of low-level convictions in 2016, despite making up only 15% of the population. It's clear Māori are unduly harmed by our drug laws.
While we continue to criminalise drug use, our $1.8 billion drug problem is not going away. The Drug Foundation thinks New Zealand can do much better. We need to start treating drug use as a health issue, not a criminal one. This will not only save money in the justice and prison system - it will allow those who are struggling with their drug use to get the help they need.
You can download the full Ministry of Justice response, including data table: