Arrests for weed drop sharply
The legalisation of cannabis may do little to reduce the workload of police officers.
Personal cannabis use is already off the police radar, with a dramatic drop in arrests in recent years, and police officers in jurisdictions where cannabis is legal say it doesn’t eliminate organised crime, a panel of experts warned the Police Association’s annual conference, being held in Wellington, yesterday.
Massey University associate professor Chris Wilkins said police appeared to have decided it was not in the public interest to prosecute personal use of cannabis.
‘‘If we decriminalised tomorrow, probably the difference in outcomes wouldn’t be that much different to what we have now.’’
The debate comes as a referendum on legalised cannabis approaches.
Wilkins’ research showed the rate of arrests for cannabis reduced by 70 per cent between 1994 and 2014.
This was in part because of the introduction of pre-charge warnings in 2010, which helped unclog the courts and free up police time.
Yet 50 per cent of those arrested, predominantly Ma¯ori and those in lower socio economic areas, were being convicted.
Police intelligence practitioner Carrie Drake said the current law was not necessarily broken, but police did need a clearer policy on enforcing personal use.
‘‘It leaves us open to perceptions that the law is enforced arbitrarily, or on a race-based basis.’’
A similar problem may arise with driving while impaired laws, possibly unenforceable if cannabis is legalised as there is no practical method of testing drivers.
Drake said police time was not freed up in the United States and the Netherlands, where cannabis use is legal.
Officers she spoke to in the US said Colombian drug cartels had a significant presence in legitimate cannabis retailers.
‘‘The cannabis business itself may be run more-or-less clean, but they’ll be laundering money.’’
In some places, legalisation had created a grey market of people growing the drug for supposed personal use, only to start selling.
‘‘Cannabis is a profitable commodity, no matter it’s legal status . . . I don’t think the gangs and the exploitation of social deprived people is going to go away.’’
Canadian Police Association president Tom Stamatakis said legalisation in Canada was an opportunity to respond to a growing grey market created by already legal medicinal cannabis.
Organised crime was present in medicinal cannabis outfits, police didn’t have the resources to enforce federal recreational cannabis laws, and prosecutions were clogging up the courts.
‘‘Once it became clear that we were going to move to this legal regime, we really embraced it to be honest.’’
Legal recreational use will come into effect in Canada next week.
The three-day conference ends today.
‘‘Cannabis is a profitable commodity, no matter it’s legal status . . .’’
Carrie Drake, police intelligence practitioner