Ar­rests for weed drop sharply

The Press - - National News | Politics - Thomas Manch

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-so­cioe­co­nomic 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

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