The Court of Appeal has released a judgement that introduces the consideration of poverty and deprivation experienced by a drug dealer. These factors will now be considered as potential mitigating factors for sentences. The weight of the Class-A drug will still be important in sentencing, but judges now have more discretion to take into account whether the individual is making millions of dollars, or if they are in fact victims of addiction.
Until now, the quantity of methamphetamine was the most significant factor in setting a starting point for sentences.
Ross Bell from the NZ Drug Foundation says, "I think this is getting smarter around the guidelines that judges can look at when it comes to meth sentencing. And I think the important part here is looking at the context to the offending."
More than 62,000 people have been convicted of drug charges in the past 10 years. Māori made up 41%.
Bell also says, "Things like changing the sentencing guidelines, other recommendations coming out of the justice advisory group. All these things are highlighting that Māori always impacted more."
Minister of Justice Andrew Little says it’s about treating addiction and removing the scourge from our communities.
Little says, "The kingpins at the top of the pyramid, the very severe sentences for them remain that is right they should do. This is a scourge in our community and the way we deal with it is, get rid of the kingpins, treat the people with addiction problems."
But Nationals spokesman on legal issues Mark Mitchell says it’s sending the wrong message to New Zealanders.
Mitchell says, "We don't support that. We think it sends an atrocious message that the fact that if you decide to use illegal drugs and then go and commit crimes that you can get a 30% reduction on your sentence and we think that would have perverse outcomes."
"I think this is one of the building blocks that is starting to put in place around shifting the way that we deal with our drug problem. Fundamentally we see this as a health and social issue," Bell said.
Bell says we can only fix our nation’s drug issues through health and social responses and addressing addiction and mental health.