Darroch Ball: The truth about National’s irrelevant synthetic drugs bill

Opinion 08/03/2019
Photo: Getty.

By Darroch Ball, New Zealand First List MP.

OPINION: The Coalition Government has just taken aim at the dealers and manufacturers of the scourge that are synthetic drugs.

The Coroner has reported that in 2018 alone more than sixty people died because of them and there is no doubt many countless more have suffered.

Synthetics are addictive and deadly. Over the past decade they have been pedalled in our streets because of some shoddy and weak legislation brought in under the last National government. 

There is no silver bullet in solving this situation when this drug is so cheap, highly addictive, and rife in our communities.  But the coalition government has made a massive step towards taking back ground from the gangs and organised crime that peddle this poison.

We have introduced new legislation that will see greater focus on harsher penalties for dealers and greater powers for Police to search and surveil the criminals who choose to prey on our vulnerable.

A couple of questions and accusations have been thrown around about National Party MP Simeon Brown’s Members Bill which makes a poor attempt to tackle the same synthetics issue. There are reasons why New Zealand First no longer supports it and why the bill is now totally dead in the water and irrelevant.   

Here are the facts.

National’s Bill did nothing but change a single number in the Psychoactive Substances Act, increasing the maximum possible sentence for dealers from two years to eight years – an equivalent penalty level of a Class C drug like marijuana and codeine.  That’s it.  That’s all.

New Zealand First supported the change, with no other solutions in sight, with a caveat. We would only support the bill if National supported our amendment to increase the prison time even further to fourteen years.  This would at least be equivalent to a Class B drug.

National’s Bill was originally just a well-intentioned but weak step in the right direction and served more as a virtue signal than a total solution.  And ultimately it was dead in the water from the get go if New Zealand First didn’t give it our support. 

The Coalition Governments new legislation moves some strains over to the Misuse of Drugs Act which provides even tougher maximum sentences for dealers – now up to life in prison – that’s equivalent to a Class A drug.  Any reason why now National would complain about this new government legislation would be a wonder to all in sundry.  It takes his original eight years and raises it to life. 

Added to all of that, the new government bill allows any new types of synthetics that are produced to be easily placed in the Misuse of Drugs Act which allows the same Police powers as well as an increase of maximum jail time for dealers to eight years. 

It’s a no brainer.

So when you hear National complaining over the next few weeks (which you will) that either this government Bill doesn’t go far enough, doesn’t act quick enough or doesn’t do what their Bill did – just understand it’s entirely nonsense.  

Darroch Ball is a New Zealand First List MP based in Palmerston North.