Tag Archives: Criminalization

Don’t Lose Sight of the Cannabis Vote

Let’s not turn a blind eye to the cannabis referendum, even though it may not feel significant amid Covid-19.

I for one am delighted to see the Government has released the final version of the bill we will all vote on in the referendum on September 19 – and am also delighted to see its aims are clearly stated and focused on a health-based harm reduction approach to cannabis. 

That the team behind the cannabis referendum, as well as the ministers involved, have been working away at this, despite the advent of Covid-19, demonstrates the importance of this issue for New Zealand. Although we are preoccupied with the coronavirus on a number of levels, other important issues, such as this, should also be given some of our attention.  

Why, I hear you ask? Why do we need to give this our attention? In the middle of a pandemic? Well, even in the middle of a pandemic, critical issues that affect us don’t go away. 

Many of us have already been affected by the prohibition of cannabis. 

During my research, I talked to New Zealanders living with the stigma of drug-related convictions. Consider the person who said, “I was broken for quite a long time [after being convicted of cannabis possession], I was always living with that in the background.” Or the person who noted that after being convicted it was “just shame, you just carry this terrible shame”. Or the person who said of the stigma of cannabis-related convictions, “I just felt depressed and anxious and stressed out, I didn’t need that sort of negative attention.” Or another person about trying to move on after getting a cannabis conviction: “Straight away they ask you if you have a police record and it’s not hard for them to check up on you.”

Continue reading Don’t Lose Sight of the Cannabis Vote

Covid Criminalisation

Angus Lindsay

Although there to protect us, many of the Government’s recent measures have widened the net of criminal justice. When we move into a post-Covid world, we should be critical of lingering policies that may remain.

Because of Covid-19, New Zealand police have been granted what have been described as unprecedented powers under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act (2002), the Health Act (1956) and the Summary Offences Act (1981).

Under these Acts, everyone is to be isolated/quarantined at their current place of residence except as permitted for ‘essential’ movements. This poses a significant change by temporarily criminalising everyday actions and activities such as exercise, seeing loved ones, road use and travel (except for ‘essential’ purposes), and buying consumer items like gaming consoles or sporting equipment even if contactless delivery is assured (yet alcohol and some designer clothes shops have skirted these regulations).

To ‘protect’ the public, police are able to do “anything reasonably necessary, including the use of force, to compel, enforce, or ensure compliance”. This includes directing any person to stop an activity seen to possibly contribute to the emergency.

Continue reading Covid Criminalisation

Prohibition and Blame

By Koń, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org

New Zealand was poised for drug reform in 2007, but reform never came. Why do we still adhere to drug prohibition, which will be remembered as one of the most arbitrary, barbaric and brutal systems of oppression in human history?

‘Drug’ Prohibition is an archaic system of control conceived in the 1950s that’s had a devastating global impact upon individuals, families, communities and countries.

Back in the 1950s offensive ideas and practices towards indigenous people, people of colour, women, homosexuals, people with mental illness or learning disabilities were sadly not uncommon. Indeed, abuse was legitimised and normalised at a structural, cultural and interpersonal level. Now almost 70 years later, such bigotry has successfully been exposed and challenged, and such attitudes are for the most part no longer socially acceptable or state approved.

By contrast, the oppressive attitudes in the 1950s directed towards people who used ‘drugs’ became enshrined in the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and little has changed since. We have been duped into using state approved drugs (alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and sugar) within our daily routines and rituals and to embrace them as ‘non-drugs’. These hidden drugs have monopolised and saturated the market, while all substances banned by the government (that we are encouraged to call ‘drugs’) are demonised, presented as unquestionably dangerous.

This sharp distinction between state-approved and state-banned drugs has no scientific or pharmacological foundation to support it. Continue reading Prohibition and Blame

Could ‘legalising’ drugs benefit the privileged and penalise the poor?

It is widely accepted among most drug policy experts that drug prohibition has caused more damage than the actual drugs the government is supposedly protecting us from.

Reform is long overdue. However, we need to think critically and carefully before lurching towards an alternative model.

After decades of frustration from the arbitrary criminalisation of some drugs, while other more dangerous legal substances (alcohol, pharmaceuticals, caffeine and tobacco) have gone under the drug radar, reform is imminent and overdue. ‘Drug Regulation’ is the popular rally call, but what does it mean?

Continue reading Could ‘legalising’ drugs benefit the privileged and penalise the poor?

Driving Addiction Services Backwards

Photo by Heath Alselke, via Creative Commons

Threats and forcing people further into poverty will make it harder for those with addiction problems to get help.

Well, you can tell there is an election looming, as politicians run around in ever decreasing circles, tightening the noose on some of New Zealand’s most vulnerable people, including beneficiaries who use drugs. Under National’s proposed policy, beneficiaries who refuse to attend drug rehabilitation sessions face having their benefit halved, with many beneficiaries already facing benefit reductions if they fail or refuse to take a drug test.

All highly concerning, given research demonstrates that forced treatment for those with problematic drug use is not helpful, that coercing into treatment those who are not addicted is unethical, and that the most helpful approaches for those who have problems with their drug use are non-judgmental, harm-reduction services such as needle exchanges. These services can also offer pathways into rehabilitation and other support. Continue reading Driving Addiction Services Backwards

Decriminalising Sex Work

London SlutWalk, via Wikimedia Commons

Sex work laws are a topic of hot debate in several parts of the world, including the UK. Even policy experts in this area can’t agree on the best way to protect sex workers’ rights. While some advocate the criminalisation of clients, sex worker-led organisations disagree; they say banning the purchasing of sex places sex workers in even more danger. Instead, they are calling for the decriminalisation of sex work – an approach which has been in place in New Zealand since 2003.

Myths abound regarding New Zealand’s model, including unsubstantiated claims that the sex industry has expanded, with pimps emboldened in the wake of the new law, and that sex trafficking is rife. So what do we really know about New Zealand’s policy of decriminalisation? Continue reading Decriminalising Sex Work

Hassling and Shaming Prostitutes is No Solution

Several articles have recently described ongoing tensions between street-based sex workers and other residents in Christchurch.

While street-based sex workers have worked in Christchurch for decades, the major earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 displaced sex workers from their traditional workspace on Manchester Street into more residential areas.

Tensions between street-based sex workers and the communities in which they work are nothing new. Such tensions occur all over the world, in an array of diverse legislative frameworks, including places where sex workers risk significant penalties for working on the street. Despite this, some individuals have called for legal restrictions on street-based sex work as a strategy to stop sex workers from working in residential areas.

We don’t need to look back far in history to understand that repressive laws do not decrease street-based sex work – sex workers worked on the streets in New Zealand prior to decriminalisation when they faced soliciting charges.

In numerous places around the world such as Sweden, the UK, Canada, and the US sex workers continue to work on the streets despite punitive laws which criminalise the selling and/or the purchase of sex. Repressive laws do not inhibit street-based sex work, nor resolve tensions that exist between sex workers and others in their communities. There is no doubt, however, that repressive laws have significant impacts for sex workers. When street-based sex work is restricted, sex workers must work quickly to avoid the attention of authorities. Continue reading Hassling and Shaming Prostitutes is No Solution

Pills, Thrills, Bellyaches…


… The effects of criminalising a ‘legal high’ in Aotearoa New Zealand

The 21st Century development of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) has offered useful opportunities to think about the meaning of recreational drug taking, as it is now carried out on a grand scale. NPS are synthetic or naturally occurring substances that mimic the effects of illegal drugs such as cannabis, amphetamines and ecstasy.

The consumption of these different ‘legal highs’ has brought into sharp relief what Parker et al. (1998) previously termed the ‘normalisation’ of recreational drug use. These scholars referred to the consumption of illegal drugs, such as amphetamines and ecstasy, by increasing numbers of young people during the 1990s. However, the emergence and growing popularity of new psychoactive substances has served to further illustrate the argument that ‘recreational drug taking’ is now mainstream. It is rational and informed drug taking behaviour by young people, used for specific leisure activities such as dancing and clubbing, rather than being marginalised and deviant. Continue reading Pills, Thrills, Bellyaches…

Begging and Benefits: When Is Income ‘Income’?

A-Prof Lisa Marriott

Why are amounts received from begging not income for tax purposes but are income for the purposes of income testing welfare benefits?   

On 20th February 2017, Frank Lovich was convicted of fraud for begging while receiving a benefit. Among other charges, Mr Lovich was convicted under section 15 of the Summary Offences Act 1981. Under this legislation, a person is ‘liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months or a fine not exceeding $1,000 who solicits, gathers, or collects alms, subscriptions, or contributions by means of any false pretence’.

While the Police have indicated they are not going to commence prosecution proceedings against all welfare recipients who may engage in begging activity, an important question arises from this situation: Are we, yet again, treating people on welfare differently from other people in society?  Continue reading Begging and Benefits: When Is Income ‘Income’?

Workplace Drug Testing

ProjectManhattan, via Wikimedia Commons

Workplace Drug Testing (WDT) has been around since the 1990s in New Zealand. Initially focused on those working in forestry, fishing, shipping and mining, testing was rolled out to dairy and meat industries, transportation, roading and construction in the 2000s. The practice has always been mired in controversy.

In 2004, Air New Zealand won an Employment Court case for the right to drug test their workers. Since then, tens of thousands have encountered workplace tests. The repercussions for those who test positive – warnings, ‘rehabilitation’ programmes, social vilification or dismissal – can be significant. As part of Criminology Honours study, Emma Sherwood undertook research on these contentious practices, and discovered results that questioned their legitimacy. Continue reading Workplace Drug Testing

Rethinking Reefer Madness

…Decriminalisation in 2020?

In November 2016, while a global audience watched the outcome of the U.S Presidential election, cannabis legalisation advocates awaited the results from a different kind of vote. Five U.S States – Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and California – voted to legalize recreational cannabis, a decision that will bring significant cultural and economic shifts.

Paving the road ahead of them, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington have all legalised, regulated and taxed cannabis for recreational use by adults, applying similar laws that govern alcohol. They have also begun to think more clearly about harm reduction. For example, in Colorado, the ‘Department of Public Health and Environment’ has assessed the knowledge gaps related to recreational cannabis and developed protective policies. This has led to positive outcomes such as educational programs specifically targeting Colorado residents and visitors about safe, legal and responsible use of cannabis (Ghosh, et al., 2016).

Increased tax revenue, from both medicinal and legal cannabis, also earned Colorado around $70 million in tax revenue from 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2015 (Basu, 2015). In contrast, a 2016 NZ report calculated that cannabis-related offences cost the taxpayer over half a billion dollars per annum: $275.6 million in lost tax revenue and $305.9 million in the processing of offences through the criminal justice sector (Ministry of Health, 2016). With a population of a similar size to Colorado (5.35mn vs 4.75mn), should New Zealand also look towards the positive impacts that legal cannabis has to offer, to offset the cost of battling ‘the crime problem’? Continue reading Rethinking Reefer Madness

Criminalising Muslim Minorities

Photo by David Holt, 5 May 2014. Via Creative Commons.

Following Post-war immigration to many Anglophone countries (the UK, Australia, and elsewhere) ‘othered’ immigrants have encountered common expectations to assimilate, and prove it. A failure or refusal to integrate has, historically, been viewed as deviant. However, this has been tempered by notions of cultural pluralism and official multiculturalism in recent years.

At critical junctures, however, the demands to ‘integrate’ become ever more present. Research, by Waqas Tufail and Scott Poynting, demonstrates how young British Muslims have become the subject of ‘increasingly oppressive assimilationist and socially controlling forms of integrationism’. Continue reading Criminalising Muslim Minorities

Poverty, Responsibility and Crime

collins-2016New Zealand’s Police Minister Judith Collins faced a barrage of criticism recently for her dismissal of poverty as a ‘driver’ of crime. For the Minister, crime problems are ‘primarily’ linked to ‘a lack of responsibility’ among parents.

Responsibilisation has become a dominant feature of the government’s approach to significant social problems. Can’t afford housing in the place you and your children were born? Solution: move to another island and start over! Struggling to cover weekly basic necessities on a poorly paid full-time job? Solution: enhance your ‘flexible working’ with different employers or take out a government loan!

New Zealanders encounter a steady stream of political messages that individuals, families and communities should suck up economic struggles with entrepreneurial, self-focused spirit. At the very least, they should ‘step up’ and not have problems. Continue reading Poverty, Responsibility and Crime

Are We All Equal in NZ?


At a time when the media is reporting different outcomes in the justice system depending on the job, family or position in society of the convicted individual, it becomes time to question the transparency of the outcomes in the justice system.  If the penalty for a crime was determined solely on factors that are legally permitted to be considered in determining the appropriate punishment – then why the outcry?  If the penalty can be defended – why isn’t it?  Perhaps it is time for judges to be given the opportunity to explain their decisions and the factors that contribute to the outcomes under question.

My research suggests different outcomes in the justice system for different “types” of people – and by “types” I mean people receiving welfare benefits and other financial offenders (Marriott, 2016a).  Welfare beneficiaries are more likely to be investigated than (for example) tax evaders and they are also more likely to be prosecuted than tax evaders for an equivalent level of offending.  These two crimes – and they are both crimes – are conceptually identical: they are both deliberate financial offending; they have the same victim; and they result in the same outcome: less resources for the government.  Perhaps the key difference is in the economic significance of the two crimes. Typically, welfare fraud is around $30 million per annum, whereas detected tax evasion is usually around $1 billion.  Undetected (and therefore uncollected) tax evasion is forecast to be at least $5 billion per annum.  To put this into context – that is more than the Ministry of Social Development annual budget for working-age benefit payments. Continue reading Are We All Equal in NZ?