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Criminal & traffic law

Drug offences

Introduction

How illegal drugs are classified in New Zealand

Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, ss 2, 3A, Schedules 1–3

Illegal drugs are classified in the following way:

  • Class A – These are the “hard” drugs, for example: heroin, LSD (lysergide, or “acid”), cocaine, methamphetamine (“P”), mescaline, phencyclidine (“PCP, “angel dust”), and MDA (similar to ecstasy). These are the drugs classified as “Very high risk of harm”.
  • Class B – These include amphetamines (speed), MDMA (ecstasy), cannabis resin (hash), cannabis oil (hash oil), morphine, opium, pseudoephedrine and ephedrine (which can both be used to make P), methadone, GHB (fantasy), and oxycodone (“oxycotton”). These are the drugs classified as “High risk of harm”.
  • Class C – These include cannabis (marijuana, including the plant, whether fresh or dried, and its seeds), barbiturates (“downers”) like secobarbital (brand name “Seconal”) and pentobarbital (“Nembutal”), codeine, coca leaf, and BZP (the psychoactive ingredient in most “party pills”). These are the drugs classified as “Moderate risk of harm”.

The drug legislation (the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975) calls illegal drugs “controlled drugs”.

Changes in the drug classifications

How drugs are classified – and therefore whether they’re illegal and how heavy the penalties are – can change over time. Before 2003, for example, “P” (methamphetamine) used to be only a Class B drug, it is now Class A.

As another example, drugs from the NBOMe (or “NBomb”) series, a hallucinogenic LSD-type “party drug”, were sold in New Zealand in 2012, apparently legally. For example, the variant 25C-NBOMe was marketed as “DIME”, and also known as Pandora and Cimbi 82. But in July 2013 these NBOMe drugs became illegal under the Psychoactive Substances Act, which meant you could be fined up to $500 for possessing or using them (see later in this section, “Synthetic cannabis, party pills, herbal highs: ‘Psychoactive substances’”). Then in December 2016, the Government brought the NBomb drugs under the tougher Misuse of Drugs Act system, classifying the three NBOMe variants (25B, 25C and 25I) as Class B in the “High risk” band. This means that for possession or use of these drugs you can now be fined up to $500 or jailed for up to three months, and selling or otherwise dealing in these drugs has a maximum jail term of 14 years.

Note: To get up-to-date information about drug classifications you can look up the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 at www.legislation.govt.nz . Go to the Schedules at the end of the Act – Schedule 1 for Class A drugs, Schedule 2 for Class B, and Schedule 3 for Class C.

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Common crimes

Where to go for more support

Community Law

www.communitylaw.org.nz

Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal advice and information.

Ministry of Justice

www.justice.govt.nz/publications

The Ministry of Justice website has a range of pamphlets and other information on the criminal court system. You can access this information online, or you can order hardcopies of the pamphlets from:

Phone: 0800 587 847
Email: publications@justice.govt.nz

Drug Foundation

www.drugfoundation.org.nz

The New Zealand Drug Foundation has a large amount of information about different drugs and their effects, and about criminal offences and penalties. They also provide drug checking services.

KnowYourStuffNZ

www.knowyourstuff.nz

KnowYourStuffNZ provides free information, advice, and drug checking services using a range of testing methods at events around New Zealand.

The New Zealand Needle Exchange Programme

www.nznep.org.nz

The Needle Exchange Programme provides and collects needles for safe disposal, advice on harm reduction, and is licensed to provide drug checking services.

The Level

www.thelevel.org.nz

The Level provides free guides for people who use drugs. Click on “I’m looking for drug checking” on their website for a calendar of non-festival drug checking clinics in Aotearoa.

Ministry of Health

www.health.govt.nz

The Ministry of Health has information about the legal use of cannabis products for medical reasons, and which particular products have been approved. Look under “Our work / Regulation / Medicines control / Prescribing cannabis-based products”.

Ministry of Primary Industries

www.mpi.govt.nz/travel-and-recreation/fishing

The MPI website has information about recreational fishing rules and customary gathering rights.

The MPI also runs an automated information line that you can text to find out about minimum sizes and daily catch limits for particular species. Just text the name of the species in your message – just “paua” for example (it doesn’t work if you spell it “pāua”) – and send it to 9889.

How to find the cases we’ve cited in this chapter

This chapter cites a number of New Zealand court decisions as legal authority for the law as we’ve stated it. If you need to look up these cases, you can look at the references for each section and search for them either online or in a law library.

When we give the case citation, we give just the unique case reference – for example, “[2012] NZHC 15”. We haven’t included the case name (which is usually in a format like “Police v Douglas” or “R v Myers”).

You’ll be able to read most of these cases on the government website Judicial Decisions Online, at forms.justice.govt.nz/jdo/Search.jsp. The case will be on that site if the citation we’ve given includes either “NZHC” (for High Court), or “NZCA” (for Court of Appeal), or “NZSC” (for Supreme Court). You’ll need to search for the case on that site by inserting the citation (for example, “[2015] NZSC 135”) in the “Neutral Citation” search field.

Cases that have “NZLR” in the citation (for “New Zealand Law Reports”) usually won’t be available online, but they are available in hard copy in some larger city public libraries, published in orange-brown volumes. For the occasional case that we’ve cited from other report series (like CRNZ, for “Criminal Reports of New Zealand”), you’d need to go to a specialist law library at a university or local Law.

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