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Criminal & traffic law

Drug offences

Defences to possession, supply or use charges

Taking drugs off others or finding drugs

Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, s 7(3)

It’s a defence to a charge of possessing an illegal (“controlled”) drug if you’d taken it off someone to prevent them possessing, using or dealing in the drug. As soon as possible you must have taken all reasonable steps either to destroy the drug or to take it to the police or someone else who’s authorised to have it, like a doctor.

If you’d simply found the drug, it’s a defence if you’d taken it with the intention of delivering it to the police or another authorised person, and if you took all reasonable steps to do this as soon as possible after finding it.

Using drugs for medical reasons

Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, ss 7(3A), 8(1)(c)-(d), 24, 24A

You can legally possess and use an illegal drug if a doctor prescribed it for you and it’s a drug that can legally be prescribed. If you’re too sick to give yourself drugs that have been legally prescribed for you, a person caring for you can legally give you the drug.

If a doctor or nurse knows you’re an addict it’s a criminal offence for them to supply you with drugs for that addiction, unless they’ve been specifically authorised to do this under an official treatment programme (like the methadone programme).

You can also legally possess or use cannabis if a doctor or nurse has diagnosed you as having a terminal illness or condition and as being near the end of your life.

Getting your drugs tested by a drug checking service: defence to supply

Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, ss 35DA, 35DD, 35DI

In December 2021, the government legalised drug checking to help people make informed decisions about the drugs they might take. The idea is to check that the contents of the drugs are what you think they are and that they’re not something different that could be really harmful.

It’s now lawful to hand over a small sample (10mg) of your drugs to an official drug checking service. The drug checking service won’t return this sample to you. You can get any drugs or substances tested, including unapproved psychoactives. Once you get your results back, it’s up to you what you do with your drugs. But if the police find more than 10mg in your possession, you won’t be able to get out of it by claiming that you were on your way to get the drugs checked.

Drug checking service providers have to be licensed by the government to operate lawfully. As of March 2022, the legal services you can use are KnowYourStuffNZ , the Drug Foundation, and the Needle Exchange. You can get your drugs checked for free with any of these providers.

For more information about drug checking services and where you can find a drug checking clinic near you, see “Where to go for more support”.

Note: the drug checking law changes make it lawful to supply your drugs to an approved drug checker for testing or destruction. You’re also protected from having your test results used against you in criminal proceedings. But the new law doesn’t change the fact that it’s unlawful to purchase and be in possession of drugs and psychoactives.

Allowing your place to be used for drug offences

Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, s 12

It’s illegal to knowingly allow your home or your car to be used for a drug offence (like letting friends grow some cannabis plants in your flat), even if you don’t have anything to do with the drug yourself.

The penalties depend on what type of drug it is. Allowing your place to be used for the sale or use of cannabis or some other Class C drug has a maximum penalty of three years jail; if they’re class B, it’s a maximum of seven years’ jail, and if they’re Class A, the maximum is 10 years.

However, you wouldn’t normally get a jail sentence for this offence unless you already had a history of minor drug offending.

Pipes, bongs and other items

Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, s 13

It’s illegal to have a pipe, bong or other “utensil” for using or manufacturing drugs (unless you’re terminally ill).

For a first offence you’d expect to get only a fine for possessing a pipe for personal use. Usually you’d only get a jail term if you had a record of minor drug convictions.

Needles and syringes

Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, s 13(1)(aa), (3); Health (Needles and Syringes) Regulations 1998

It’s usually a criminal offence to have a needle or syringe for the purpose of using illegal drugs. The maximum penalty is a prison term of up to one year or a fine of up to $500. However, this isn’t illegal if you (or someone else) bought it as a new needle or syringe under the Needle Exchange Programme from a pharmacist or an approved doctor or a local Needle Exchange.

Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, s 13(1)(aa), (3); Health (Needles and Syringes) Regulations 1998

It’s illegal offence to throw away a used needle or syringe in a public place (like a park or in the street), to use a used needle or syringe, or to offer a used needle or syringe to someone else to use. The penalty is a fine of up to $500.

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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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