At the same time, the legislation affirms that Police should consider whether a health-centered or therapeutic approach would be in the public interest when deciding whether or not to prosecute for possession and use of all drugs.
The legislation also creates temporary class drug orders to control emerging and potentially harmful substances – which allows the Government to act quickly to respond to emerging drugs that are causing harm.
Health Minister Dr. David Clark says the legislation strikes the right balance.
"We know these synthetic drugs are killing people, and our current approach isn't working.
"We also recognize that people caught in the web of addiction will usually benefit more from health treatment options than from prosecution.
"We don't want to ruin lives by putting people in jail at a cost to taxpayers of $110,000 a year when a better option is to help them get the treatment they need to get off drugs," David Clark says.
"Scheduling these drugs as Class A increases Police's investigative powers so they are proportionate to the level of harm these drugs pose," says Stuart Nash.
"New Zealand Police do an outstanding job, these legislative changes will help stop those pushing these horrific drugs onto our communities.
"Fear of prosecution can deter people from seeking help to deal with addiction issues. This Bill reaffirms in law the existing Police discretion about when to prosecute and explicitly requires consideration of whether a health-centered or therapeutic approach would be more beneficial.
"We know from our pilot in Northland, the Te Ara Oranga program has resulted in Police referring 257 people to the DHB for addiction treatment for methamphetamine.
"Police are now developing comprehensive training for officers to enable them to successfully implement the changes and are drawing up guidance for health-based referrals. They are also preparing for greater search and seizure powers to target dealers, manufacturers, and importers of any new drugs classified as Class A under the new Act.
"The Act recognizes that we all want to see less harm caused by drugs in our communities. It's clear that prosecutions alone won't fix our drug abuse problems. Many of those with addictions or dependence issues need treatment and education about harm reduction.
"Along with this harm minimization approach, the misuse of drugs remains illegal and drug users will still come to Police attention, irrespective of whether they go through an alternative resolution process or are referred for treatment.
"Prosecutions for drug possession will be decided on each individual case and when appropriate Police will still prosecute people for personal possession and use," says Mr. Nash.
(With Inputs from South African Government Press Release)