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Change in discretion could address police racism

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A drug policy analyst says proposed changes to the drug laws need to be closely monitored to ensure they are producing fairer outcomes for Māori.

Jack McDonald from the Drug Foundation says tangata whenua account for 41 percent of convictions and more than 50 percent of those who go to prison for drug offences, which points to conscious or unconscious bias in the police and justice system.

He says the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill could help change that by giving guidelines to the use of police discretion for drug use and encouraging referrals to health interventions.

"It is a positive step forward but we as Māori know and evidence shows discretion and the presumption of prosecution or non-prosecution can be applied unevenly quite often and sometimes in an outright racist way because of the institutional racism in the police force so that's why we have to keep a close eye on this idea of discretion while also recognising it is a step forward," Mr McDonald says.

The Misuse of Drugs Act is almost 50 years old and it needs more of an overhaul than the tinkering represented in the current bill.


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