Retiring Waikato police chief backs cannabis law change

MATT BOWEN
Last updated 10:08 05/02/2014
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Win van der Velde
PETER DRURY/Fairfax NZ
Talking law: Retiring Waikato Police District commander Win van der Velde supports moves to decriminalise marijuana

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A former national crime manager and retiring Waikato Police District Commander supports moves to decriminalise cannabis.

"Do I think decriminalising could be looked at? Yeah, I think there are some options there," Superintendent Win van der Velde said on the eve of his retirement yesterday.

Mr van der Velde officially ends his 37 years' service and retires from the NZ Police today.

But legalising cannabis was a step too far, he said.

"There was a time when I would have said absolutely not. The decriminalisation is different from legalisation and we still have an epidemic of amphetamine/methamphetamine and that's now infiltrated across the whole of the community - it really is a cancer.

"Does that mean I would legalise cannabis? The answer's still no. I say that because of the potency of cannabis and negative health effects of it. But do I think decriminalising could be looked at? Yeah, I think there are some options there."

Decriminalisation of cannabis could mean abolition of criminal penalties in relation to the drug. But anyone caught using the drug could still face fines similar to a speeding or parking tickets. It would still be illegal to sell and distribute cannabis.

It was different from moves to legalise the drug. Some US states had legalised cannabis for recreational or medicinal use but opponents say it could persuade more people to try it, worsening the drug culture.

Mr van der Velde‘s comments follow a Waikato Times report on Saturday that also pointed towards a movement for decriminalising cannabis.

In the past financial year New Zealand Police seized 537,404.8 grams of cannabis with a street value of nearly $11 million. In the Waikato, police seized 25,598g valued at $511,970.

Mr van der Velde said police tied up the courts' time charging people with low-level cannabis use.

"Why do we expel kids for being down the back of the school experimenting with a cannabis joint when school is actually a safe environment to experiment?" he said.

"My challenge in those environments is, let's educate them on marijuana and its pros and cons and the fact it absorbs into fatty tissue and the brain's surrounded by fat - all those sorts of things.

"Let's grow the kids in what they're experimenting in rather than just chastising them and kicking them out."

He framed the wider issue in the same way saying it was about growing an awareness of the drug's impact.

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And if one were to compare the negative impact across society caused by cannabis and alcohol then alcohol would be as bad, if not worse, than cannabis, he said.

"Cannabis is a huge issue for youth but alcohol is a huge driver of our crime. Look at the violence that alcohol generates. You don't always see that with cannabis."

The illegal cannabis trade was "invariably" driven by organised crime under current law and it led to use of other, harder drugs.

On the other hand, he said, society did not need legal highs. It was now up to the makers of the products to prove the harm they inflicted was minimal but "we know that they are having harmful effects", he said. "How do we argue the harmfulness so they're also banned so the pressure comes on?

"When you've got drug users that say they became more paranoid and have anxiety attacks from legal highs and that's why they're back to smoking dak; when you've got alcoholics that say they've played in the legal high field and they won't go near it, it's not good.

"When you've got parents who think it's OK for their kids to use a legal high because it's legal but in fact they're completely withdrawing from the community as a result of it, that's not healthy."

Read more about Mr van der Velde's policing career and retirement in Saturday's Times.

matt.bowen@waikatotimes.co.nz

- Waikato

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