Methamphetamine was reclassified as a Class A drug in New Zealand in 2003. This meant harsher sentences for people convicted of its manufacture, importation or supply. Despite this, the number of convictions for methamphetamine-related offending continued to increase. In 2019, the New Zealand Court of Appeal agreed to review the sentencing of people convicted of methamphetamine offences on the grounds that some sentences were disproportionately severe. This resulted in a guideline judgment which lowered penalties for offences involving small amounts of methamphetamine (up to 5 grams). Community-based sentences replaced imprisonment as the lower bound of the starting point for sentence calculation. The Court of Appeal highlighted that the presence of addiction, mental health problems or social disadvantage should be taken into account as potential mitigating factors in sentencing. The Court accepted that these factors diminished moral culpability and reduced the deterrent impact of prison sentences. In this article we review the law and policy background to the New Zealand Court of Appeal proceedings, and discuss the reasoning behind the Court’s judgment.
This research was published in the Drug Science, Policy and Law Journal the definitive source of evidence-based information and comment for academics, scientists, policymakers, frontline workers and the general public on drugs and related issues
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