A government sponsored commission Tuesday recommended a major overhaul to drug laws in New Zealand.
In their four-year review, the Law Commission called for legalizing medical marijuana, decriminalizing small amounts of cannabis and "social dealing," and rescinding paraphernalia laws.
Use of marijuana for medicinal purposes should not be prosecuted until government-backed trials can be conducted, the commission said.
"Given the strong belief of those who already use cannabis for medicinal purposes that it is an effective form of pain relief with fewer harmful side effects than other legally available drugs, we think that the proper moral position is to promote clinical trials as soon as practicable. We recommend that the Government consider doing this."
They recommended a system of warnings instead of arrests for non-medical use of marijuana.
"We recommend that a presumption against imprisonment should apply whenever the circumstances indicate that a drug offense was committed in a personal use context," the report said.
"We consider that the supply by drug users of small amounts of drugs with no significant element of commerciality ('social dealing') is entirely different from commercial dealing."
The commission also said that there was no evidence that criminalization of paraphernalia deters drug use.
"There are adverse social consequences from a distinctly punitive approach to lower level offending," Law Commission President Grant Hammond told The New Zealand Herald.
"More can be done through the criminal justice system to achieve better outcomes for those individuals and for society at large," he added.
"Current drug law is 35 years out-of-date and is hurting our families," Green Party leader Metiria Turei reportedly said. "Too many resources are directed into criminalising people rather than providing them with the medical help they most need... This new approach, if adopted, will actually save money enabling greater resources to be directed into health services for breaking the cycle of drug abuse and addiction. It will also free police to tackle more serious crime."
Family First director Bob McCoskrie disagreed with the recommendations. "A zero-tolerance approach to the use of drugs combined with treatment options is a far better solution," he insisted.
The governing center-right National Party said more time was needed to study the report.
A 2006 United Nations World Drug Report (pdf) found that New Zealand's overall rate of marijuana use ranked ninth in the world.