Customs: hit gangs that exploit kids.
Border control officials are calling for a law change so gangs who recruit youngsters to act as "catchers" for illegal drug shipments can be prosecuted for enticing them into crime.
The Customs Service is worried organised crime groups are increasingly using teens to receive illegal shipments of drugs, and says it is time those responsible for recruiting the teens – most of them foreign students – are held to account. They want it to be a criminal offence to incite people under 18 to act as receivers for illicit drug imports.
Teens are targeted by the gangs with the promise that, if they get caught, they will be treated more leniently by the courts than adults.
Customs made the call in a submission on the Law Commission's "Issues Paper on Controlling and Regulating Drugs", released this year.
The paper angles for a radical shake-up of New Zealand's drug laws, wanting more "flexible options" to small-scale dealing and personal possession and use – saying there should be less emphasis on conviction and punishment, and more on delivery of effective treatment.
But the Customs Service is opposed to any relaxation of the drug laws.
It fears if penalties for drug offences are lessened, New Zealand will be seen as a "soft touch", leading to increased trafficking of drugs and more activity by organised criminal groups.
"There is the risk that international traffickers could become interested in New Zealand's drug markets and its underworld generally," Customs warned.
It is also worried that traffickers could decide to "saturate" the border with small quantity imports – something it says is already happening in New Zealand in relation to imports of pseudoephedrine.
The Police Association, too, has expressed concern about many of the changes mooted in the Law Commission's Issues Paper.
"Police, to some extent, made the mistake of de-prioritising policing of the drugs trade in the late 1990s with the disbanding of drug squads and organised crime squads in many districts," association president Greg O'Connor said.
"Those decisions contributed to the massive growth of the methamphetamine trade over the same period, with disastrous social consequences, and the enriching of serious organised crime to the tune of literally hundreds of millions of dollars."
THE ABC OF 'P'
Pseudoephedrine is a precursor to methamphetamine, or P. Since 2002, there has been a 1200% increase in pseudoephedrine interceptions by Customs. Last year the department seized approximately 1250kg of the drug. Most of the interceptions involve pseudoephedrine in the form of Contac NT cold and flu tablets, which are readily available in China for as little as $2.50 for 10 tablets. On the black market here, 10 tablets fetch between $90 and $100.
By LOIS CAIRNS - Sunday Star Times