Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Is returning a drug to its owner "supply"?

The tricky problem of whether a person who has been given only temporary custody of a drug has a purpose of supply when he returns that drug to its owner, has arisen again in New Zealand: R v Adams 20/10/04, Miller J, HC Wellington CRI 2004-091-341. The conflicting cases are reviewed, and preference is given to the dissenting speech of Lord Goff in R v Maginnis [1987] 1 All ER 907 (HL). Miller J held that the temporary custodian does not supply the drug when returning it to its owner, because no additional rights or powers are thereby conferred than had existed before. The majority in Maginnis had held that it was not necessary that the supplier (the custodian) should give some power, that he himself had enjoyed, to the other person (the owner), and that therefore the custodian who returns the drug to its owner is supplying it. This was because the owner had no legal right to demand return of the illicit drug.

In end the issue will be resolved according to whichever approach to interpretation the court wishes to take (obviously! I mean the question is open). Some comparison may be made with the issue of the liability of a purchaser for conspiracy with the seller to supply himself with a drug: this has been held not to be a culpable conspiracy because the Act refers to supply "to another" in this context: R v Lang 13/10/98, CA222/98.

My answer: In the case of a temporary custodian, the possession of the drug is shared: the owner retains control, but not custody, and the custodian has custody and, depending on the circumstances (for example, if there is clearly a power to protect possession against third persons), a measure of control sufficient to amount to joint possession with the owner. The giving of custody back to the owner is less than a giving of possession, and for that reason the return of the drug would not be an act of supply.

See also my text, Mathias, Misuse of Drugs (Brookers Criminal Library, electronic edition) at paras 147 and 402.

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