Pubdate: Fri, 26 Jan 2001
Source: Otago Daily Times (New Zealand)
Copyright: Allied Press Limited, 2001
Contact:  P.O. Box 181, 52-66 Lower Stuart Street, Dunedin, New Zealand
Website: http://www2.odt.co.nz

SETTING THE STANDARD

THE DIFFICULTY the country faces in dealing with the cannabis problem 
is that there are just enough people in the middle classes - who, 
ultimately, are those who set the standards for community behaviour - 
who are themselves soft towards marijuana use. The Minister of Youth 
Affairs is one such individual. Laila Harre is 34 and is married with 
two young sons and practised as an industrial relations lawyer before 
entering Parliament as an Alliance member.

She wants to see cannabis legalised for personal use, and thus joins 
what may appear to many to be a growing chorus of similarly-minded 
middle class people, including a number of fellow politicians.

A percentage of the middle classes indulge in cannabis themselves, 
and today it is abundantly clear that probably a larger proportion of 
their teenage and younger children also indulge; many more middle 
class people would never consider reporting to the authorities the 
presence of marijuana.

In such circumstances, it is extremely difficult to have a 
prohibition operating properly if those who are supposed to support 
it are among the first to sabotage it.

If drug laws are to work, some courage and some effort is needed to 
make them work. Ms Harre's statement and the context in which she 
made it are sufficient grounds, in our view, for her to be removed as 
minister of youth affairs. Although she expressed what she said was 
her personal opinion, she did so while carrying out an official 
function as the minister at a youth forum on cannabis law reform at 
Parliament. She acknowledged that it was not good for young people to 
take drugs, but said that no-one was suggesting cannabis be legalised 
for those under the age of 18. There are none so blind as those who 
will not see: cannabis is already in daily use by children much 
younger than 18. School principals have stated this on several 
occasions, and have been backed up by the police and by social 
workers.

Some observers believe it has effectively destroyed normal community 
and family life in parts of Northland and the Bay of Plenty.

Does Ms Harre imagine that an age prohibition will magically improve 
the situation, or that a change in the law will not simply justify 
the use of the drug? The campaigners for decriminalisation are 
effective and busy propagandists, and make much of statistics and 
polls which, they argue, support their case. This newspaper published 
a poll in 1984 which purported to show that about 24% of the 
population had at some time used marijuana. Last year, another poll 
suggested 41% of people wanted marijuana decriminalised, and the 
Minister of Health, Annette King, reckoned she had statistics showing 
that more than half of people smoke marijuana before they are 20. The 
trouble with these sorts of statistics is that they do not 
necessarily mean the existing law should be abandoned, otherwise, by 
the same argument, drunk drivers and other criminals should be freely 
allowed to speed on our roads.

No-one - not even the minister of youth affairs - can pretend that 
our society is not being damaged by the cannabis blight.

We look back appalled at the rot which set in to China with the 
widespread use of opium, yet we do not realise (or care?) that, under 
our own noses a new generation of young people is suffering from 
marijuana dependence, and that part of our society is diseased with 
corruption, violence and murder - all because of the money dealings 
of drugs.

The evidence is all about us. There is abundant proof in contemporary 
society that a wide range of prohibited drugs is readily available, 
including cannabis, to our apathetic youth.

Drugs such as amphetamines, LSD and ecstasy are all able to be 
purchased without difficulty and are in widespread use. The chief 
reason for this is because the existing sanctions are not 
sufficiently effective or enforced with committed purpose.

The middle-class parents - and politicians - who have prepared the 
way for these developments have a great deal to answer for. History 
will not praise them for their cowardice.
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