Pubdate: Thu, 10 Jan 2013
Source: Timaru Herald (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2013 Timaru Herald
Author: Rosemary Mcleod
Page: 7


I have changed my mind about cannabis. I don't think it should be 
legalised and so normalised  the avowed aim of some lobby groups  but 
I do accept that it's madness to have overflowing jails bursting with 
its lowest-level dealers and the people they sell to.

The lobby groups are full of hot air and paranoia but low on 
presentation of facts. However, the Justice Ministry has convinced me 
this week with its statistics on how this minor offending is taking 
up court time that would be better spent on speeding up justice for 
serious offenders.

It makes no sense that there are as many cannabis users in jail as 
there are dealers, or that hundreds of people are jailed just for 
possession of a needle or a pipe. And there can't be a good reason 
why having small amounts of cannabis, or smoking utensils, make up 
roughly half of all drug charges laid by police.

The fact that imprisonment for petty offences like these almost 
equals the number of people locked up for serious crimes makes the 
issue a no-brainer, and I wouldn't be surprised if many police think so, too.

I am not a recreational drug user. It never appealed to me because I 
felt I had enough problems already; I was stupid in other ways. But 
most of the people I knew when I was young were users and I had no 
problem with it. Cannabis and for that matter acid and heroin, were a 
relatively new thing then. People insisted they were harmless and I 
believed them.

Time has made me glad of the choice I made. Heavy cannabis use among 
my former friends didn't do them a power of good in many ways. Some 
became boring paranoids or conspiracy theorists and a good many more 
became ill. There will be more of this.

I'd like to see the statistics on the number of people currently 
being treated for drug-linked illnesses like hepatitis C and bladder 
cancer, and how many people attribute those conditions to their dope 
use. If people I know are any indication, they would make depressing reading.

Those people may well regret the decisions they made when they were 
young and thought that somehow they would never reach middle age; it 
was so far away and the present was so pressing.

But we do get older and are pleased to be alive, even if ageing 
involves many humiliations and much mordant humour. It still looks 
better than the alternative. I wouldn't gloat. We'll all be felled by 
something in the end. But when you compare the legal outcomes for 
cannabis users and alcoholics, I suspect there's a degree of inequality.

I don't accept that cannabis and alcohol are equivalent, though. Most 
alcohol abusers, I should think, are less likely to progress to using 
a cocktail of other, more harmful, drugs as well. But prove me wrong. 
The New Zealand Drug Foundation rightly points out that statistics on 
imprisonment and prosecutions show that the system is not putting 
anyone off drug use. Its executive director suggests a mandatory 
cautionary scheme instead, that would progress toward compulsory 
treatment. The justice minister is unimpressed.

She probably thinks of how much that would cost, though jail also 
costs a lot, as does police time.

I don't know what would get people off cannabis use, especially as 
generations of some families treat it as normal and their children 
are around it from babyhood.

Information doesn't seem to work on its own: People won't give up 
what they enjoy now because of what will happen in 20 years' time.

But the kind of progressive social ostracism that has slowly worked 
with nicotine smokers, could be one way to go.

You look damn silly smoking dope as well, especially when we know the 
harm it does to you and the people around you, let alone the future 
health cost and the misery of becoming old and sick.
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