Pubdate: Sat, 18 Jun 2016
Source: Manawatu Standard (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2016 Manawatu Evening Standard
Author: Martin Van Beynen


The seizure of industrial quantities of methamphetamine near Ahipara 
this week should spark a bit of stocktaking. The drug bust will be 
remembered for the sheer quantity of the attempted importation and 
the comic incompetence of the criminals. (It's interesting the drug 
runners' ineptitude has been the object of more scathing comment than 
the importation itself.)

The police appear to have been completely unaware of the audacious if 
bungled operation until locals twigged to something unusual going on.

If the police were genuinely taken by surprise, the war on drugs is 
surely in a parlous state. Not that the authorities have ever looked 
like winning the war which has been an abject failure around the world.

Sure, some nasty people have been put behind bars and huge quantities 
of drugs taken out of circulation but the exercise has drastically 
drained state resources with no perceptible benefit.

If one drug becomes scarce then users move to the next one available. 
If one supplier is forced out, another takes his or her place. Drug 
prohibition has turned some states into quasi-gangster fiefdoms.

I don't mind admitting I take a recreational drug. It's called 
alcohol and before we get all huffy about hopeless druggies and their 
self-destructive, pathetic characters, we should always remember that 
most of us often overindulge on a drug which is much more destructive 
than the worst of the so-called hard drugs like heroin or P.

I'm not what you call a drug liberal. Abstemious by nature, I tend to 
frown on any artificially induced euphoria or altered state. That 
does not mean however, that it's a good idea to stand between me and 
a cheap bottle of red when I get home at night.

Any idiot can see that the way we handle recreational drug use is 
appallingly hypocritical and stunningly counter-productive.

For instance, it's clear that a lot of criminally-minded, poor people 
with families enjoy using P. A lot are so addicted they would just 
about sell themselves and their kids into slavery for a fix.

So what do we do? We make the use of the drug a criminal offence as 
though addicts give a toss. We prohibit supply so that criminals and 
criminal gangs take over manufacture and distribution, thereby 
creating a dangerous black market. In other words we put the worst 
possible people in charge of providing a dangerous substance that 
some people feel they need more than oxygen itself.

Many people with good jobs also use hard drugs but it is the poor who 
need to burgle and steal to get the money for their habit. The people 
who need the most help and whose families are most vulnerable will 
bear the worst consequences of our drug laws. The collateral damage 
on children does not need to be spelt out.

Few would argue taking hard recreational drugs is a good idea. 
However getting high on life does not cut the mustard for most people 
so we have to be realistic about the undeniable urge to achieve some 
sort of different state on occasion. A large proportion of drug users 
get high without becoming addicts or doing any more damage (and often 
less) than your average weekend drunk.

We don't need to worry about them. But we do need to worry about 
addicts and young potential users.

What we need to aim for with our drug regime is complete control. 
Control means decriminalisaton (taking the use of drugs off the list 
of criminal offences ) and moving from there to legalisation (making 
it legal to sell drugs). As with alcohol and tobacco, the state can 
then regulate use and impose tax. It can take charge of open and 
honest education about the health effects of drug use and help 
addicts rather than punishing them.

The idea is to make drug use and regulation, as English writer Johann 
Hari says in his recent book Chasing the Scream, boring and mundane.

Will it lead to more people taking drugs and more people becoming 
addicted? Overseas experience, as Hari points out, shows drug use may 
increase but part of that increase will be people switching from 
alcohol to other less harmful chemicals. Ill-effects will be 
unavoidable but they will be much less dramatic than those caused by 
prohibition. If a habitual P user can get a fix legally and slowly be 
weaned off perhaps by resorting to a softer drug - society will be better off.

Easier supply will make drugs more available to young people but, as 
Hari says, it's better for the state to have a role in that than 
criminal gangs supplying god knows what.

The battle to decriminalise the recreational use of cannabis is 
nearly won. This will happen in New Zealand within the next five 
years. Then we will have to deal with harder drugs. The sooner we see 
sense the sooner we can start to minimise the damage.

We will also reduce the opportunity for criminals to make arses of themselves.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom