Pubdate: Fri, 19 Aug 2016
Source: Nelson Mail, The (New Zealand)
Column: My View
Copyright: 2016 Fairfax New Zealand Limited
Author: Karl Du Fresne


My generation has a lot to answer for. Recreational drugs, for 
example or as former Wellington coroner Garry Evans preferred to call 
them, "wreckreational drugs".

Mine was the generation that rebelled against the values of its parents.

We were smug and spoilt, with plenty of time on our hands to reflect 
on how wrong our elders were about everything.

We rejected their dreary, conformist moral values.

"If it feels good, do it" became the catch-cry of a generation.

And it did feel good  for a while. But then the casualties began to pile up.

Drug abuse, serial relationship failures and, most tragically, 
emotionally damaged offspring are part of the price society has paid 
for idealistic 1960s liberalism.

Initially, drugs seemed very much a middle-class hippie thing.

Most of the dope smokers and trippers I knew in the late 60s were 
arty types and intellectuals.

Drugs were one way of rebelling against a society they found dull and stifling.

Quite a few ended up permanently damaged, but others succeeded in 
managing their drug use. They were smart enough to ensure that it 
never seriously interfered with their lives or careers.

Most were well-educated and came from relatively prosperous 
backgrounds, so were buttressed against any disadvantages that might 
have come from drug use.

But the same could not be said of the people who were caught up in 
the drug culture once it spread into other sectors of society.

In fact, there's a segment of society that, from the 1980s on, was 
hit by a disastrous doublewhammy.

The first blow came when economic upheaval wiped out many of the jobs 
that had previously provided poorly educated workers with a livelihood.

The second came with the increasing availability  and social 
acceptability  of drugs.

Many of the people whose jobs disappeared in the 1980s sought escape 
in cannabis, glue and later, methamphetamine.

Tinny houses sprouted like mushrooms in low-income areas.

Unlike the comfortable bureaucrats who now advocate liberalisation of 
the drug laws, these people were not insulated from the harmful 
effects of drugs by a good education and secure, well-paid careers.

So they, and their children and grandchildren, are doubly disadvantaged.

To put it another way, it was the middle class that introduced 
society to the mind-expanding delights of drugs, but it's mainly the 
underbelly of society that has had to live with the consequences.

It's against this backdrop that we need to consider the current 
pressure to liberalise the cannabis laws.

The people promoting liberalisation are from the educated middle classes.

They probably live a long way from the suburbs where drug abuse causes misery.

The reformers advance persuasive arguments.

They say drug use should be treated as a health issue rather than one 
of law and order.

The taxpayer-subsidised Drug Foundation, which is leading the charge 
for cannabis law reform (but which betrays an ideological bias by 
contradictorily taking a shrill line against alcohol), cleverly plays 
on public sympathy for terminally ill cancer patients such as former 
trade union leader Helen Kelly.

But while there are valid arguments for decriminalisation of 
cannabis, and especially for its medicinal use, the reformers can't 
ignore the baneful effects of drug use.

Neither can they ignore the risk that liberalising the cannabis laws 
will send the dangerous message that drugs are OK.

They may be okay if you've got a university degree and live in a good 
suburb, but they're not so liberating if you're a hungry kid living 
in a freezing state house where any surplus money goes on P rather 
than food or heating.

Many of the reformers seem blind to much of the damage done by drug use.

But Garry Evans saw it in his 18 years as a coroner.

He told this newspaper on his retirement that the term 'recreational 
drug' was a misnomer; put a "w" in front of it, he said, and you'd be 
closer to the truth.

Evans would know, and so do the people who conducted Otago 
University's famous longitudinal study of 1000 people born in 1972.

Drug abuse is a consistent factor among those in the study who went 
off the rails.

These are reasons to proceed with caution.

As Massey University drug policy expert Chris Wilkins says, any 
change needs to be carefully thought through.

"We can't treat cannabis like we do any other commodity in the supermarket."

A good starting point for the debate might be a more honesty.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom