Pubdate: Sat, 28 Nov 1998
Date: 11/28/1998
Source: The Examiner (Ireland)
Author: Martin Cooke

I FIND myself in total agreement with the sentiments expressed in
Derek Williams' letter, Win the battle by stopping the war - The
Examiner, November 24.

I also note that the Garda Commissioner, Mr Pat Byrne, was recently
reported to have expressed surprise that the price of illegal drugs on
the street has not risen after recent seizures.

If this surprises Mr Byrne, it comes as no surprise to me. The market
for illegal drugs is so massive that little that the law enforcement
agencies do is going to make a difference. The UN estimates the total
world trade in illegal drugs at $400 billion per annum, or about 8% of
the total value of legitimate international commerce.

As Niall Stokes wrote in the Hot Press the month before Veronica
Guerin was murdered: "It seems blindingly obvious that the best way to
beat the drug barons is to take their market away from them... And if,
to do this, it is necessary to legalise heroin ... under state
supervision, then that is the route to go."

Switzerland has been dispensing heroin to registered addicts for the
past few years. Nearly one third of the approximately 1,100 addicts on
the scheme have entered programs to help them fully withdraw from the
drug. Other effects of the scheme have been: lower rates of AIDS and
other infectious diseases, the re-integration of a sizeable percentage
of the addicts back into the labour market, and a dramatic drop in
crime, saving the taxpayers money.

Is it not perhaps time that such a programme was put in place in

Indeed, I read a report a few weeks ago in which Father Sean Cassin,
former head of the Merchants Quay project in Dublin, told a Dail
Committee that the Swiss project had claimed significantly good
results, and that perhaps we should consider copying it.

However, one thing that did worry me about the Garda Commissioner's
comments (given during the presentation of prizes in an anti-drugs
schools art competition) was his attempt to demonise cannabis
(marijuana) to the young people he was addressing.

It may well be true (as Mr Byrne claimed) that 50% of heroin addicts
have used cannabis before using heroin. But this does not mean that
the cannabis led on to the heroin, no more than the fact that they may
have eaten potatoes before using heroin would mean that potatoes
should be blamed.

There is absolutely no evidence that cannabis is a gateway to harder drug
use. Indeed, all the serious research suggests the opposite. Even the 1995
guide book, Marijuana: Facts for Teens, published by none other than the US
Department of Health and Human Services, states unequivocally that, "most
marijuana users do not go on to use other drugs."

What worries me most about outbursts like Mr Byrne's is that if a
young person eventually does go on to try cannabis (as many of them
will, whether we like it or not) and finds that it is not as harmful
as the adults keep claiming that it is, he or she may well assume that
warnings received about other far more dangerous drugs (like heroin
itself) are also falsehoods.

Let's try and be truthful in what we tell our children.

Just Say No may sound like a useful slogan. But I would argue that
'Just say know' would be much more useful. And it might actually save
a few lives.

Martin Cooke,
Corcormick, Drumkeerin,