Source: The Examiner (Ireland)
Copyright: Examiner Publications Ltd, 1998
Pubdate: 28 Nov 1998
Section: Letters to Editor
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 Ireland?

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, Co Leitrim - ---
Checked-by: Pat Dolan