Pubdate: Friday 18 June 1999
Source: New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
Copyright: New Zealand Herald
Author: Ted Reynolds


Once again a committee of MPs has recommended easing the law against
marijuana. And, once again, the Government has replied: "Not on your
nelly." Typically, the response contained more bluster than argument.

The two reasons for having any public law are that the law reflects
public wishes and that it works.

We used to have anti-booze laws that simply didn't work. Men drank
like crazy because soon the bar would shut. In districts where 6
o'clock closing was ignored, drinking turned furtive: the police might
raid the pub any minute. But not without warning. Everyone knew which
pubs flouted the law - and how easy it was to avoid

When the local police sergeant inspected a pub around 5pm he regularly
placed an overnight bag on the bar, then, upon leaving, he picked it
up again without asking why it was heavier than when he placed it
there. It was the whisky that was the sergeant's price for playing the
game and not jumping on every little breach of the law.

I suspect that, if anything, the anti-marijuana law has a similar
result. It offers people the thrill of lawbreaking and tempts kids to
have a try.

The last time I chucked off at the marijuana law, a Northland school
teacher wrote a derisive letter. How, she asked, would I like having
to appear before a room full of kids who had burned their brains out
with marijuana? For a day I struggled to write a polite reply and not
to ask whether she was such a bore that pupils switched off at the
sight of her. And why did she defend the law if she so objected to its

But politeness would not come and I abandoned the effort. That was a
shame because with a bit more thought I might have come up with the
most vicious and unjust part of the anti-marijuana law.

It is this. An innocent landowner is treated as a criminal if
trespassers plant marijuana on his land.

It happens that a stretch of moist and sheltered land lies at the tip
of my north-west frontier paddock. The man who grazes sheep on my
vineyard and I both hesitate to go there because we suspect that it
has trip-wires attached to shotgun triggers, and even fishhooks
suspended on invisible nylon lines. These are the defenses put up by
people who invade strangers' land and cultivate marijuana there,
simply because the law says they must not grow marijuana among their
own silverbeet.

I don't mind people coming here and shooting rabbits, but I don't want
them blown away by trip-wired shotguns. And I don't want to be fined
if someone sneaks over the fence and sows marijuana seed on my land.

Sure, I can see why the law tries to make me responsible. It's so the
police, if they suspect me but have no proof, can still nail me merely
by saying that some plants were growing on my land. I say to hell with
that. I don't use the stuff, don't grow it and am not a dealer.

The law is unjust and does nothing to stop the spread of drugs. Worst
of all, it undermines the principle that we are innocent until proven

I say the Government is riding for a gutser when the courts laugh at
its bids to persecute innocents. Only then shall we get an anti-drug
law that cuts down on drug use and gives up trying to punish people
who have done no wrong.

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