One less way for state to put the boot into Ma¯ori

Marlborough Express - - FRONT PAGE -

As Stuff has pointed out pre­vi­ously, from 2010 to 2014, Ma¯ ori made up 51 per cent of pri­son sen­tences, and 41 per cent of pros­e­cu­tions and con­vic­tions, for weed-re­lated of­fences. So in a nut­shell, Ma¯ ori were more likely to be con­victed and go to jail than Pa¯ keha¯ for be­ing caught with weed.

I don’t know what it’s like to go to pri­son, but I hear it can al­ter the course of peo­ple’s lives. Too many Ma¯ ori have had their lives ir­re­vo­ca­bly messed up by courts and cops, rather than by the weed they con­sumed to get there. Elim­i­nat­ing this law would mean one less set of dou­ble stan­dards work­ing against Ma¯ ori.

The Po­lice As­so­ci­a­tion is now try­ing to get to grips with the po­ten­tial use and abuse of the drug by of­fi­cers while they are work­ing, if it be­comes le­gal. Frankly, given the force’s ap­pli­ca­tion of ex­ist­ing laws on Ma¯ ori, per­haps cops should have been us­ing weed more for the past decades and chill­ing out a bit.

But I shouldn’t joke. As long as weed has been a joke, it’s been tough to deal with the prob­lems se­ri­ously. There are a cou­ple of prob­lems fac­ing the av­er­age weed con­sumer. For some there is the old dou­ble stan­dard. Morally speak­ing, what is harm­less fun for the mid­dle class is crim­i­nal for the poor (re­fer back to the dis­par­i­ties for Ma¯ ori).

And then there is the dou­ble-stan­dard moral panic over the im­pacts of drug con­sump­tion. This starts with the fact weed was pre­sum­ably listed as an il­le­gal drug by the usual bunch of clear-headed moral­ists – you know, the group of randy, chainsmok­ing booz­ers oth­er­wise known as our politi­cians.

I am too square to con­sume weed (and th­ese days I only drink in a sin­gle-beer-at-christ­mas kind of way). But some of my best friends like the herb. You might know some­one who has fallen prey to weed and van­ished into stoner limbo. Cer­tainly I have heard sto­ries of peo­ple turn­ing into smelly out­casts: for­get­ting to wash, and re­fus­ing to work or do any­thing pre­sum­ably use­ful. But I have never met any of th­ese peo­ple my­self.

Gen­er­ally the peo­ple I know who use the drug seem to be get­ting on with what would count as ev­ery­day life for the rest of us non-users. They work. They read books, ex­er­cise, catch up with friends at the week­end, watch the news. They are more so­cially re­spon­si­ble, and more mean­ing­fully con­nected to our so­ci­ety, than I am. They are less de­fined by their drug of choice than I am by my ad­dic­tion to cof­fee. (I was fine un­til I tried cof­fee 18 years ago and re­alised I couldn’t do with­out it.)

It is ab­surd that th­ese peo­ple are break­ing the law. I’m not say­ing there aren’t health prob­lems – men­tal and phys­i­cal – re­lated to pot use. I’m sim­ply say­ing we must stop mak­ing recre­ational mar­i­juana a crim­i­nal is­sue.

Of course, for Ma¯ ori, mak­ing it a health is­sue doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily im­prove things. If any­thing the in­equal­ity prob­lems that Ma¯ ori face in the health sys­tem are as bad or worse than the ones we face in the crim­i­nal sys­tem. Let’s face it, try­ing to deal with all of the in­equal­ity at once is enough to drive you to the bong.

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