Cannabis here to stay — it’s law that has to change

The New Zealand Herald - - EDITORIAL & LETTERS - Alexan­der Gille­spie com­ment Alexan­der Gille­spie is a pro­fes­sor of law at Waikato Univer­sity.

Both Na­tional and Labour have dis­tanced them­selves from a sur­vey re­ported in the Her­ald that a ma­jor­ity of New Zealan­ders want the laws re­lat­ing to cannabis to change. The Prime Min­is­ter ex­plained that sup­port­ing a change in our drug laws would send the wrong mes­sage to our youth. Key is cor­rect to be con­cerned. Cannabis is in­creas­ing in po­tency. It can cause psy­chosis in some peo­ple and be a gate­way drug in some in­stances. If a per­son be­comes ad­dicted, it has the ca­pac­ity to di­min­ish their life over the long term. Al­though cannabis does not cause as much dam­age as le­gal drugs like al­co­hol or to­bacco or il­le­gal drugs like metham­phetamine, it still comes with clear risks.

The prob­lem is that the youth Key is con­cerned about are al­ready liv­ing in a world awash in drugs. Their world is one in which cannabis users have gone from 147 mil­lion users in 1988, to 182 mil­lion in 2016. Es­ti­mates sug­gest New Zealand con­trib­utes be­tween 288,000 and 400,000 users to this to­tal. In some co­horts, over two thirds of them have used cannabis by the time they are 21. Reg­u­lar users as­sert they can source cannabis within 20 min­utes if they want it. The Dark Net will widen sup­ply op­tions even more. The black mar­ket for cannabis has nearly tre­bled in 20 years, with an es­ti­mated value of $550 mil­lion per year. This to­tal is about five sixths of the to­tal mar­ket for all il­le­gal drugs in our coun­try.

It was not al­ways this way. New Zealand only fully pro­hib­ited cannabis in the 1950s and mean­ing­fully joined the in­ter­na­tional war against drugs in the 1960s. Prior to this, our an­nual drug ar­rests were fewer than 50 per year. To­day, 13 per cent of our prison pop­u­la­tion, over 1250 peo­ple, are in­car­cer­ated for drugs. Many other peo­ple are con­victed but do not go to jail. An­nu­ally, there are over 10,000 con­vic­tions in­volv­ing cannabis, of which at least half are re­lated to per­sonal use and/or pos­ses­sion.

If re­duc­tions in de­mand or sup­ply of cannabis had re­sulted af­ter five decades of ef­fort, an ar­gu­ment could be made for pro­hi­bi­tion. This is not the case. Crim­i­nals have be­come rich and tens of thou­sands of our cit­i­zens have con­vic­tions for what our lead­ers, as do those in Rus­sia, China, and many coun­tries in the Mid­dle East and South­east Asia, as­sure us is the cor­rect path. This is a path of pro­hi­bi­tion, “just say no” and strong penal­ties. Peter Dunne sug­gests this path­way is fenced by re­gard for “com­pas­sion, pro­por­tion and in­no­va­tion”. None of this is true.

Com­pas­sion would re­quire treat­ing drug ad­dicts as cit­i­zens in need of help, not crim­i­nals in need of pun­ish­ment. Com­pas­sion would en­sure that peo­ple, es­pe­cially the young, with mi­nor in­fringe­ments such as pos­ses­sion of drugs for per­sonal use, do not ob­tain crim­i­nal records that have im­pli­ca­tions com­pletely out of pro­por­tion to the crime, that de­stroy op­tions for em­ploy­ment and travel for the rest of their lives. Com­pas­sion would send such peo­ple to pro­fes­sion­als in­volved in health and so­cial work, not to the courts.

Pro­por­tion would re­quire eval­u­at­ing the risk that drugs pos­sess by look­ing at the harm they in­flict on both in­di­vid­u­als and the wider com­mu­nity, and al­lo­cat­ing re­sources ac­cord­ingly. The po­lice cur­rently spend about 600,000 hours per year on il­licit drug en­force­ment. Over half of this time (333,000) goes on cannabis. When the costs of the health ser­vice as well the courts and cor­rec­tion are added to those of the po­lice, the to­tal so­cial costs for all il­le­gal drugs in New Zealand are $351 mil­lion per year. Cannabis, which causes much less harm than stim­u­lants or opium, takes $306 mil­lion of this to­tal.

In­no­va­tion is not re­peat­ing the same thing and ex­pect­ing a dif­fer­ent re­sult. Here, in­no­va­tion is about try­ing to re­duce harm by reg­u­lat­ing the pro­duc­tion, dis­tri­bu­tion and sale of the drugs which are cur­rently il­le­gal. Four states in Amer­ica have al­ready adopted this ap­proach to cannabis. A fur­ther five states will vote on the mat­ter in Novem­ber. The prime min­is­ter of Canada is set to em­bark upon a pol­icy aimed at re­duc­ing harm and max­imis­ing ben­e­fits by re­duc­ing crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties sur­round­ing the il­le­gal cannabis trade, cre­at­ing jobs and col­lect­ing tax from its sale. That tax will then be ploughed back into polic­ing the reg­u­la­tions, ed­u­ca­tion and health to in­form and deal with the ad­dicts who will al­ways be present whether the drug is le­gal or il­le­gal, and the in­no­cent, who wish to take a chance on a drug with clear risks.

With­out such lay­ers of com­pas­sion, pro­por­tion and in­no­va­tion, the em­peror has no clothes.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.