Youth policy Q&A: Helen Clark [03.09.2005]A Healthy Concern - Helen Clark 1994 Spring NORML
Politicians were asked to answer questions on their policies as part of the Herald's commitment in this election campaign to informed choice - our promise to explain the real issues.
What is your policy on cannabis law reform and would you entertain or support any type of decriminalisation?
We don't have a policy on it, and we would treat it as a conscience issue, as we [treat] anything to do with alcohol, sex, gambling, etc. We've had select committees look at the issue twice, but it hasn't resulted in law reform.
When we entered into the confidence-and-supply arrangement with United Future, the Government specifically undertook not to advance cannabis law reform.
Would you like to preside over a government where there is reform and where potentially it would be possible to smoke a joint out in Queen St?
My first answer to that is that drug use, including cannabis, and tobacco for that matter, is dopey. Pardon the pun. The second issue is, I like to be guided by the evidence on it.
Now a number of countries have gone down a partial prohibition or partial decriminalisation route, which in the past I've expressed interest in.
Even when I was Minister of Health I had advice that partial decriminalisation should be a path that New Zealand went down. I didn't act on it at that time. I'm happy to keep the issue before select committees, before expert panels.
But having been Minister of Health and having to grapple with the problems of tobacco and alcohol, one does hesitate before doing anything that might be seen to encourage the use of other drugs.
[now compare this to 10 years before /Blair]
Labour leader Helen Clark recently stated that she supports marijuana law reform. Her words excerpted from a recent speech show...
Marijuana is certainly a current issue. The Drugs Advisory Committee is about to report to the Government on issues relating to cannabis. I hope that the report will foreshadow better public policy in this issue. That is what I believe we need.
We need public policy on drugs based on a health perspective.
From 1984-1192 there was a 42% decline in tobacco consumption. We should learn from that success. It certainly wasn�t based on prohibition!
Historical and political factors, rather than sound public policy, have led to the different treatment of various drugs.
Good public policy requires of us to ask: is our current policy working? Does prohibition reduce the supply and use of marijuana? I sumit that it does not.
Prohibition might in theory provide parents with some leverage in exhorting children not to use drugs and young people with a means to resist peer pressure. Frankly I doubt that it is effective in either respect.
Prohibition is certainly not stopping people trying marijuana.
Prohibition is costly, both in terms of social harm and the economic costs of enforcement. Prohibition may actually act to drive families apart as parents react adversely to the illicit habits of their children.
Prohibition actually causes harm by involving otherwise law-abiding citizens who are marijuana smokers in the criminal scene.
Offenders are predominantly young and male. Youthful indiscretion resulting in a criminal conviction may restrict employment and travel opportunities for the rest of a person's life.
The costs of prohibition are high...It is hard to defend spending on that scale enforcing a law which has little effect in deterring use of marijuana.
The truth is that prohibition inhibits effective health treatment. People are reluctant to explore issues honestly when to do so may reveal that they have commited an offence punishable by imprisonment!
Prohibition is not good public policy. It has not been able to reduce the demand for or the supply of marijuana. Obviously it can't reduce the the harm to health caused by marijuana use and it has harmful social effects in criminalising citizens who are otherwise law abiding.
It is my view that the resources we currently spend on enforcement would be better spent on initiatives to discourage and prevent marijuana use and on other socially useful purposes. $30 million per annum [in 1994] diverted from detecting, detaining, judging and punishing cannabis offenders would be welcomed by our schools and our health services!
Good public policy must be based on reality - not an image of the drug free world the way we would like it to be, but on the reality of how the world actually is. That is why I reject the view that our approach should be one of prohibition. it does not work.
A quarter of young New Zealanders aged between fifteen and seventeen have tried marijuana as have 43% of the entire population. I do not believe we ought to make criminals out of those users.also see http://www.mildgreens.com/reports/helenc94.htm