Canvassing for Opinion - aka "Blairs Brain on Cannabis"

IMHO prohibition sentiment requires inherent addiction to status quo, an incapacity to visualise beyond the here and now and a desperate desire to know others might feel the same... Reform is not revolutionary, rather it is evolutionary. Having survived banging your head against a brick wall the evolutionist relishes having stopped. / Blair

Sunday, September 21, 2008

'Drug Sanity Revisited' by Dave Currie

Drug Sanity revisited
20/9/2008

A very good afternoon to you. The programme you are listening to is 'Drug Sanity revisited' and is presented for the Drug Policy and Education Council, DPEC. I'm Dave Currie. Today I will present the third of six scheduled monthly programmes.

I'll start by observing that it is hard to understand why New Zealand governments have failed to come up with any reforming legislation to ameliorate the disastrous policies of the New Zealand Misuse of Drugs Act. This came into force in 1975 as a rubberstamping exercise in parliament; that is there was no debate on the issue whatsoever. The legislation was copied from the original Misuse of Drugs Act first conceived in the USA by President Richard Nixon. And this makes one wonder how much of our government policy comes from the USA. After all we have fought in all the American inspired wars since the Vietnam war, and I have often wondered whether it is really in our interest to be sucked into wars against nations who are never likely to come across and invade New Zealand. Perhaps this is a private view but I think our biggest enemy could possibly be the very nation who we are in alliance with.

One question to ask is why have so many nations been sucked into adopting destructive American Drug Policy?

I think the answer lies in an International Treaty called the 'Single Convention on Drugs' formulated by a crooked drug policeman called Harry Anslinger who took on the role of preventing recreational marijuana use by introducing the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. The Tax Act also had the effect of making medical experimentation with cannabis almost impossible because of all the paperwork that Physicians were obliged to fill in. Anslinger was the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Alcohol had been prohibited since 1920 but public pressure ended it in 1933. Anslinger required another drug to take alcohol's place and justify the Bureau's existence. Marijuana filled the bill and to prohibit marijuana more effectively, in addition to the Tax Act he introduced the Single Convention on Drugs as an international treaty. This made any drug that was illegal in the USA automatically illegal in countries that had adopted the Single Convention. However the Single Convention has an out clause, which allows countries that have denounced the treaty to be no longer bound by it.

We should ask whether it is appropriate that laws put up by a crooked American policeman should apply here in New Zealand. I think New Zealand should denounce the Single Convention and join the growing list of countries that are using common sense rather than blind allegiance to destructive American Drug Policy. Indeed there is growing recognition by people in the administration of anti-drug policy that the policy is flawed and actually causes more harm than actual drug use.

Last month the former head of the United Kingdom Anti-drug Co-ordination Unit, [UKADCU], Julian Critchley, posted to the BBC Home Affairs correspondent, Mark Easton's blog, 'The War on Drugs', calling for the legalisation of drugs. Critchley said, he thought what was truly depressing about his time in the Anti-drug unit was that the overwhelming majority of professionals he met, including those from the police, the health service, government and voluntary sectors held the same view: the illegality of drugs causes far more problems for society and the individual than it solves. Yet publicly, all those intelligent people were forced to repeat the nonsensical mantra that the government would be 'tough on drugs' even though they all knew that the government's policy was actually causing the harm.

Today, as the notion of legalising drugs is making its way into the mainstream political agenda for the first time in living memory, one of the most common objections to it is that it represents a high-risk experiment whose outcome cannot be accurately modelled or predicted. However Dr John Mark's Widnes experiment clearly showed that if drugs are legalised in the proper way all the most harmful outcomes from drug use are eliminated. And it makes sense to have a controlled market in drugs. After all if there is a demand for a commodity someone will always come up with a supply. And if businessmen within the law are not allowed to be drug dealers, criminals will readily take up that role. In fact as Ethan Nadellman pointed out, the real beneficiaries of USA drug policy are criminal drug dealers.

Last month I was invited to a Harbour City Rotary Club meeting where the former Canadian Judge, Jerry Paradis was guest speaker. Judge Paradis retired as a judge for the Provincial Court of British Columbia, in 2003. During his time on the bench, he dealt with over a thousand cases involving the possession, trafficking, or production of drugs. His experiences led him to become a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, (LEAP) for short, an organisation comprised of current and former members of law enforcement and criminal justice communities who speak out about the failures of existing drug policies. He came to New Zealand as an Executive Board member of LEAP to present to the New Zealand Law Commission's review on Drug Policy and the Law, and to undertake speaking engagements around the country from the 20th of August to the 12th of September.

The title for the judge's Harbour City Rotary address was 'Prohibition is not just a failure, it's a self perpetuating policy disaster!' The judge dealt with the huge cost of prohibition and showed it was a failure because of the high rate of imprisonment caused by prohibition and the necessity of having to build more and more prisons.

John Marks's experiment in Widnes showed there was a lot of extra real crime generated from prohibition as a result of drug users committing property crime in order to afford the costly drugs they bought on the illegal market. And prohibition doesn't really cut down on the number of drug users, so the question to ask is whether the prohibition is pointless in not having any effect on the drug market. Indeed Dr John Marks's Widnes experiment described in the first of this series of Drug Sanity programmes found that by supplying users with drugs of their choice, along with instructions for their safe use, led to the demise of the illegal drug market. This in turn reduced the number of new recruits to drug use.

It is encouraging that it is not just in the UK that professional people like Julian Critchley are sceptical of the value of prohibiting drugs. After all people should have learnt from the American experience and its disastrous historic alcohol prohibition. That prohibition clearly did not work and produced a major breakdown in law and order and an army of gangsters like Al Capone. Policy makers who do not learn from big mistakes made in history are bound to repeat them. Going back to Judge Paradis's address, he made mention of the' Canadian Government's Le Dain Commission of Inquiry into the non-medical use of drugs. The Commission's 1970 report while baulking at recommending legalisation of cannabis nevertheless came out in favour of decriminalisation. It recommended non-prosecution for minor crimes of possession or selling small amounts of cannabis and the criminal records of those who had committed such minor crimes be expurgated. President Nixon's Commission of Inquiry led by Governor Shafer reported in 1972 and was slightly more liberal in its recommendations. While not recommending legalisation it nevertheless supported the idea of partial prohibition where for instance the law would turn a blind eye to possession by individuals in private of small amounts of marijuana. In addition it recommended that penalties for other marijuana offences be made less severe.

The NZ Blake Palmer Board of Health Committee's report of 1973 recommended that the prohibition of marijuana be continued so long as it was shown to be largely effective. As the present rate of cannabis offences is well over 20 times the 1973 level it is clear the marijuana prohibition is absolutely ineffective. It is becoming clear that there is quite a lot of support for a law change for marijuana amongst some members of the NZ parliament. This came over in the report of the 1998 Health Committee Inquiry into the Mental Health Effects of Cannabis. The Committee recommended that the Government review the appropriateness of existing policy on cannabis and reconsider the legal status of cannabis. The later Health committee 'inquiry into the public health strategies related to cannabis use and the most appropriate legal status' came out with a report in August 2003. Although the Committee did not recommend having a controlled legal market in cannabis it did come out with some softening recommendations, namely, that the government consider diverting minor cannabis offenders into compulsory health assessment for first possession and use offences, rather than a criminal conviction. The committee also recommended that the police expand the diversion scheme to all parts of NZ with the aim of reducing the number of minor cannabis offences through the courts. By and large the report was very disappointing but shows in my view that NZ has a lot in common with the USA in having a puritan religious group who want to control every aspect of life in other New Zealanders.

At this point I will ask a leading question, namely who has the right to determine what victimless activities are allowable to people. A second question I ask is why should any particular group have any more right than other group to proscribe victimless activities that does not affect anyone else. I will say more on this next time.

The time has now come for me to close with a short advertisement for my book 'Marijuana- facts and case for legalisation'. You can get a copy by telephoning me at Wellington 5891902. That is 5891902. Listen in to another Drug Sanity programme in four weeks time. Good afternoon and have a good day.

/Dave Currie

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