Hard News by Russell Brown


Walk the Line

The news that drug-impaired drivers will be treated the same way as drunks behind the wheel has been coming for some time, and was essentially inevitable. But I think the Greens' Metiria Turei is right when she says the new regime raises some tricky civil rights issues.

The level of alcohol in the bloodstream of a driver is a fairly robust indicator of impairment, and we all have some idea of the quantum of consumption that makes us illegal drivers. It's not so straightforward with other recreational drugs - and thus, the essentially subjective "impairment test" has been devised.

If a policeman declares he doesn't like the way you walk the chalk line, or that he perceives a funny look in your eyes, you will be accompanying him to the station for a compulsory extraction of blood. Any driver who can't walk straight should not, of course, be in charge of a motor vehicle, but the Time Distortion Test ("Stoned drivers can lose track of time. Motorists must close their eyes and estimate when 30 seconds have elapsed") sounds like bunkum to me.

Effectively the difference between not-worth-the-bother and yer basic harassment will be up to the individual policeman. The kind of cops who are verbally abusive or worse will be the same kind most likely to take liberties under the new system.

Meanwhile, the expert committee has come back with a recommendation that the government should either further restrict the sale of BZP-based party pills or ban them outright. I'd certainly go along with the former: these things are actually real drugs, and their availability in corner dairies is just mad.

Ross Bell of the Drug Foundation contributed some useful commentary on a Kiwiblog thread (it breaks down into people calling each other twats later on, but you get that). He points out one irony of the BZP situation: one or two party pill hangovers is enough for most consumers to lay off (or, if necessary, get their hands on some proper gear). Surely it would be possible to find a legal high that's not quite so horrible? But then people might like it too much, and we'd have a whole other issue.

Virtually all the problems with legal party pills come down to the same thing that helps make alcohol by far our most problematic social drug: we New Zealanders, especially the young ones, just can't help but binge. Unlike alcohol, party pills do not appear to have actually killed anyone, even though they have been tried by one in five New Zealanders.

National and New Zealand First are officially on the prohibition pat, but my guess is that the government won't ban BZP outright, because doing so would be to acknowledge that a substantial minority of the people who buy them now would simply go and seek their buzz on the bad side of the tracks. And no one wants to take the rap for that.

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