Cracker by Damian Christie


P is for Politics.

On Friday evening I was up at the ACP offices, celebrating the release of the new issue of Metro magazine, the first under the editorship of Simon Wilson. Also the first to feature a regular column by yours truly, on the topic of 'Drinking'. My own contribution aside, it's a great debut issue for a new editor, and Mr Wilson should be very happy. Lots of lovely photography and a great feature on Chris Knox by the equally legendary Gary Steel too.

Anyway, my point is that while I was there, talking to the various attendees, we began discussing the Auckland Mayoralty. As you do.

"How long do you think it'll be before Simon Prast's P use comes out?" someone mused to a small group of us.

"Do you think it will?" I responded, noting another well-known Aucklander whose P use is legendary, and yet remains unspoken of in the media.

"Yes, but he's not running for public office, is he," explained my colleague.

As it turned out, the answer to the first question was "about 48 hours".

You'd have to imagine that's Mr Prast's chances at the Mayoralty, fanciful as they were to begin with, now completely up in smoke. Yes, pun intended.

I have a certain admiration for Simon Prast's behaviour in front-footing this issue. If he had never admitted it, it may never have been published. It takes a very brave newspaper to print unproven allegations of a mayoral candidate's drug use. As far as we are aware, there were no witnesses lining up to spill the beans. And his characterisation of his use, "it was something that was becoming an issue" appears a lot more honest than the "I tried it just the once", the "I didn't inhale" or Phil Goff's wilfully naive "my daughter has never done drugs before".

However I can't agree with what I take to be his call for a lift on the "hypocritical" ban on P, that it should be treated more in line with tobacco and alcohol. If anything, tobacco certainly (and maybe alcohol) should be treated more in line with P - at least from the accepted wisdom that if you were trying to introduce either product into society these days, they would be unlikely to get the green light.

I certainly think we should take a more health-related than criminal justice approach to people with drug addictions. I'd also be keen to see a relaxing of laws relating to those drugs whose illegality seems to have a lot more to do with fearmongering and hype than hard evidence.

But I've seen P at work. I was managing a very popular nightclub when it really hit town. Suddenly toilet cubicles were occupied far more and far longer with those sneaking a smoke. For a while it was quite acceptable among the same crowd who had been out dancing on E for the preceding few years. Glass pipes abounded - they were sold openly down at Vic Park Market, and were rushing out the door. I remember one night a friend coming up and complaining that he'd been asking everyone for a marijuana pipe, and everyone kept offering him the glass variety. "Hasn't anyone got a f***ing weed pipe!?" he yelled in frustration.

And then the casualties started to pile up. There was the guy who would no longer look you in the eye when he spoke to you, and instead mumbled at the floor. He'd lost his car. There was the guy who used to be quite good looking, but now was gaunt, with scabs on his cheek from constant scratching. There were the broadcasters smoking P at work, even first thing in the morning. There was the woman I knew who had been earning $100k+ in a good office job, who lost custody of her child, and one day called to tell me she'd just been fired from a brothel. There was the ad executive whose wife came home to find he'd sold all the household furniture, right down to his own kids' beds.

At the same time, the Government began cracking down on P users and P dealers, reclassifying P and increasing penalties. But you know what had the biggest impact in terms of affecting use among those around me? Seeing the impact on people like those described above, and their loved ones. If P was glamorous when it first hit Auckland, it certainly stopped being so as the bodycount grew.

Those of us who'd been there during that time knew the reality. We knew that not everyone who smoked P became an addict - not even the 90% put forward by the anti-P lobby groups. And not everyone who became an addict sold their body, or went on a murderous rampage. There was a massive chasm between the media and police hype, and the reality. But certainly more people were finding the downside than any drug I'd seen before.

That was quite a few years ago now. Those casualties are still around, although they've largely dropped out of society. I understand quite a few moved to Piha, where they have some sort of drug-addled community. Others, more high-functioning, are still working, still in the public eye. Others have found the strength to knock it on the head, apparently, and are now standing for public office.

P might still be an epidemic elsewhere, according to the police, however it's all but disappeared in my social circles. I was at a party six months ago, having a discussion with a few people I hadn't met before. "Does anyone know where to get any meth?" one asked, randomly, suddenly, and as he turned his head, the light hit the left side of his face. Scratched red, raw with scabs. The rest of us looked at each other, and tried our best not to shudder in obvious disgust.

I like to think I have a pretty balanced and realistic view about these things. Probably a bit more liberal than most. But even though he says he's kicked the habit, I don't think Simon Prast should run our new Super City. And now, as a result of his own forthrightness, it's almost certain he won't.

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