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Speaker: Towards a realistic drug policy

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  • Brickley Paiste,

    One of the more striking conclusions from the Auckland Uni School of Medicine survey on drug us is the major reason people give for stopping using cannabis: they didn't like it any more .

    The majority of New Zealanders who use cannabis stop using it at some point -- I know some very keen smokers who stopped for the same or similar reasons to you.

    That's interesting, thanks. Now I touch every couple of years just to remind myself of how little I really enjoy it.

    The Dunedin and Christchurch longitudinal studies have shown reasonably convincingly that the long-term risks of cannabis are much higher in users under 18, and the earlier the first use the greater the risk.

    Doh!

    the science says it's a very bad idea for you to have it at your age when your brain's still developing

    I want to read more on this. See I always knew that when I was high I couldn't learn new things. I could laugh at George Carlin but I couldn't learn. I also always thought that I had a bad memory and was just bad at maths and science. Lateral or logical thinking wasn't my thing. I was more into literature, music, etc.

    Except my job now requires lateral thinking and in the 7 or so years since I stopped smoking, I've started doing expert Sudoku puzzles, riddles, etc. Stuff that I never did before because I thought I was just bad at it.

    I have wondered whether I have just learned how to do these things -- learning being something I wasn't very good at before because I was often high as a kite.

    I've wondered whether my brain had repaired itself because it seemed really incongruous. An old friend saw me doing a jigsaw puzzle and thought I'd lost my mind.

    Anyway, really interesting because I'd been thinking about this for a while.

    Since Mar 2009 • 164 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    All mass murderers were pot smokers

    Ok, your homework is to produce a complete list of everyone who murdered four or more people and a reference to them smoking weed. Don't post again until you've done it.

    (I reckon Mohamed Atta and his cohorts didn't smoke dope, it being against their religion and that, but references to the contrary are welcomed).

    Geoff, how do you know which of your students smoke?

    More to the point, how do you know any of them don't?

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen McIntyre,

    And I simply don't see how legalising cannabis will make it less available.

    Legalising cannabis will make it more available to adults in a far safer environment than we currently have; therefore encouraging adults to give it a go and see if they prefer it to alcohol.

    But please remember I'm not advocating cannabis use.

    Because I'm looking at a system based on the model set by the Netherlands, cannabis would be R18 or more and outlets - cafes, Daktories? - would require customers to present ID; the same way we currently regulate alcohol. It's not perfect, but it's a damn sight better than 'tinny' houses which happily sell pot to my 14 year-old son's classmates.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2010 • 37 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford,

    Take the pressure off the cannabis end and we will see a shift - albeit slight - in the use rates away from alcohol and towards cannabis.

    A shift towards an amsterdam style dope cafe culture,
    might make alcohol less trendy.

    I also believe that legalising pot will reduce tobacco consumption - possibly quite considerably.

    I have no idea how that works. Can you elaborate a bit?

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4306 posts Report Reply

  • Shay Lambert,

    it's a damn sight better than 'tinny' houses which happily sell pot to my 14 year-old sons classmates.

    If you are proposing sales restrictions, what makes you think your son's 14 year-old classmates won't still be buying pot from a tinny house?

    Criminals don't care what the legalities are, they care about whether they can make money and if a large chunk of their market still can't buy cannabis legally, they will keep selling to them. As I said earlier the blackmarket is so well established, it won't just disappear.

    Auckland • Since May 2009 • 78 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    I once asked my son if he could buy any illegal drugs at school at lunchtime. 'Of course not,' he replied, with a look that said parents are so stupid, 'they don't sell them at the canteen'.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3196 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen McIntyre,

    If you are proposing sales restrictions, what makes you think your son's 14 year-old classmates won't still be buying pot from a tinny house?

    Just look at the Netherlands. Their rate of teen use is a fraction of ours.

    My elder son is now 16. At 14, his friends smoked mostly pot because it was easier to buy than beer. Now, some of his friends are finding it easier to pass off for 18 and are shifting over to alcohol instead.

    What irony: we live in a country where it's easier for a 14 year-old to buy cannabis than booze, and easier for an adult to buy booze than pot!

    Auckland • Since Jan 2010 • 37 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Bell,

    Stephen or anyone else -- can we crowdsource this? -- feel free to post those links in comments.

    Rather than go hunting down all those citations, I'd recommend this recent report (Beckley Foundation's Cannabis Commission) for probably the best and most recent review of cannabis harm literature: that's both harm from pot, and from the system "controlling" pot.

    Good to see NORML beginning to get their ideas out there now as we head towards a major review of our drug law - but Stephen, I don't think your analysis is quite there yet (as previous comments above note - the alcohol v cannabis argument has its flaws).

    And it's probably time NORML detailed what it means by "legalisation".

    Ross Bell, NZ Drug Foundation

    Wellington, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 168 posts Report Reply

  • Zippy Gonzales,

    Well said Stephen and thanks Russell for posting this up. I'm utterly unsurprised that the NZ Herald refused publication even during the silly season when they'll print almost anything else. Cannabis is a substitute good for many of their advertisers.

    Many of the sources can be found in NORML's Medicinal Cannabis written submission in support of the recent petition. I posted many research links in a Public Address column a couple of years back, so I can vouch for their authenticity.

    Off the top of my head, here's a blast at crowdsourcing one of the references:

    it has been described by a US Drug Enforcement Administration Judge as "one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man".

    That was Judge Francis Young, as mentioned in NORML's select committee hearing.

    The Dunedin and Christchurch longitudinal studies have shown reasonably convincingly that the long-term risks of cannabis are much higher in users under 18, and the earlier the first use the greater the risk.

    Cannabis should be R18. We used to have places where adults could congregate away from the kids. We called them pubs. Nowadays, even the NYE parties must be G rated (Deaf Lemon reference ;-)

    That said, there are cases where cannabis might be prescribed for children in specific cases. I think people who accept a society which prescribes SSRIs to kids, with all their wonderful side effects, can't really go on about the evils of marijuana.

    One of the more striking conclusions from the Auckland Uni School of Medicine survey on drug us is the major reason people give for stopping using cannabis: they didn't like it any more .

    Yep. For the overwhelming majority, cannabis is just a phase they go though, a bit like Lesbians Until Graduation (LUGs). I heard 66 percent or more who try it, move on.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 186 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen McIntyre,

    I also believe that legalising pot will reduce tobacco consumption.

    I have no idea how that works. Can you elaborate a bit?

    Purely my own opinion: as an former-cigarette smoker I believe that legal cannabis would be be used as a substitute for tobacco my many habitual smokers who like the sensation of inhaling smoke but don't actually enjoy the taste, the smell or effects of nicotine.

    And again, given the fact that cannabis is statistically safer than tobacco, any swap from cigarette smoking to cannabis is going to mean a positive result in overall public health outcomes.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2010 • 37 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Its my body. Not yours.

    Noone should be able to dictate what I can or cannot consume, regardless of the harm to myself if I so choose - unless I harm others.

    I can't buy this argument.

    As a society we have responsibilities to each other, both to the community, and individuals in it. That includes concern about what people do to themselves that can cause them harm.

    To me it's not a question of whether we should allow you to put whatever the hell you want into your body, because if I see someone down a whole bottle of sleeping pills I'm hopefully going to do something. It's about what we do about people's actions. Currently we put them before the court and then in jail. In some instances we should probably just make it legal, possibly in a limited way. In others we should transfer our concern from crime to health, particularly dangerous addictice substances. Some we might just wish continue to keep illegal.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Shay Lambert,

    Stephen, I don't mean to sound like some sort of anti-drug moraliser - I'm not, I actually agree with decriminalisation with some reservations. I just don't buy the supposed social benefits you seem to envision.

    As for the "just look at the Netherlands" argument, this is New Zealand, not the Netherlands. Replicating their policies will not have the same results for a multitude of attitudinal, social, historical, geographic and cultural reasons.

    Auckland • Since May 2009 • 78 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    just a phase they go though, a bit like Lesbians Until Graduation (LUGs)

    I don't want to derail this excellent thread, so I shall just put my hands over my face and groan quietly.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • andin,

    And their coalition partners Act and the Maori Party are lots more inclined to support legalisation than NZ First or the Progressives ever were.

    I can only hope you are right and I am wrong.
    But legalising pot to raise a possible new tax revenue stream is a dumb primary argument, and I cant see anyone buying it.

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1881 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen McIntyre,

    I just don't buy the supposed social benefits you seem to envision.

    Why? What makes you so sure things won't happen this way? Why the deep level of mistrust and fear around cannabis? What do you think is the worst thing that would happen if cannabis - rather than mostly being grown and sold by criminal organisations that also run the 'P' market - were regulated in much the same way that alcohol is (age restrictions, trading restrictions, some - hopefully more - advertising restrictions, etc)?

    Auckland • Since Jan 2010 • 37 posts Report Reply

  • Zippy Gonzales,

    Sorry. I was trying to find the right metaphor and that one kept waving its hands.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 186 posts Report Reply

  • John Fouhy,

    The argument is a lot simpler.

    Its my body. Not yours.

    Noone should be able to dictate what I can or cannot consume, regardless of the harm to myself if I so choose

    And we should privatise the health system, so that you don't get care if you don't have insurance and can't meet the cost of treatment yourself...

    ...right?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 87 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen McIntyre,

    Cannabis may be legal in California this year. If so, it will provide a model for NZ to consider when we change the law here. Go to:

    http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/politics/Planting-the-Seed-for-Legal-Pot-81222877.html

    Auckland • Since Jan 2010 • 37 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    And their coalition partners Act and the Maori Party are lots more inclined to support legalisation than NZ First or the Progressives ever were.

    Really? I disagree on that matter. I think that New Zealand is still at least a decade a way from any significant change towards evidence based drug laws.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    The argument is a lot simpler. Its my body. Not yours.

    OMG I agree with Mikee.

    Must do something about that, lets see:

    I don't believe the hippy argument that cannabis is a wonderful and beneficial 'erb, and that if we were allowed it then everyone would stop drinking the Evil Booze and all would be good.

    For one thing, they don't substitute. A spliff doesn't replace a cold beer on a hot day, or a glass of wine with a meal. But mainly, all substances have effects that can be problematic for some people in some circumstances.

    I don't see substance abuse as a problem with substances, but a problem with people. If you have a population with serious issues around self-respect and social exclusion, those will manifest themselves in substance abuse, as well as many other ways. We have that population at the moment - it's a consequence of our socio-economic system delivering bad outcomes for a sizeable minority. Countries with less untrammelled capitalism, like several in northern Europe, have less of these problems. Nor, on the whole, do educated middle class drug users, of whom there are many.

    So fixing drug abuse isn't about controlling access to drugs, it's about social change so people can cope with life (including the existence of psychoactive substances). It's not about making it worse through propertarianism, incidentally.

    Having said that, prohibition (of *any* substance) is one thing that makes matters worse, and we should end it. We need to have some kind of regulation, based on harm reduction, but criminal sanctions against the end user shouldn't be in the mix.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Just thinking,

    Yeah, I trust our health professionals, working in our environment & here's the latest.

    8% increase in lung cancer risk.

    http://erj.ersjournals.com/cgi/content/short/31/2/280

    One for Gum Disease and the increased toxicity of pot.
    http://dunedinstudy.otago.ac.nz/Publications%20and%20Documents/Summary%20and%20Media%20Sheets/Cannabis%20and%20gum%20disease%20fact%20sheet%20UPDATED.pdf

    Like opium & uranium, it might have positive medical uses too, but with major dangers, primarily mental health.

    Putaringamotu • Since Apr 2009 • 1158 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Bell,

    The same debate, but on YouTube!

    Wellington, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 168 posts Report Reply

  • Shay Lambert,

    Why? What makes you so sure things won't happen this way? Why the deep level of mistrust and fear around cannabis?

    Hang on a minute, how did we get there?!? Your straw man looks like it's coming together nicely, but it's got nothing to do with my dislike for your arguments.

    As I've said, at least twice in this thread, I support decriminalisation. From a harm minimisation view point, it has merit - in drugs education, for example - and it would free up the courts and the police to catch bad arses which would be a good thing.

    What do you think is the worst thing that would happen

    More people will smoke more dope.

    Given I've already addressed why I don't think legalisation will lead to a reduction in alcohol consumption, perhaps you could explain to me what the social benefits of that would be (and "I like getting stoned" isn't a social benefit).

    Auckland • Since May 2009 • 78 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    And we should privatise the health system, so that you don't get care if you don't have insurance and can't meet the cost of treatment yourself...

    ...right?

    Actually, Mike's a libertarian Act member, so he is actually going to say yes to that.

    But, yep, that's a key principle. In return for for a public health umbrella, the state has some rights to curb certain destructive activities.

    As regards drugs, there's certainly an argument to prohibit -- or restrict -- drugs that pose an extremely high risk: drugs with strong addictive potential, potential for overdose and a high rate of fatality. Even then, sensible policy seeks to minimise risk -- there's no sense in adding HIV and Hep C to all the other risks of heroin use, so you operate a needle exchange programme.

    But as Dr David Nutt is fond of pointing out, Ecstasy is, on the numbers, less dangerous than horse-riding. I'll take a guess and say that more people die as a consequence of going fishing every year than die as a result of using marijuana.

    Governments cannot and should not outlaw every risky activity.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22747 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    Geoff, how do you know which of your students smoke?

    Through completely unscientific methods, based on dealing with 300-400 students a year. You get essays submitted ripe with the smell of smoke, students construct arguments for decriminalisation (usually around not-well-constructed analyses of media coverage), and general demanour. This is not to say that drink culture (and P) can be just as much a problem.

    As for 'it is my body and I can do what I want with it', that is the usual odious libertarian argument. Such folk can do what they want--ingest cyanide for all I care (indeed, I wish some libertarians would)--but I don't want such values (a moral vacuum?)) imposed on my world.

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2537 posts Report Reply

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