I am a staunch opponent of recreational drugs. I have personally witnessed hundreds of lives ruined by drugs from my school and university days through to my community and constituency work as Nelson’s MP. I see the impact drug abuse has on family violence, crime, child neglect, suicide, welfare dependency, our road toll and people’s mental health.
The change causing controversy this month is the amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act directing Police that they may only prosecute for possession of illegal drugs after considering all other options, including treatment. This radical change applies to all illegal drugs like cannabis, meth and heroin. The NZ Law Society says that under these changes they cannot foresee any prosecutions being taken for possession of illegal drugs. The Police Association strongly oppose it saying it amounts to defacto decriminalisation. It will make Police’s job of limiting access to drugs near impossible.
The Government’s philosophy behind these changes is to make drugs a health issue rather than a criminal issue. I am all for increasing access and support for drug treatment and rehabilitation, but these programmes will always have mixed success rates. The best cure is prevention. I am also all for educational programmes that help young people make better choices. The problem with decriminalisation and going soft on enforcement is it removes any personal responsibility and sends a signal that drug use is not a problem.
The Government is also proposing, at the Green Party’s insistence, a referendum in 2020 on legalizing cannabis. This in itself sends a message to young people that the Prime Minister and Government thinks cannabis use is OK. The medical evidence on cannabis, like from Otago University’s world famous longitudinal study, shows its use increases mental health problems, reduces educational achievement and acts as a gateway to more serious drugs.
I am cautious of the argument that if you regulate rather than ban a recreational drug, you can better manage its harm. We tried this in 2013 with party pills and synthetic cannabis and it was a disaster. People falsely believed these drugs were safe if the Government was regulating them.
We also need to look to other countries and states that have been experimenting with legalizing cannabis. The experience is that usage increases and so has the harm. Criminal gangs remain involved. Age limits are easily evaded when a drug becomes legal.
I am also frustrated that the Government has made no attempt to address the ongoing problem of drugged drivers. The number of drugged driver road fatalities at 79 now exceeds drink drivers of 70 per year. National has repeatedly tried to introduce a Bill enabling random roadside drug testing like for alcohol, but this has been opposed by Government parties.
This Government’s soft approach to drugs is seriously flawed. We need to be strong, clear and consistent that happiness does not come in a bong or a bottle. These measures will make us less healthy, poorer and a less successful nation.