What are the specific practical changes to New Zealand’s Drug laws I am advocating? Some of them are speculative, some would need to be capable of change and amendment as circumstances dictate, all of them need urgent consideration.
So on to the specifics:
Make all drugs legal to possess and use: ~ tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, AZP, opium/heroin, LSD, cocaine, amphetamines, all of them. Yes some are more problematic than others, but the principle cannot be compromised, they are either all legal or they are not. In any event, like I have said previously, the problem is not the object, it is the behaviour of people. The legality or not of any drug does nothing to change that.
The better ones will drive out the bad ones: ~ most people don’t use drugs (alcohol accepted) and of those that do, most would use the soft drugs from choice, from there into the more hardcore drugs it is a descending scale of use. If all drugs are freely and commercially available and in standardised, quality controlled doses, the vast majority of users will gravitate towards the “better” drugs. Meaning the ones that are less likely to mess you up. Why would you use a weird drug unless you were specifically into it for the weirdness. Yes there will be those types of users, there are already anyway, and yes there would be a fair amount of experimentation in the first instance, but over time drug use actually revolves around fashion, availability and price. You can’t do anything about fashion with legislation, so that’s by the by. Availability I am advocating as freely available, so there is no supply constraint to push people onto different drugs. And price can be controlled in a legal market, so that the easiest and cheapest choice is the most benign and controllable option. That way you can manipulate the environment and human nature to scale the use of drugs in the direction you desire.
Make it legal to manufacture and sell: ~ Just like Tobacco and Alcohol currently, make the manufacture and sale of all drugs legal, but with the sorts of appropriate regulation that exist for the currently legal drugs. Only persons of good character can be involved commercially and it may only be sold through approved establishments. Another option is to require a license, something like a driving license in order to purchase certain classes of drugs. That way you automatically end up with a register of users and should know who your potential problems are likely to be. The manufacture and sale of drugs can be taxed and the proceeds of that channelled into drug abuse programs. On the other side of the coin, anyone involved in the manufacture and sale of drugs who is not authorised to do so can still be sanctioned severely under the law. That would be particularly necessary in respect of cross border commerce. We would not want to be the cause for any other country to complain about our enterprises violating other countries laws. Commercialisation of drugs within NZ would have to be a strictly domestic scenario, with the laws to back that up. That could well be difficult to enforce, true, but it is significantly easier due to our country being an island a long way from anywhere else.
Regulate the people commercially involved: ~ We already have many industries that require careful vetting and licensing to be commercial operators or professional practitioners. Regulating the commercialisation of the drug trade is no great stretch. A criminal conviction would be one obvious disqualification. But if we already have regulations for brothels, pharmaceuticals, alcohol and firearms, then recreational drugs pose no regulatory or management problems. As long as there is a buck in it, people will be interested in being in the business. This way you get to choose the people that are going to be involved.
Tax it quite heavily: ~ because drugs are currently illegal, the cost of drugs at present incorporates a risk premium, and a steep one at that. Making drugs legal would automatically make them a lot cheaper which offers the opportunity to tax them pretty heavily. That generates a revenue stream to pay for the problems that drugs are going to cause. What’s more it is a significantly self-balancing equation. The more drugs are consumed, the bigger the likelihood of problems, but also the more revenue there is to deal with that. And it isn’t costing the rest of the economy.
Monitor and regulate stringently: ~ Like I have said, the problems are not going to go away, but they can be ameliorated if you have systems and institutions in place to respond. The first step is to know what your problems are. To that end, if you have a dedicated tax revenue stream, you have the resources available then to able to establish the means to monitor and regulate both stringently and effectively, particularly if there is an open environment instead of a clandestine one.
Drive out the criminal gangs: ~ deal to them with force if necessary and with other options – legitimate opportunities – if possible. Ultimately the lack of money and the regulations regarding the legitimate drug businesses should force gangs out of drugs. Expect however that they will resist this and that they will try to adapt their business. In one respect this is an easy problem. Gangs are inherently a criminal conspiracy if they are involved in illegal business. Outlaw them and confiscate all their property if they remain involved in criminal activity. Alternatively, give them some legitimate options to do something else if possible. But under no circumstances leave open the possibility of remaining involved in illegal drugs trafficking. There should also be a significant number of other beneficial consequences too, burglaries by youths under the direction of the gangs to pay for their drugs should also cease. In the end the proof of correct policy choices should ultimately be the removal of the rational for the gangs existence and they will die from the lack of money to sustain them
Accept that certain social use is tolerable and acceptable: ~ This is going to be a hard one for many to accept because they have never known anything other than the current system. But it is going to be necessary to accept legal and open drug using, the messages are going to have to change. If we can cope with alcohol, then we can cope with the other drugs too. We simply need to implement the right rules and then get used to the change. That will take a bit of getting used to and some trial and error along the way. Such is life, we will adapt.
Build systems to deal with problematic drug use: ~ Set up a wide scale treatment programme for drug abuse, it needs to be a healthcare initiative in its own right. Intervene quickly and early where there are issues we don’t want perpetuating. Driving while using should attract instant intervention. We currently have drink-driving prohibitions, so the principle is well established, any other drugs should be no different. However, we fail to deal effectively with this problem, driving while under the influence of any intoxicant should be seen as one of the early warning signs that we use to intervene decisively. Fines maybe, group therapy and probation definitely. They should go straight onto a register and be required to complete all sorts of courses, hassled until at the very least they draw a link between their drug use habits and their problems, even if those are externally imposed. Ideally though we want early intervention that is flexible, responsive and adaptive, coupled with education that is truthful, realistic and ongoing. Speaking of education, it also needs to start in the classroom, there are a number of good programs and initiatives already, but it needs to be completely truthful too. Messages that simply say “just say No” are wasted on their target audience. Yes those are fine for most kids, but they weren’t the problem in the first place. Give the sector in danger all the information they want and need. Better that they are safe users than that they are ignorant ones. Very much like sex education really.
Serious drug abusers: ~ The approach used around the country for dealing with this problem will need to be region specific. The approach on the West Coast is not going to be what works in a metropolitan centre. There are already quite a few drug abuse programs and many of them work really well, albeit that is always going to be a relative thing. However, the one thing I will add to this debate is that Auckland in particular as the biggest urban centre could look at the concept of a leper colony on one of the gulf islands. This would be easy enough, they could be sectioned under a mental health rule. There is no reason why it could not be perfectly humane, but it can also be quite prescriptive. The trick is to define exactly what would constitute acceptable restrictions. Let me just throw some possibilities on the table for debate. Round up all the homeless street addicts and transport them away from “decent” people. That’s not as bad as it might sound, leaving people who are not coping out on the streets to try to cope when they are patently incompetent is no sort of caring at all. That’s just neglect masquerading as respect for individual liberty. This idea puts people who are of a type all together, where they can be monitored, restrained if necessary and where they provide direct object lessons to one another as well. When they have demonstrated that they are no longer abusers, then they can be free to leave. The inmates can even run the asylum, many of them are very likely to want to be involved in programs to assist recovery and help fellow addicts. Who better than other users to determine when one of them is bullshitting. They are physically separated from the rest of society, but there is no reason that family and friends cannot visit freely, it would be no harder than visiting Waiheke for instance. There is no reason they could not visit the mainland either under appropriate circumstances. Finally, I would suggest that they be free to indulge in whatever drug they want to, to whatever extent they want to. If they want to drink themselves to death, then quite frankly, who are we to say no, so long as they are doing it in a way that doesn’t harms the rest of us. Sitting on an island with not much else to do but drink yourself to death, may not sound very conducive to recovery, but is it really that much different from their current situation. If they need to do some degree of work supporting their community in exchange for credit at the drug store, I don’t find that unreasonable and could well lead to something like a work habit and they would still be on something like a sickness benefit anyway. They would perforce have to be in the company of other addicts, but frankly I suspect many would prefer like company actually. It may seem an alarming concept, but is it really any worse than their current situations? If they do find it an appalling place to be, then that is surely a great motivation to work to change their situation. Yes, some of them may prefer to live in amongst the rest of the society, but do we want them amongst us? That is at least as legitimate an opinion. So, could or should we do it? Well… it is an idea to debate or contemplate anyway.
The good thing is that in-fact most people either don’t use drugs at all, use only very occasionally and sparingly, or use within acceptable boundaries. The ones that don’t are the minority and with proper policies that numbers could be managed down to an even smaller total. There is such a thing as acceptable drug use, so lets not get into a moral panic over something we don’t need to.
The bad things are that the problem users will never go away, we are going to have to learn to live with that and deal with that as best we can. It is critical too that we separate drugs from crime, that is just a disaster from any way you look at it. Also, much of the problem is created by wasted and broken lives that are the result of wider social issues that have nothing to do with drugs per-se, we need to rebuild our society so that we aren’t creating people who need to be numbed and medicated just to cope with what currently passes as their life. Abuse of drugs says as much about the state of our society as it does about our human propensity to get stoned.
A little additional reading for those that are interested.
Giving heroin to addicts ~ by Gaelle Faure
Why doctors are giving heroin to heroin addicts.
Apparently there are a few other people who agree with my sentiments: