Hard News by Russell Brown


Drugs and Sex

It's hard not to see MPs' rejection of Metiria Turei's medical cannabis bill as the result of a desperate desire to avoid talking about the issue, rather than a genuine exercise of conscience. There is patently enough of an argument here to have at least let the bill go to select committee.

There may have been some problems with allowing individuals to cultivate marijuana, and certainly some debate over the schedule of illnesses for which a doctor could prescribe pot: "depression and mental illness" and simple "pain" being among them.

But medical marijuana laws have been implemented in other jurisdictions without the sky falling. It would at least have been useful to consider the evidence at select committee. But, as usual, it was easier for most of our representatives to kick for touch.

Meanwhile, the last paragraph of TV3's story notes the forthcoming Law Commission review of the Misuse of Drugs Act, and offers an embarrassing journalistic failure:

The Law Commission is currently holding a review of the Misuse of Drugs Act and when the results come back later this month, Green co-leader Tariana Turia says she will set out to tackle the topic again.

I guess all those Maoris look the same.

Staying with the theme of drugs, George Monbiot has an interesting column on the Guardian website, in which he outlines the real moral case for abstaining from illicit drugs -- or some of them, anyway: because for so long as they are prohibited, to consume them is to support a filthy, deadly business:

I believe that informed adults should be allowed to inflict whatever suffering they wish – on themselves. But we are not entitled to harm other people. I know people who drink fair-trade tea and coffee, shop locally and take cocaine at parties. They are revolting hypocrites.

Every year cocaine causes some 20,000 deaths in Colombia and displaces several hundred thousand people from their homes. Children are blown up by landmines; indigenous people are enslaved; villagers are tortured and killed; rainforests are razed. You'd cause less human suffering if instead of discreetly retiring to the toilet at a media drinks party, you went into the street and mugged someone. But the counter-cultural association appears to insulate people from ethical questions. If commissioning murder, torture, slavery, civil war, corruption and deforestation is not a crime, what is?

Thus, Monbiot favours medical assistance for cocaine addicts -- but continued prosecution of casual users, for so long as cocaine is prohibited. Or, to put it another way, for so long as prohibition dictates the ugly means of production.

Monbiot's piece is occasioned by last week's release of the UN world drug report, which, as Alan Travis noted in the Guardian itself, had two notable features. One is the substantial reduction in the global production of heroin and cocaine in 2008. The other is a modest toning down of the rhetoric of UN drug tsar and general in the war on drugs Antonia Maria Costa:

But in this year's annual report he has adopted a far more emollient approach than in the past, stressing that drug addiction is a health problem, arguing for universal access to drug treatment, and arguing that a better policy mix of improving both security and health is now needed. As he puts it: "It is no longer sufficient to say: 'No to drugs'."

Media coverage here of the report was entirely parochial and focused on New Zealand's high reported rates of use of several illicit drugs. This isn't new, and I've never been sure how much of it is indeed a reporting issue, but there seems no doubt that a relatively large number of New Zealanders like their drugs.

You can see a comparative table here.

And still with The Guardian, there's a short post by Claudia Rubin of the British drug-reform charity Release about the new Nice People take Drugs advertising campaign. She says:

The government is reluctant to tackle the subject firstly because of the culture of fear of drugs that is used as justification for the zero-tolerance approach, and also due to politicians' uncertainty about how to make the transition from failed to improved drug policies.

The Nice People Take Drugs campaign is needed so that the public can give politicians the confidence that they need to abandon the ridiculous 'tough on drugs' stance and instead focus on finding real and effective ways to properly control drugs and manage drug use. This would make drugs much less dangerous and, critically, less available to children.


One of the best things I've read lately is Julie at The Hand Mirror's pre-emptive letter about sex to 18 month-old "Wriggly" ; a note for when the time does come to talk about sex. It is sensible, human, thoughtful and sweet.


And lastly, as I noted earlier in the week, this week's Media7 is the first to go out on the Sky platform -- 9.10pm tonight on Channel 97.

It's a pacy show that covers broadband (it's 10 years this week since Telecom launched Jetstream DSL) and the state of the magazine trade, with Simon Grigg casting some light on Michael Jackson's posthumous musical career. Simon Pound also has a very funny track on the public's low opinion of journalists. Be my guest ad have a look, especially if you've never watched it before.


Also: there's a Dunedin Public Address readers' meet-up tomorrow, at Ironic Bar, (opposite the railway station), from5.30pm onwards. For any further info, you can email Grant McDougall at. krautrockboy@hotmail.com .

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