In Response to Grant Miller
I’d like to respond positively to his arguments. Grant says:
It’s a bit like making an argument that armed robbery should be dealt with by the courts, but possession of an offensive weapon should be erased as a criminal offence. Possession of an offensive weapon is a trivial matter that need not concern the police, it might be argued.
I don’t recall us banning the possession of firearms, knives, hammers or other items that can be used as offensive weapons. We regulate them – heavily in some instances – but that is not the same as total prohibition.
Before there is drug abuse, there is drug use that the user thinks is not too harmful. Before users know it, they are in over their heads. That’s how addiction works.
The best way to prevent addiction is to check it at the earliest sign of a problem.
One way to prevent harm is to discourage substance use in the first place – expensive treatment programmes for abuse are no match for this. Why would a responsible state wait for the use to turn into abuse before getting serious?
A powerful way of sending a message that drug-taking is a poor choice is to make it against the law.
Plenty to agree with there (and I’m glad Grant separates use from abuse) but by that logic we should ban alcohol and tobacco. Is that what Grant is advocating?
How many people do not consume illegal substances simply because they are illegal?
Some, yes. But not many. Thousands of people use cannabis despite it being illegal and by doing so commit a criminal act thus in a sense internally condoning criminal behaviour when they otherwise wouldn’t. The main reason most people don’t do ‘P’ is because it is nasty stuff that messes your life up. ‘P’ use actually peaked (as best we know) back in about 2002. The main reason it has been falling is that people are aware of the consequences of using it and don’t want to go down that path.
His true point is presumably that the health system would do a better job of getting lives back on track than the justice system does, though it’s not clear why he thinks the justice system’s role should be watered down.
Just ask! But I will defer to the Drug Foundation’s Ross Bell to answer this one. He said “you send someone away for a minor drug conviction and they can come out a meth cook.”
Ninety-five per cent of offenders sent to prison after being convicted of charges such as possession of drugs or utensils had at the same time been convicted of other more serious crimes, the ministry pointed out. That rather makes a lie of the artificial distinctions some politicians and lawyers like to make.
So put them away for the real crimes, not having an addiction.
If he plans to be consistent in applying the philosophy he seems to be espousing, perhaps he might also advocate relaxing transport law. The only person who will be harmed if I don’t wear a seatbelt is me, I might argue. True, the health system may have to pick up the pieces of my avoidable injuries, but my lack of seatbelt wearing should be a health issue, not a criminal one.
This is an interesting one. I use the seatbelt analogy a lot to discuss whether or not a particular intervention is justifiable. An argument could easily be mounted that it is a breach of your individual rights in order to save the collective cost of cleaning up the extra mess caused by your non-compliance. The same goes for prohibiting drug use. The question always has to be is it justifiable?
Requiring you to use a seatbelt is a small imposition and is hugely effective. Failure to do so results in a fine with no criminal conviction.
Judging the level of imposition caused by prohibiting the use of psychoactive substances is pretty subjective but let’s say for the majority of the population it’s not a big deal. However can we say it is effective? I think not unless we adhere to Grant’s argument that thousands more people would be using drugs if they were legal. And those convicted may go to jail and do get a criminal record that harms their job prospects in the future.
If we are considering harm-to-self vs harm-to-others in this argument, have a look at the drug harm index that indicates Alcohol is the clear leader in the harm-to-others stakes.
Let’s not be nuanced. Drugs are harmful and it is a naive state that sends confusing signals to citizens.
Again, I look forward to Grant launching his campaign to return to the good old days of Alcohol prohibition.
I appreciate Grant’s point of view and I hope this debate will be advanced by his contribution.