Drug Policy

February 16th, 2009 at 5:39 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Government has found itself in the embarrassing position of jointly financing a $165,000 conference on drug policy with one of the world’s leading advocates of decriminalising marijuana use.

Not sure this is an issue, as the funding does not appear to give any input into the agenda or speakers.

Billionaire currency speculator ’ Open Society Institute has given $35,000 to this week’s symposium, which will be attended by Government ministers, police and a judge and will examine New Zealand’s drug laws.

Mr Soros is known for financing drug reform campaigns, and most recently backed a referendum in the American state of Massachusetts which decriminalised possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Soros needs something to do, now Bush is no longer in office. He spent almost NZ$50 million in 2004 trying to stop Busg get re-elected.

The Ministry of Health confirmed its funding of the symposium last week. This was after Mr Ryall told the ministry to review its involvement with all conferences, and leaned on it to cancel a conference of more than 300 health professionals that would have cost $123,000.

The spokeswoman said Mr Ryall – who was listed on a draft agenda to open the symposium – found out about the ministry’s sponsorship only late last week. She said it would now be opened by associate health minister Peter Dunne, who would be telling those attending “the Government absolutely does not support the decriminalisation of , and is committed to a strong enforcement of that law”.

Certain Government Departments seem to be having trouble understaning what a “no surprises” policy means.

Personally I think it is a good thing if a drug policy conference debates, ummm well drug policy. But there is a legitimate question about whether Government Departments should fund a conference considering such issues, when the Government is not seeking to change its policy.

Labour leader said he would be concerned if there was “any motivation” by conference organisers to legalise marijuana, which the Labour Party opposed.

That’s an interesting statement, and a sign I think of the Goff leadership. Labour under Clark made some moves towards de-criminalisation, but then ruled it out as part of agreements with United Future. Now they are not constrained by United Future, it is fascinating Goff unilaterally declares the Labour Party position. I suspect a secret poll of the Labour Caucus would find close to half, and maybe more than half, quite open to considering decriminalisation on its merits.

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42 Responses to “Drug Policy”

  1. reid (16,183 comments) says:

    If you decriminalize every drug you remove most sources of income from organised crime. That has to be worth looking at seriously since these days we not only have our local home grown gangs but also people who’ve snuck in beneath the immigration radar like the Triads. All these people are extremely bad news and the only reason the public don’t talk about it more is because these guys are careful to keep their less savoury activities relatively hidden so they don’t scare the public.

    IMO, drugs are less of a crime issue than it is a public health issue. Crime is a side-effect of criminalization, not an outcome the root cause of which is drugs: i.e. the root cause of drug-driven-crime is not drugs, it’s the criminalization of drugs.

    Trouble is, the debate when you raise this point usually centres around crime and morality and not around public health.

    The fact is, drug enforcement policy costs billions not just in police time but in border control and intelligence and in cost to the victims of drug-fueled crime.

    It would be difficult but not impossible to design a workable public health regime that allowed the controlled distribution of drugs to users in a way that prevented as much as possible the deleterious effects we currently experience and the design of that kind of regime is to me, the most rational thing to debate on this subject.

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  2. Ross_Bell (12 comments) says:

    Anyone with half a brain will see from the agenda (http://healthydruglaw.org.nz/) that this conference IS NOT about legalisation of drugs – it’s funded primarily by 2 health organisations (mine – NZ Drug Foundation, and the NZ Society on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, chaired by Hon Max Bradford). Neither organisation has a legalisation agenda; rather we’re argueing that ‘the drug problem’ is largley a health and social issue, and needs a health and social response (e.g. getting people who need help into good drug treatment). Our event will inform the Law Commission’s review of the Misuse of Drugs Act, and will feed into a major United Nations review of global drug control (www.unodc.org).

    Surprising after being interviewed by the Herald last night that they still ran the line of a conspiracy involving Soros, when I was quite clear the funding is from the Open Society Institue’s Global Drug Policy Program: “The program’s main objective is to infuse a more balanced approach into international drug policy that incorporates a greater focus on public health and human rights.” http://www.soros.org/initiatives/drugpolicy/about

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  3. greenfly (1,059 comments) says:

    A very expensive conference where the outcome is already decided … I thought this government promised to rid the country of such waste!

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  4. Patrick Starr (3,675 comments) says:

    Reid you could use a similar argument on enforcement around drink driving. There are far better things for the police to be spending money on but you suggest decriminalising every drug ???

    “the root cause of drug-driven-crime is not drugs” seems to be at odds with everything we’ve learned about P

    If these guys need to understand the downside of marijuana use they dont need to go to a conference – they should just go online to http://www.whoar

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  5. Ross_Bell (12 comments) says:

    Greenfly- the govt is putting up $30k – and they’re getting a huge return, including the most senior UN drugs official ever in NZ (that was no easy feat). The bulk of the funding is from the 2 charitable trusts who are USING THEIR OWN MONEY to put this on.

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  6. Ross_Bell (12 comments) says:

    Further, the outcome isn’t decided – the Law Commission’s review will run throughout 2009, and the UN summit takes place next month. If, of course, you’re referring to cannabis decriminalisation… that isn’t the focus on the symposium.

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  7. dad4justice (8,041 comments) says:

    Ross, disregard anything the greenfly says ’cause he is as high as a kite on aphid dust.

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  8. libertyscott (359 comments) says:

    There is an obvious case for changing the legal status of drugs, but only if there are matching moves to eliminate public health care for drug users, embark on a serious campaign against those who drive while under the influence and progressively liberalise supply (having legal supply channels through pharmacies to bypass the gangs). At the same time, putting the Police effort into those who supply to minors, and even testing welfare beneficiaries for use (removing them from welfare if they test positive or refuse to be tested). Ultimately adults should be allowed to ingest whatever they want, as long as they also face the consequences of that behaviour – such as most employers not wanting to know them, not being allowed to drive and constant mental absence as a parent being grounds to remove the children from the drug addled home.

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  9. getstaffed (9,189 comments) says:

    IMO, drugs are less of a crime issue than it is a public health issue

    I understand where you’re coming from reid. However I think that addictions lead to crime right through the supply chain. For addictees, any compulsion to spend money that they don’t have is likely to lead to increased cirminal tendencies, and simply reducing the amount they need to spend per hit wont solve that problem.

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  10. djp (65 comments) says:

    Good points libertyscott, when you let someone else take responsibility for taking care of you (socialized health) then of course they are going to tell you what you can and cant ingest (drugs, smoking.. whats next fried chicken?)

    Who here believes that over half the population of NZ should go to jail?

    Cause thats what “should” happen if our current drug laws were to be enforced.

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  11. getstaffed (9,189 comments) says:

    Ultimately adults should be allowed to ingest whatever they want, as long as they also face the consequences of that behaviour

    I agree libertyscott… but I think our culture is light-years away from being one where personal responsibility of this sort could exist. Everything is someone’s fault, not mine. The system let me down. I didn’t get the support I was entitled to. I didn’t know I was impaired. The pharmacist gave me the Jamaican stuff, not the made-in-NZ stuff etc

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  12. petal (705 comments) says:

    “Personally I think it is a good thing if a drug policy conference debates, ummm well drug policy. But there is a legitimate question about whether Government Departments should fund a conference considering such issues, when the Government is not seeking to change its policy.”

    This has an “appease the Greens” smell all over it by the last Government.

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  13. stephen (4,063 comments) says:

    If these guys need to understand the downside of marijuana use they dont need to go to a conference – they should just go online to…

    this Wikipedia entry – what a tragic waste, a real train wreck.

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  14. stephen (4,063 comments) says:

    This has an “appease the Greens” smell all over it by the last Government.

    I doubt that, as the Greens haven’t made any noises about this issue for years, which has an “appease the scared middle classes” smell all over it.

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  15. goodgod (1,363 comments) says:

    Aahh yes the totally riveting decriminalisation discussion. :roll:

    Illegal Drug users – cuff ‘em and stuff ‘em

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  16. greenfly (1,059 comments) says:

    NActional are contributing $30 000 to this symposium on Drug Reform – for this we are to expect some reform? If not, it’s wasted money, is it not? The involvement of Peter Dunne seems a guarantee that there will be no meaningful reform, bar a loosening of the tobacco and alcohol laws. Go Peter Dunhill – talk about a fox amongst the hens! Mind you, given that DPF says this:
    “.. the funding does not appear to give any input into the agenda or speakers.” it would seem that no government ministers will be speaking or contributing to the debates, thank God!

    [DPF: Don't be a dick - I obviously meant the funding from Soros's group. And as is made clear, the Minister did not approve or even know of the funding]

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  17. dime (9,793 comments) says:

    someone email the o’reilly factor.. this would just about send bill over the edge. he cant stand Soros.

    arent yankee leftists opposed to interferring with how other countries go about their business? :P

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  18. stephen (4,063 comments) says:

    “Aahh yes the totally riveting decriminalisation discussion. :roll:”

    Yes it’s a bit of a yawn, right up there with posts on abortion and religion in getting the comment numbers up though :-D

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  19. MikeE (555 comments) says:

    I for one would like to know why noone in the industry of providing, safer legal alternatives to recreational substances was on the agenda.

    Surely it would be helpful to be working with, rather than against those in that industry…

    I’m still waiting for someone to give me one good reason why you should be jailed for ingesting ANY substance into your own body.

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  20. dad4justice (8,041 comments) says:

    “I’m still waiting for someone to give me one good reason why you should be jailed for ingesting ANY substance into your own body.”

    The prisons are that full criminals are celled up in laundry cupboards.

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  21. MikeE (555 comments) says:

    Oh, and part of the reason we can’t legalise substances over her is the UN, I can hardly see that they are going to help with any decrim agendas. The UN being completely against ANY form of sensible drug policy whatsoever

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  22. greenfly (1,059 comments) says:

    MikeE – someone else’s not-freely-given blood?

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  23. Banana Llama (1,105 comments) says:

    Regardless of what people think drug trafficking equals 8 percent of all world trade, seems like there is quite a demand for drugs, crazy thing is most gear is cheaper than chips yet morons will pay thousands of dollars to snort Ajax and Lithium up their nose.

    Wonder why they end up in jail.

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  24. He-Man (270 comments) says:

    $50 million is just chump change for Soros.

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  25. PaulL (6,015 comments) says:

    Two ends to the decriminalisation debate:
    – that reflected by LibertyScott – the philisophical position that says “what you do with your own body is your own business, so long as you don’t impact others.” Some agree with this position, some don’t, but it makes for a nice discussion.

    – the pragmatic argument – current policies are failing, people are using drugs anyway. The taxes that should rightly be flowing to the government to pay the costs of this use are instead flowing to the gangs and funding crime. The ability to track who is using drugs has disappeared because they are illegal, so people don’t admit they are using them. The ability to offer health care to move people off their addiction has disappeared again because they are illegal. Anyone who is a user by definition must consort with criminals, making an easy stepping stone to harder drugs and to crime and prostitution so as to fund drugs. The argument is that decriminalising drugs wouldn’t impact all that much how many people use them (they would still be socially stigmatised, they would still be expensive), but would greatly reduce the costs associated with that use.

    I’m a subscriber to both these arguments. I accept that our socialised health care system, and our employment safety net, means that the taxpayer picks up the costs of people who use/abuse drugs. But I also accept that we’re paying most of these costs today anyway, so change in policy wouldn’t greatly change the taxpayer cost. On the upside, it would change the tax subsidy – I would anticipate that, like tobacco and alcohol, there would be a substantial tax. The price of drugs probably wouldn’t greatly change, but the huge margins would accrue to the government as taxes, rather than to the gangs as profit.

    There are of course large problems with doing this in terms of our international obligations. But we could start small – maybe just with cannabis – and see how we go.

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  26. Murray M (455 comments) says:

    I refer anyone with an interest in the so called drug addiction field to read “Romancing Opiates” by Theodore Dalrymple (Anthony Daniels). Read it and believe it. Everything described in this book I have witnessed with my own eyes. The only thing I have to say about so called drug addicts is that with few exceptions, they are a pack of fucking parasites and should be shot.

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  27. baxter (893 comments) says:

    Wow it looks like the end result will be another crazy United Nations protocol to sign up to……….Waste of money.

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  28. MikeE (555 comments) says:

    “The only thing I have to say about so called drug addicts is that with few exceptions, they are a pack of fucking parasites and should be shot.”

    What about those who use recreationally and responsibly.

    There are A LOT more people than you think.

    Walk down the street for lunch today. I garuntee EVERY person you walk past has a friend who at some stage recreationally uses illegal substances, many of which are less harmful than alcahol. Its that common.

    Yet we want to throw them in jail why?

    I simply cannot comprend how it is socially acceptable to go and get hammered on hard spirits, yet if someone spliffs up they are considered a criminal. Its completely and utterly sensesless.

    Shit, NZ’s crazy drug laws make about as much sense as one of Catherine Delahunty’s speeches.

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  29. kiwi in america (2,495 comments) says:

    Various ideologies and beliefs lie behind calls to liberalise drug laws. Libertarians resist all govt sponsored interventions in health and personal choice issues, open (and closet) users of cannabis dont want to run the risk of a criminal record because of their lifestyle choices and well meaning and educated people sincerely believe that, because the current prohibition laws dont work, then surely it would be easier to decriminalise.

    Fortunately there are real world examples of what can be done and what not to do.

    The experience of Sweden and Holland teaches that decriminalisation leads to defacto legalisation. People seem happy to have a half way house that equates being caught with dope with receiving something akin to a parking ticket. Cannabis in Holland was never legalised – only depenalised in 1976 on the premise that law enforcement could target their efforts on tackling hard drugs. Sounds realistic enough. In practice, the Dutch courts and police engaged in creeping non-legislative liberalisation that led to the coffee shop situation. The results – youth use of cannabis, stable and low through the 60’s and 70’s in the Netherlands, gradually climbed through the late 70’s – mid 90’s to quite high levels. Because the Dutch were soft on soft drugs they ended up being soft on hard drugs. Weak surveillance laws, short prison sentences in luxurious jails and an overall climate of permissiveness to drugs soon turned Holland into the European capital for hard drug trafficking and the world capital for designer drug manufacture and export.

    The Swedish dabbled with cannabis decriminalisation in the 60’s. Soon magistrates were issuing sentencing guidelines akin to defacto legalisation and usage levels (and resultant crime and mental health issues) climbed. The Swedish saw the error of their ways and over the late 70’s – early 90’s enacted a suite of integrated law changes that saw all non pharmaceutical drugs listed the same, big increases in drug treatment availablity and well targetted education campaigns along with enhanced policing policies targetting low level users rather than high level dealers.

    The UN World Drug Report tells the dramatic story of Sweden’s success. Lifetime use of cannabis by NZ and Australian 15 to 25 year olds exceeds 50% and last year use approaches 30%. The same age cohort in Sweden – lifetime use of cannabis is now a mere 9% with last year use around 2% – pretty much the lowest levels of drug use in the Western world.

    There will be howling about nanny state interventions, about Sweden’s homgeneous population and the lack of easy growing conditions like NZ etc etc – all supposed reasons why this result could be never replicated in NZ. The fact is the Dutch have been down the path that Soros promotes – 20 years later, Dutch citizens are by higher and higher percentages urging a reversal of their tolerant drug laws. In Sweden recent public opinion surveys put support for their drug laws at over 94% – the reason why – they like what lower levels of drug use mean for their children growing up.

    You can be wedded to whatever ideology you like about drugs but the real world is this – if you legalise drugs then the criminal gangs move from an illegal trade to a legal trade as evidenced by their indirect ownership of Dutch coffee shops. These shops are well known entry points for harder drug dealing and use. Then we’ll no longer be arguing about decriminalising cannabis but whether its right to legalise heroin or P!

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  30. MikeE (555 comments) says:

    “Then we’ll no longer be arguing about decriminalising cannabis but whether its right to legalise heroin or P!”

    Heroin is legal. via methodone. I should know, I have a family member who is/was an addict.

    And P is an excellent example of where even when we classify a substance strongly, criminalising it has done NOTHING to reduce useage, and has resulted in massive profit for illegal gangs.

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  31. Camryn (552 comments) says:

    Ben Elton’s book “High Society” is excellent reading on this matter. I also second the endorsement of Theodore Dalrymple.

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  32. Camryn (552 comments) says:

    Read *anything* by Theodore Dalrymple.

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  33. kiwi in america (2,495 comments) says:

    MikeE
    Methadone is a prescribed drug under reasonably strict control. Drug liberalisers want heroin to be able to be legally purchased like alcohol or cigarattes. Methadone is dispensed by the specified dose to specified addicts in local community A&D clinic care only from certain controlled pharmacies – so no comparison.

    You clearly didnt read my post at all. Decriminalising/legalising any drug use leads to an increase not a decrease in use. Show we one juristiction in the world where a liberalisation of a drug law led to a decrease in that drug’s usage. Sweden has demonstrated the suite of laws and policies that work to greatly reduce drug use

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  34. Murray M (455 comments) says:

    Mike E, I’m betting your family member is a useless piece of shit who has caused you, and other members of your family untold grief, even while in receipt of a presription of methadone. My definition of “useless piece of shit” may differ from yours, please correct me if I am wrong.

    Cam, thanks for seconding me.

    KIA, your wording of “reasonably strict control” is a matter for debate. Most, if not all of those in receipt of “takeaway doses” sell all or a portion of it to supplement thier DPB, sickness, or invalids benefits.

    Having witnessed first hand the useless individuals that work in A&D clinics, all I can say is that they become more deceiptful and dishonest than the “clients” they pretend to treat. It is an entire industry built on keeping so called qualified, failed, idiots in a job.

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  35. kiwi in america (2,495 comments) says:

    MurrayM
    I agree that the methadone programme in parts of NZ is poorly controlled. My point was that even with the lax monitoring that exists, it is a whole different kettle of fish to have heroin available as easily as booze or fags which is what MikeE was inferring by stating that heroin was already legal.

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  36. PaulL (6,015 comments) says:

    KIA – Alcohol prohibition then? Tobacco prohibition then? I think you’ll find that, whilst Sweden have laws around drug use, the way they use those laws and the way they structure them is quite different from NZ. As you say they chase the users not the dealers (no point in chasing the dealers – even if they are disproportionately young black men who we feel good about locking up), they also have realistic education (not the dumbed down “all drugs kill” but the “cannabis leads to mental illness and depression” type education), and genuine health programs to help addicts. Unfortunately in NZ we don’t really like to invest in that kind of stuff.

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  37. Murray M (455 comments) says:

    KIA, I’m in total agreement with you. The part of NZ where I used to be is Nelson, and the methadone programme is so poorly controlled it’s a fucking disgrace. The DHB should refuse to fund them.

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  38. kiwi in america (2,495 comments) says:

    PaulL
    Alcohol has been part of western culture for thousands of years, tobacco for over 400 years. Their use (and abuse) became ingrained centuries before medical science caught up with the dangers of both drugs. Widespread recreational use of illegal drugs like cannabis, heroin and cocaine has been part of western culture for mere decades and medical research on their harm was far more advanced and thus governmental control far easier to impliment. Tobacco use has been progressively more and more restricted with excellent results.

    There is another key difference between cigarettes, alcohol and cannabis (the most widely used illegal drug) and that is dosage. 1 cigarette per day means medically you are considered a non smoker with almost negligible health effects. Same with one unit of alcohol per day – virtually no harm whatsoever. The harm in cigarettes come with multiple smokes in a day – same with alcohol – 6 units+ in quick succession on a regular basis for harm to occur. One joint of cannabis per day (or a baggie of P or shot of heroin) has an infinitely higher likelihood of causing physical and mental harm. Laws controlling use reflect these differences.

    I concur fully with your thoughts on Sweden. The Swedish use their laws very intelligently and their drug education and treatment programmes are first rate. There is nothing in what the Swedish do that could not be implimented in NZ if there was a change of policy and attitude from the top down.

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  39. MikeE (555 comments) says:

    When addicted was a usesless piece of shit, but still family, and in no way deserved to be treated as a criminal for her drug use. The things she did to support her drug use on the other hand, may or may not have been criminal (I don’t know the whole story there).

    But, she has by and large straightend out her life, due to treatment.

    Kiwi in America, you have no idea what you are talking about regarding Cannabis here.

    And just to piss you all off, I’m gonna pull out a water bong, pack it with some nice legal JWH-018, which is a legal synthetic cannaboid, with much the same effect as cannabis, and take a nice long drag on it… and not turn into a waster, criminal, or labour voter…. I’m sure you’d like to see that criminalised to, as after all it has almost exactly the same effect, only with more munchies…

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  40. kiwi in america (2,495 comments) says:

    MikeE
    I have helped literally dozens of mainly young people to stop using cannabis and other drugs so I know EXACTLY what I am talking about. All involved are living lives infinitely happier and more productive than the times when they were using.

    But of course New Zealand is a special case huh – exempt from any intelligent application of drug control policy as is so well practiced in Sweden. I witnessed first hand how in Sweden the policies and laws were used to leaverage people into the very treatment that saved the woman you made reference to.

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  41. Bob Ong (1 comment) says:

    I suspect this George Soros is taking cannabis to alleviate his guilty conscience by destroying lifes and livelihoods to make his billions !!!

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  42. RoGo () says:

    Kiwi In America – I respect your opinion that drugs (I am assuming you only mean illegal) are bad and should be illegal.

    However, lets not say things that arent true.

    The Dutch have one of the lowest usage rates of cannabis in Europe. The highest is the Czech Republic (which has just decriminalised possession) and the UK (which has just reclassified cannabis from schedule C to B). Portugal (which also decriminalised in 2001) also has a low usage rate.

    Of course the Netherlands have never decriminalised, which is the source of most of their problems. It means that production (where the real money is) is still in the hands of criminals, who cant turn to a court of law to enforce contracts or protect their business, so of course turn to violent means. Mexico is a classic example. That conflict is being fought over supply to the United States (and, coincidentally, mostly with US produced weapons).

    Also, “Alcohol has been part of western culture for thousands of years, tobacco for over 400 years.” By this I assume you are suggesting that cannabis hasnt been part of our culture?

    That simply isnt true. Let me tell you some facts about cannabis:

    1. Hemp (cannabis) and its products have been used since paleolithic times. Burnt cannabis seed has been found in braziers in Romania dating back thousands of years. It was well known and used by the Romans and Greeks, and especially the pre-European Indian cultures.

    2. Until the 20th century hemp was a widely used product, especially for ropes and sails. The US constitution is printed on hemp paper as were the sails of the USS Constitution until the 20th century. Andrew Jackson, Washington and various other “Founding Fathers” were hemp farmers. Jackson is quoted in a letter as enjoying smoking hemp.

    3. NZ was considered an excellent colony for its ideal climate for growing hemp, which would mean the Royal Navy would have another source if its supply from India was cut off. The Navy could not function without hemp.

    4. The word canvas is just the Dutch pronunciation of cannabis.

    5. Queen Victoria used a tincture of cannabis for her period pains.

    As far as a gateway drug goes, I recently read a study (and I apologise because I dont have the link) suggesting that tobacco was a far better indicator of risk for heroin (which I would say is the worst drug I can think of in terms of consequences). According to that study, people who consume cannabis, but are not regular smokers of tobacco, actually have quite a low chance of getting addicted to heroin. It is more about a predisposition to addiction.

    You should also be aware that there is not one documented medical case of someone dying because of the consumption of cannabis. Scientists have been unable to establish a lethal dose but I read one researcher who theorised that if one consumed 15 pounds of cannabis in 15 minutes, that MAY kill you. There are very few drugs at all, you can say that about. Quite a few people a year die of aspirin.

    This study may be of interest: http://www.scienceblog.com/cms/study-say-marijuana-no-gateway-drug-12116.html

    I suggest you watch the excellent documentaries “The Union: The Business of Getting High” and “The Emperor of Hemp”. If you find any equivalent documentaries taking the opposite view, I would love to hear about them.

    I honestly believe that if a person in New Zealand could walk into a nice clean shop (such as a pharmacy) and be served by a well dressed professional person to buy cannabis, many of our society’s problems with drugs would be eliminated. Regulate it, force the person to go on a register, tax the hell out of it, I still believe that person wouldnt go down the road and buy it off the Mongrel Mob, just as I wouldnt buy cheap alcohol from them.

    I am not going to force my opinions down your throat, just as I dont believe I have a right to tell you what to put into your body, but let’s base our opinions on facts. If you disagree with the facts I outlined above, please point me in the right direction.

    Cheers

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