Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Fear & Loathing at the NDP Launch

I was sitting in the sun on the steps of Parliament last Thursday, when the drugs began to wear off. I remember saying something like, "I need a drink. I hope there's a bar at this gig." Suddenly, there was a terrible roar all around me, as the forecourt swarmed with Korean teenagers streaming out of Parliament all swooping and screaming and diving around my formerly placid smoko. Perhaps they weren't Korean. Maybe Chinese, or from somewhere in the South-East Asian subcontinent. I didn't ask.

A couple of weeks ago, I had received an invite the the launch of the National Drug Policy 2007-2012. This document was the end product of a long and intensive consult-athon based on the National Drug Policy 2006-2011 Consultation Document. I wasn't holding out for much good coming out of it. Maybe a glimmer of hope that there was at least some improvement on the clusterfuck known as the Misuse of Drugs Act.

It was time to enter the corridors of power. I walked to the newly-refurbished, sphincter-shaped plebian entrance. Because some Saudi Arabian college graduates had flown several hundred tonnes of aluminium and fuel at some buildings 14,000 kilometres away 6 years previously, the entrance resembled a US-customs privacy rape centre. I put my manbag on the X-ray conveyor belt, along with all my metal objects; ipod, pen, lighter, cigarette case, and various loose change. Should I remove my tie clip? My hearing aid? How naked did they want me? Last time I was here, I got pinged by the machine for wearing a leather belt with metal fastenings that a girlfriend gave me for my 21st. Please don't wave that wand at me. I don't like people in my personal space.

"Can you show me the knife in your bag?" said the security man after I walked through the metal detector still wondering whether I had set the thing off. I pulled out my Swiss army knife with the house keys on it from the manbag, trying not to spill NORML News magazines and leaflets on the floor. The security man unfolded the main knife and held it up to an unseen chart. "Make sure you keep it in the bag," he said, handing it back to me. "Of course," I replied, putting my MacGuyver away hoping that no horses would need stones taken out of their shoes while I was in the Grand Hall.

After a nervous piss in the elegant pissoir on the ground floor, I wandered up the stairs to the Grand Hall. Maybe it's my deafness, maybe it's the Asperger's, but I really hate a room full of strangers. Not personally, you understand. I'm just unsure of the protocol and get freaked out adapting to different voices all at once. I head for the name badge table, because I'm absolutely certain that everyone should have a name badge.

I spot the most interesting person I know in the room, and head towards Ross Bell from the NZ Drug Foundation. Hey, no offense Matt Bowden from STANZ. It's just that every time I try to approach people I have only seen on TV, I have an overwhelming urge to tell you the Specials of the Day and ask if you'd like an aperitif. I call it Repetitive Waiter Syndrome. Ross is yakking with Billy McKee from GreenCross. We swap stories until El Presidente of NORML, Chris Fowlie turns up. Then a polite voice on the PA advises us to take a seat.

As usual, I sit on the far right so I can hear as much as possible. There's a copy of the National Drug Policy on the chair. I have ample time to skim it as the MC gives a welcome in Maori, leads a waiata as well as a karakia. Admittedly, I didn't know it was a karakia til the amen. Whatever happened to the separation of church and state?

The National Drug Policy is 39 pages long, including one page for abbreviations, two for Bibliography, three for title pages, and five completely blank pages. God, I should have gone into the printing industry. That leaves 28 pages, exactly the same amount as the consultation document, only more tables of statistics and graphs and far less words. It has actually shrunk.

The effusive MC says the last amen for the moment and announces the format for the launch. In spite of about a hundred attendees, there will be no question time. No wonder only TV One and Prime News turned up to cover it. It's only news if it's new. Obviously, the MSM had been given an embargoed copy and knew what to expect. Although NORML had requested an embargoed copy in order to formulate an educated response, none was forthcoming. We only found out when we got there.

Chairman Jim was up first. He shambles to the podium and exhales. He launches into his usual Morse Code monotone with this speech. Off the cuff, he says that this policy is not a top down effort but a bottom up thing. He returns to the script and contradicts himself immediately.
"If you wanted to make a difference and reduce the harm drugs cause in this country, you would sit down and map out a tough strategy that looked far into the future...

That policy had a strong emphasis on health objectives and approaches to addressing the harms arising from tobacco, alcohol, illegal and other drugs."
Listening to Jim Anderton is reasonable cause to take drugs. I wimp out of lighting a spliff during his speech and resort to non-violent protests of pulling exaggerated sceptical expressions and masturbatory hand gestures to try and throw him. I'm not going to listen to this drivel sitting still.

Page 3 of the NDP lists the three-pronged approach to "reduce the effects of
harmful substance use":
  • control or limit the availability of drugs (supply control)
  • limit the use of drugs by individuals, including abstinence (demand reduction)
  • reduce harm from existing drug use (problem limitation)
The first prong is by far and away the preferred tool of harm minimisation. And aren't the cops and customs doing so well? Police find 4300 plants in a field here. A copper chopper finds 6500 plants in the West Coast there.
"They were all over the place, the entire length of the West Coast ... anywhere and everywhere."
I can't find the source now, but I remember reading how one copper was stunned at the quantity being grown and the lengths that growers went to. Something about how the nearest roads were days and days away, cannabis growing in the middle of nowhere. He wondered how futile his task was. Just as often as not, the cops rely on tripping over a pile of dope unexpectedly. TVNZ reports how police are looking into 1000 "cannibas" plants were found at a chicken shed fire.

I flip to the sixteen lines in the NDP report directly related to cannabis.
"The 2003 New Zealand Health Behaviours Survey – Drug Use showed that one in seven New Zealanders (13.7%) had used cannabis in the last year, and that 15.1% of past-year users smoked cannabis frequently (10 or more times per month on average) (Ministry of Health forthcoming)."
14 percent of NZers used cannabis in one year. That's 560,000 people, about seven Palmys. Sort of makes the second prong, demand reduction including abstinence, a bit of an uphill battle.

The audience were giving Chairman Jim the clap. He must have stopped droning. Next up was embattled Corrections Minister and Associate Minister of Health Damien O'Connor.

"Drugs of all kinds have a devastating effect on the health and well-being of our communities. Most of us here today know this. Each of us, no doubt, know of personal and professional horror stories about the havoc wreaked by drugs. For my part, I am reminded on a daily basis, through my job as Minister of Corrections as well as Associate Minister of Health. We know that drugs are a factor in a large amount of all crimes committed, with illicit drugs often coming to mind."

Billy McKee interjected loudly at this point. It proved to be the only unofficially permitted comment of the day. Way to go Billy. O'Connor continued his crapola, listing achievements involving media campaigns and how drug use in prisons is at an all time low and he had the statistics to prove it. He somehow didn't mention how his department was fucking around with the third and most important prong, harm minimisation.

I threw myself back into the NDP appendix.
"Earlier surveys have shown a significant increase in illegal stimulant use between 1998 and 2001: in 2001 5.3% of those surveyed reported having used an illegal stimulant in the last year, compared with 3.2% in 1998. In the New Zealand Health Behaviours Survey – Drug Use 2003 report (Ministry of Health forthcoming) amphetamines (including methamphetamine) were the second most commonly reported illegal drug ever used (6.8%) or used in the past 12 months (2.5%). Past-year ecstasy (MDMA) use was reported by 1.9% of New Zealanders, making ecstasy the second most commonly used stimulant."
Not only has cannabis use increased, so have the speed freaks.
"Currently there is no way to measure the volume of diverted pharmaceutical drugs on the illicit drug market."
Omfg, they really don't have a clue.
O'Connor sat back down next to a sullen Clayton Cosgrove. Director-General of Health, Stephen McKernan, stood up and gave a rational speech which I have almost completely forgotten. He managed to use the term 'misuse' more flexibly than any other speaker. Then, just as he had me feeling that there was a scrap of hope in all this War On Drugs spittle, he throws it all away. He is a father, he says. He has three daughters and he wants to see them grow up in a Drug Free World.

Martyn Dunne, Comptroller of Customs, stood up and gave a good deadpan comedy routine. "The last thing we want is a reputation for exporting drugs." Shhh, don't tell Montana or Lion Nathan. At the end, he called on everyone making a difference to the "harmonious, er, harmful effects of drugs."

The final speaker was Detective Superintendant Win van der Velde, Police National Crime Manager. He stood up looking like a rugbyhead in a chess club meeting. Maybe there were flecks of foam on his lips as he spoke, maybe there weren't. The police were happy with the NDP. Any opportunity to bust a few more dope fiends and amphetamine psychotics. Increased information sharing by government departments is sure to make him happy.
"Over the next five years the Government will retain health-related objectives but will also develop a greater intersectoral focus, which will encompass both the social and the economic harms from drug use. All government agencies will be held accountable by the MCDP for achieving the objectives of the National Drug Policy, delivering effective policies and programmes, and collaborating with other agencies to achieve a co-ordinated approach to reducing drug-related harm."
This is unlikely to provide added comfort to the hopeless who wish to seek treatment when they lose their grip. Who wants to go to CAYAD and wonder whether the cops are going to turn up at their home afterwards? It's not paranoia when you know they are out to get you.

I could hardly wait for the closing karakia so I could rush out for a cigarette. It can never be said that the NDP doesn't have a prayer. It is faith without hope, ignorance without compassion, action without reason. The NDP has launches another round of the War on Drugs. It has worked so well for the last thirty years, why change now?