Thursday, July 03, 2008

Unqualified expertise

I'm glad I never took drug advice from a stuffed giraffe, nor a MethCon conman. Unfortunately, that's the sort of experts our MSM are hanging out with when looking for commentary on drug issues. Five minute phone call quotes, talking head platitudes. Good thing then, when Media7 focuses on the issue in its best episode yet.

Police Association Greg O'Connor looked decidedly uncomfortable sitting between the NZ Drug Foundation's Ross Bell (who has more drug expertise at his fingertips than Mike Sabin has in his entirely over-inflated credentials) and an unplugged Nandor Tanczos. I was hoping that O'Connor would throw up his hands and declare the war on drugs is lost, like Annette King has already concluded. There must be a better way of dealing with all this. But no, loyal to a fault, O'Connor stuck by the report even as Nandor mocked its findings.

Ross Bell spoke up about the Law Commission's review of the Misuse of Drugs Act and the United Nations review of the treaties surrounding the drug trade, two very important issues which have been ignored by the MSM. There is a generational querying of how we handle psychotropics on a global level at the same time as a domestic review. The planets are aligned, the time is right. So why put Harold the Muppet centre-stage, or get a MethCon salesman to comment on cocaine and cannabis statistics? Seriously, WTF?

Oh, there are clues. The NZ Herald, for example, classifies all illicit drug use as abuse:

Booze and fag stories are deemed of categorically National importance. Sure, there's a tag for alcoholics, but those headlines are marginalised like the dope fiends and meth heads out the back of beyond. P epidemic anyone..?

If I were feeling uncharitable towards the Herald, I would conclude that there is an inbuilt bias against cannabis, meth and other illicit substance stories as they are substitutes to many of the advertisers' products in said newspaper. The giraffe sponsors are not complaining about it, that's for sure.

But the lack of debate is not just the Herald's fault. The politicians aren't mentioning the subject because there's no votes in it, eh. Railways before rehab. The doctors aren't mentioning it, because there's no money or kick-backs in it for them. The only profit motive available is for the vested interests in Police and Customs, seeking new ways to increase their funding.

Drug policy is of huge importance. It effects the NZ economy, with whole towns existing mainly to produce drugs for the big cities. It effects crime, health, welfare, education, business, transport, culture. Anyone can score marijuana in NZ if they want it. Even the giraffe knows that. Prohibition has been in force for over thirty years and it has not worked.

There are some good frameworks developing. The British drug policy group Transform is a very good resource for alternative policy options. The Royal Society schedule of drugs is also a good start:

Unfortunately, the NZ Law Commission review doesn't include alcohol or tobacco in its terms of reference. I strongly support such a move to include both substances, not to punish the tobacconists or winemakers (blessed are the winemakers), but to deliver an honest appraisal of equivalent harms. Hell, throw Viagra, Ritalin and Prozac in there too, seeing how their recreational use has spread.