The Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology held a talk at Vic Uni's Hunter Chambers this afternoon. The moot was "Should drug offenders be punished?"
First up was Massey University's Dr Chris Wilkins at SHORE. His initial answer seemed to be yes, they should. I sat with increasing twitchiness and frustration as Wilkins presented basically every drug stereotype known to man as evidence in favour of the status quo. Drug users have low self esteem, come from dysfunctional families, are uneducated. He's obviously never been invited to a Wall St coke and hookers party.
Wilkins went on to list the benefits of prohibition including, amazingly, black markets. Next slide, the dangers of decriminalisation and legalisation of drugs.
I was waiting for a slide on the dangers of prohibition, but it never arrived. I had him up about the missing balance at question time, where he admitted to some drawbacks to prohibition.
I expected better of him, and over wine and cheese after the talk, I told him so. His own Drug Monitoring Surveys showed cannabis remains either easy or very easy to find. Even with prohibition, there's no supply control, let alone quality control. The truth emerged. No, drug offenders should not be punished sez Wilkins.
Next and best speaker was Ross Bell from the NZ Drug Foundation. Drug use is a health issue, not a criminal one. Drug offenders shouldn't be punished. Evidence was presented that showed that laws have absolutely NO EFFECT ON DRUG USE. Some bullshit stats from the Stellar Trust were scrutinised. Fair go. The Stellar Trust is to drug policy what the Sensible Sentencing Trust is to law and order policy. Effing gimps.
Ross Bell went on to describe the Portugal example, where 10 years after all drugs were decriminalised for use, Portugal has lower drug use, less imprisonment, more treatment, and fewer drug deaths than most of the EU. Better yet, Ecstacy dropped from four dollars something each to $3.50. $3.50!
Peter Dunne was the third man. Drug offenders should be punished. That was the government line. He talked on and on, but most of it was rubbish. The only interesting bit was him talking of his Vienna enlightenment attending the UN Drug Forum last year. An Iranian delegate told him that they stone drug users to death over there, but for some reason they never had any fewer drug users.
OK, audience participation time. Apart from the three white guys on the podium, and the esteemed matron who hosted the event, it was mainly a caucasian affair in the stalls. About 60 attendees, women outnumbering men two to one. The only obvious Maori in the room was the young cop attending, and he might have been Samoan for all I knew.
Not a single voice or query from the floor supported the status quo prohibition. Not the old academics, not the young ones who grew up on Ritalin and McDonalds. As the old conservatives are slowly finding out, we don't take kindly to blatant hypocrisies around these parts. Get wise or get out, that's my advice.