Prohibition is a failure. Here’s why we need a new approach for all drugs, starting with cannabis!
New Zealand has the world’s highest cannabis arrest rate, yet more people choose to use cannabis now than ever before: NZ Police arrest cannabis users at a rate 50% higher than even the United States. Every year about 15,000 people are arrested on about 25,000 cannabis charges. 85% of these are for small personal offences. However, in the past decade alone, those who admit to having used cannabis rose from 43% to 52% of New Zealand adults – up over 20%. “Current users” also dramatically rose from 13% to 16%. People are also using more, at a younger age, and are reporting an increased availability and dropping proces. (Source: Auckland University Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit 1999)
Prohibition removes control over cannabis and creates a lucrative black market: sales continue, but in an uncontrolled way without age restrictions, marketing or quality controls, or taxation being paid. Regulating cannabis could mean an age limit and other controls similar to that for alcohol.
Prohibition encourages use by glamourising cannabis use and creating a rebellious and daring image. Uncontrolled sales and pyramid selling mean it is even easier for teenagers to buy marijuana than it is to buy alcohol.
Prohibition undermines effective drug education: Open and honest communication is impossible in an environment of guilt and persecution. We need effective education about drugs so that people can evaluate any risks and make responsible and informed choices.
Prohibition itself sends the wrong message – that society is hypocritical, and is more concerned with moral judgements than evidence and fact. Supporting prohibition shows our society is unable to make rational decisions based on scientific evidence and reasoned ananlysis.
Prohibition diverts police attention away from real crime: The police claim to be under-resourced but still place a high priority on busting pot smokers. There is a cannabis arrest every 30 minutes on average, while most crimes that have victims remain unsolved.
Prohibition creates crime and violence: While marijuana itself does not cause crime, violence and intimidation regulate the cannabis black market, and are used to enforce ‘contractual obligations’ or scare off competitors. Cannabis is now worth so much money that people get killed over it.
Prohibition leads to hard drugs: cannabis itself does not lead to the use of hard drugs, but having dealers who sell pot and heroin often does. We need to separate the markets for marijuana and for hard drugs, by regulating marijuana sales through coffee-shops. The rate of using heroin in the Netherlands has dropped every year since they legalise cannabis sales, and now only 0.3% have tried heroin, compared to 1.3% of New Zealanders.
Prohibition erodes respect for the police and our entire legal system: Those who do get caught resent a legal system that punishes them for behaviour that does not affect other people, and the police are further alienated for defending an unpopular, unjust and unworkable law.
Prohibition destroys our civil rights and the notion of a free society: Prohibition affects everyone – it violates our freedom to choose, our right to self-determination, and the principles of justice, privacy, property and liberty. Laws should exist to protect these rights, not destroy them.
Prohibition denies seriously-ill patients access to medical marijuana, an effective and safe medicine: Marijuana prohibition applies to everyone, including the sick and dying. Marijuana has been shown to be an effective and safe medicine for many conditions including cancer, AIDS ‘wasting syndrome’, glaucoma, chronic pain, rheumatoid arthritis and a variety of spastic conditions including multiple sclerosis, paraplegia, quadriplegia and epilepsy. Marijuana should be made immediately available for prescription by health professionals.
Prohibition denies New Zealand the economic and ecological benefits of hemp: Hemp is the non-psychoactive strain of the cannabis plant, grown by farmers throughout the world for industrial purposes, but banned in New Zeaand under prohibition. Hemp has over 25,000 commercial uses, including textiles, paper, cosmetics, paints, fuel, foodstuffs, insulation, and even biodegradable plastics. It produces a much higher yield than wood or cotton, and requires virtually no pesticides or fertilisers. Hemp has the potential to create thousands of jobs and revitalise our rural sector, but prohibition prevents the cultivation of hemp.
It’s time to stop arresting marijuana users: Hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders use marijuana, and very few abuse it. Arresting these otherwise law-abiding citizens serves no legitimate purpose, extends government into inappropriate areas of our lives, and causes enormous harm to the lives, careers and families of the thousands of marijuana smokers arrested every year. Far more harm is caused by marijuana prohibition than by the use of marijuana itself.
Other policies are more effective: Overseas jursidictions that have moved away from cannabis prohibition – eg South Australia, several states in the US, and much of Europe – have not experienced any significant rises in cannabis use, and have achieved dramatic savings in law enforcement as well as improving the effectiveness of drug education and treatment services. The Netherlands effectively legalised cannabis in 1976, and use has since dropped relative to other countries. In 1999 only 15% of Dutch adults had tried cannabis (compared to 52% in NZ) and 5% were current users (13% in NZ).