Monday, September 26, 2011

For cannabis decriminalisation

So, over the weekend, ACT leader Don Brash came out in support of cannabis decriminalisation, saying that chasing cannabis users was a waste of police time (and taxpayer's money). This has of course led to angry denunciations from the rest of his party (whose idea of "freedom" starts and ends with the freedom of the rich not to pay taxes) and the Prime Minister, as well as the usual tepid, non-committal response from Phil Goff. But Brash is right: it is a waste of time and money. Quite apart from the fact that the only people cannabis users are harming are themselves, something which is no-one's business but their own, there's the fact that the police seem to spend more on enforcing these drug laws than the actual harm such enforcement averts. And for what? It doesn't actually reduce drug use; all it does is make money for gangs and distract the police from investigating real crimes.

The Law Commission recognises these facts, which is why they recommended a shift in policy away from jailing drug users and towards warning them and pointing them towards addiction services. That would be a start. But we need to go further. From a liberal perspective, the state has no interest in policing what people stick in their bodies for fun. If it causes public health problems, like alcohol and tobacco, then you treat it as a public health issue, like alcohol and tobacco. But you don't go around banning things just because old farts disapprove.

Portugal switched to this approach a decade ago, and it has been successful. Drug harm - addiction, problematic drug use, and associated diseases like HIV - has declined. The police get to spend their time fighting real crime. We could do a lot worse than follow their example.

Sadly, the chances of that happening are probably zilch. Drug-policy in New Zealand is a fact-free zone, dominated by people like Peter Dunne who are not interested in evidence. He's made up his mind, and he's going to inflict his views on us regardless of the harm they cause. And so we'll continue to waste a hundred million dollars a year and ruin countless lives, until he and his generation retire from Parliament.