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Big News: As I Light My Spliff

Big News with Dave Crampton

You May Agree To Cannabis Decriminalisation

But Don’t Expect To Avoid Punishment If Caught Smoking Dope

But Don’t Expect To Avoid Punishment If Caught Smoking Dope

Well, after entering the drug debate last week, I was both praised on one hand and accused of smoking dope on the other, so I thought I`d carry on¡K writing, that is. As I light my spliff and write this column (just kidding!), I realise the cannabis debate has the tendency to polarise - but it is interesting the positions people take.

Some people appear to have the opinion that they’ll be able to smoke dope without any penalty in a decriminalised environment. They may be right. I happen to think that if dope is decriminalised, it may well be treated like speeding - with a fine or some civil penalty if caught.

Well, being caught with amounts for personal use anyway. But if adults are to avoid a criminal record for smoking dope, as the Greens and The Salvation Army prefer, what happens if the kids get caught? Will they get a criminal record -if so why should they when adults don’t?

The Greens support decriminalisation for adults, and personal use without penalty, the School Trustees Association does not condone use or support decriminalisation, so they want no use and criminal convictions for all dope smokers.

The Salvation Army, on the other hand, supports prohibition, but is against criminal convictions for unfortunate adult dope smokers caught for personal use, despite their view that decriminalisation of “mind altering substances” - as they call them - will lead to increased usage. The Sallies are the church that is most likely to see the effects of cannabis through their six Bridge programmes that treat drug abusers.

Salvation Army officers are known for taking a hard line on drugs - they are forbidden to drink alcohol or smoke tobacco, let alone smoke dope, so it is a bit weird that they have taken this position. One must wonder how you can support such a law change with the opinion that cannabis usage will increase if decriminalised, while not condoning its use in the first place.

It would be a bit different if the Sallies considered decriminalisation with education may lead to decreased usage, but again they don’t think education would change the world. The School Trustees Association certainly don’t. Their members have no confidence that a decriminalised environment will lead to better education, or less suspensions. Ray Newport, from the Association told me that about 2200 kids are suspended every year for smoking dope - and considered some come to school high as a result of passive smoking. Well, it may not be a crime to be a passive smoker, but apparently it can get you kicked out of school for a while - some suspended dope smokers go home and smoke even more dope, so do you really think suspending kids for smoking dope works for these kids? I don’t.

What schools need is money for school counsellors to address the problem - but it would be more helpful if dope smoking parents (and dealers) avoided smoking around kids and giving them the stuff in the first place. It’s not the job of schools to stop kids smoking dope, or clean up the mess.

But I thought it was interesting when Newport told me that increased funding under a decriminalised environment may be of assistance to kids, although not a workable solution. Betcha Nick Smith doesn`t agree. Maybe more education + decriminalisation = less use, despite the “mixed messages” school kids allegedly will get if dope is decriminalised.

Lack of education + criminalisation = increasing use, at the moment. Nobody wants that. Many consider education „i dope smokers = less use, but can’t agree on the legal status of dope. They seem to agree, however that money + ( lotsamoney x anotherbiggrant ) x evenmoremoney = successful education + lower drug use. We’ll see.

What is criminal is that approximately $20 million a year is spent policing cannabis. According to Nandor Tanczos, who should know, a person is done for dope smoking every 20 minutes in this country. But how much is spent on drug education? Everybody wants more money to be made available for drug education, but I bet the police don’t want it to come out of their budget -even though some of it should.

Should cannabis be decriminalised for adult smoking dopesters, most consider a conditional factor should be a deterrent to its use, especially amongst kids. Like a spot fine. Some are against spot fines, others support the use of spot fines as long as there are measures put in place to avoid getting a criminal record for failure or inability to pay.

The Salvation Army would prefer to see a system of diversion with civil penalties, including a compulsory education programme, for people caught with small amounts of cannabis. That way you don’t get a criminal record, you get educated and penalised in the form of a fine. They consider fines should go back into drug education, and so this scenario appears to be a better deterrent than branding someone a criminal for smoking a joint.

What’s the bet that will happen -without fines going into adequate education funding?

- Dave Crampton is a Wellington-based freelance journalist, in addition to writing for Scoop he is the Australasian correspondent for newsroom-online.com. He can be contacted at davec@globe.net.nz

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