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Keeping Cannabis Out Of Schools - Nandor Tanczos

To News Editors: Several commentators and MPs from other parties have misrepresented the stance taken by MP Nandor Tanczos over the cannabis issue. This article, written by Nandor, aims at trying to make his position clear.

Keeping cannabis out of schools

By Nandor Tanczos

There is a surprising amount of agreement in the cannabis debate: No one wants to see school children using cannabis; we all agree that better drug education is needed to cut down abuse; we all agree that the problem is getting worse under prohibition.

It is clearly time for a better policy.

Look at the figures. Last year 1,994 students were suspended or stood down from New Zealand schools for drug offences, up from 1,767 the year before.

According to Trevor Grice, Director of the Life Education Trust, up to 150,000 school-aged children in this country, some as young as nine, had serious drug problems in 1997.

These figures spell out what any principal, teacher and parent is already well aware of. More and more children in New Zealand are experimenting with cannabis and going on to become regular users.

I sympathise with the thousands of committed people who are running our schools. Despite their best efforts they are fighting a losing battle to keep cannabis out of the school yard.

In the face of this it is perhaps natural to look for a scapegoat. Despite standing down and suspending almost 4000 students from New Zealand schools for drug offences over the last two years, some school principals have tried to lay the blame for recent cannabis suspensions on my entrance to parliament and the Green Party's policy of cannabis decriminalisation.

Yet we are simply stating the obvious: that the current way of dealing with cannabis does not work.

The police spend tens of millions of dollars every year arresting and convicting more people per head of population than any other country in the world. The result is rising use across the community, including in our schools.

We have a thriving illegal market with huge profits to be made for those prepared to take the risks. A culture of violence, intimidation and highly organised crime has developed around the illegal cultivation and distribution of cannabis.

Sellers have a vested interest in encouraging people to start smoking cannabis, and some do not care who they sell to as long as they make money. Cannabis is more readily available than alcohol to young people; in some communities it can be purchased from tinny houses on every street, 24 hours a day.

On the other hand the experience of the Netherlands has shown that decriminalisation of cannabis in 1976, coupled with good drug education, reduced its use amongst teenagers. According to a December 1995 editorial in the British Medical Journal, cannabis use by 17-18 year-olds in the Netherlands dropped from 13 per cent to 6 per cent between in 1976 and 1985. Monthly prevalence of cannabis use in 1995 among Dutch high school students was around 5.4 per cent, compared to 29 per cent in the United States.

The Green Party policy is to allow the personal use of cannabis by adults over the age of 18. This is a very cautious and moderate reform. We do not advocate legalising the sale of cannabis, we are simply saying we should stop arresting adult users for growing or possessing personal amounts.

A World Health Organisation report leaked to New Scientist magazine in 1998 found that cannabis did less harm to public health than alcohol or cigarettes, even if consumed on the same basis.

Clearly they were referring to adult use. I strongly back Mr Grice's statement when he said that young people should "delay the decision (about using cannabis) until they are through puberty". It is clear that people are more likely to have problems with cannabis use if they start young. This is why we stipulate an age limit, to send a clear message that we wish to discourage cannabis use among young people.

Allowing personal use of cannabis without penalty for adults would free up tens of millions of dollars a year for a coordinated and evaluated drug education programme in schools, and for drug and alcohol rehabilitation services for adolescents, an area that is seriously underfunded at present.

Both Trevor Grice and drugs campaigner Tom Scott have said that they are not promoting prohibition, but see education as the answer to the problem of child cannabis use. I agree. Cannabis law reform must go hand in hand with expanded, fully funded and evaluated drug education programmes. The corollary is that good drug education is impossible under prohibition, where honesty may lead to arrest of oneself or one's family.

Now more than ever a rational, sensible and open-minded debate is needed on cannabis policy. It is clear that prohibition does not work. The question now is, what is the best alternative?

The Greens believe that the middle road of allowing those over the age of 18 to possess and cultivate personal amounts without penalty will go the furthest towards destabilising the illegal market without the risks of commercialising cannabis.


Nandor Tanczos MP 025 2465235 04 4706716

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