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Salvation Army's "Disorientated War On Dope"

10 February, 2000

Christchurch drug policy analysts are critical of well meaning, but retrograde, "clinician's falacy" from the Salvation Army opposing decriminalisation of cannabis.

The Salvation Army is inappropriately confusing moral "opposition to non-medical use of mind altering substances" with criminal "zero-tolerance", say the Mild Greens.

The Mild Greens say the Salvation Army appears to have fallen into the habit of war-mongering - and is addicted to picking up the casualties off society's battlefield. Like many treatment agencies, the Salvation Army is "co-dependent" on prohibition.

The Salvation Army only see the down side of social dysfunction associated with drug abuse. They do not see that the majority of adults handle their cannabis with no significant harm. It was pointed out at the 1998 Inquiry into the Mental Health Effects of Cannabis, that this false peception was medically known as "clinicians fallacy" - (Dr David Hadorn, Drug Policy Forum Trust)

Society is at war with itself because the dominant culture fails to see the flaw in confusing "moral transgression" with "crime", say the Mild Greens.

Kevin O'Connell said that there was a deliberate and dangerous confusion between "association and causation" - a confusion which was actively cultivated by the National Party prohibitionists, Nick Smith and Jenny Shipley.

Some of the perceived dysfunction attributed to cannabis abuse and "addiction", needed to be understood in the context of the alienation and stigma actually caused by the legal status.

Like society in general, there are conflicting strong views but it appears that Captain Ian Hutson, director of the Christchurch Salvation Army Bridge programme has a more refined perspective. Capt. Hutson is opposed to marijuana but also philosophicaly opposed to making it their business or a crime. Importantly he appears to be a concientious objector in making an effort not to promulgate myths, unlike others who are brazenly accountable for keeping the beds full in treatment centers.

Who has ever heard a treatment service saying "that the harms have been largely overstated" (HSC report 1998). ?

Society while opposing tobacco use and alcohol misuse, does not consider criminalisation of tobacco and alcohol as a rational or effective social intervention.

Small wonder the law in New Zealand is in disrepute, when 100 million cannabis incidents are labeled criminal offences every year and the double standards for alcohol, tobacco and gambling are transparently obvious.

"No doubt the issue needs resolving, if only to remove the stigma, and those who profit from perpetuating the cycles of harm. " says Blair Anderson responding to the apparent dissent in the Salvation Army's ranks. "Since 1907, the Sallies have had inputs into many pressing social issues, including the advent of 'grand experiment' of alcohol prohibition, but on the pot issue, defending morality is a bridge too far."

Salvation Army and others like them fail to account for the 200 tonnes of black market trade or the body bags and beatings that occur created and masked by prohibition.

On New Zealand's anniversary of the "prohibition-inspired" Raurimu tragedy (8th Feb), British Home Secretary Jack Straw announced that Britain is to recommend shifting the criminal record status, effectively expunging cannabis records by relegating existing prosecutions to warnings that are automatically expired. While the legislation processes are expected to expose some wrinkles, its stated aim is to reduce the harms of unwarranted discrimination and prejudice. (just one of the 81 Runciman inquiry recommendations.. )

With cannabis reform imminent, the vested interests are jockeying for inside running in the treatment stakes. "if it wasnt for marijuana, we could treat alcohol more succesfully.." was recently heard from another treatment camp - the seriously flawed logic here is an abject admission of failure on both counts.?" Poly drug abuse is neither resolved by blaming one drug over another or compounded by the illicit and licit status involved.

No one is served by miraculous snakeoil and bright lights cures to addiction either. Laser treatments for addictions with its methode, mystery and accupuncture fall way short of clinical standards when touting "100% cures" most of the time. However when compared to 12 steps...they both rate badly. Intollerance has the worst interdiction outcome, "'why else would they be blaming cannabis..." says Anderson.

The only treatment marijuana users demand is treatment that looks like respect.

It may be conjecture that "upon measureable law change" we will see an upsurge in health outcomes as those "with fear of the law" come forward. It is certainly indicated. Early and voluntory interventions have the highest success in reducing harm to the individual and those arround. It would be seen as regressive if such outcomes were to be "compounded by the law" - yet treatment centers seem perpetually unable to voice reason for fear of moving a line in the sand. "This is poor advocacy for those that they aim to help", says Anderson, citing institutionalised mistrust as an identified impediment to self-help.

Capt. Hutson finds the middle ground and identifies the key adjustment, and we suspect will find the best outcome. My guess is, and the evidence supports it, the Salvation Army will have more beds for alcohol and mental health problems and possibly some left over for those who cannot afford tobbaco related pallative care.

Kevin O'Connell said that he was opposed to all forms of smoking, but that opposition did not make the act of smoking "criminal", nor necessarily "offensive". In New Zealand so many people, young and old, do not see anything wrong in marijauna. "When you've got that kind of attitude, you've got problems"

"Society has to find an acceptable and equitable "middle ground" on cannabis. The existing clash of value systems is wreaking havoc", said Mr O'Connell.

We should thank God there is a debate, for there is evidentially no salvation in making a criminal where there is no crime, nor prejudice where there would be none. This law has no moral authority.

see: http://www.alcp.org.nz/media/hutson.jpg as published in the Christchurch Press last year.

Blair Anderson, drug education and health commentator. Co-leader, Mild Greens, +64 3 389 4065 mailto: mildgreens@marijuananews.com

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