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NORML - APEC Leaders Should Consider Cannabis

AN OPEN LETTER TO ALL APEC DELEGATES

Kia Ora and welcome to New Zealand.

As you gather in Auckland to discuss ways to facilitate increased trade between the Pacific Rim economies, the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (New Zealand) invites you also consider the effect of cannabis prohibition policies on the people and communities of the Pacific.

Cannabis prohibition has widespread and severely detrimental effects on human rights and freedoms, and the extreme and violent nature of it's enforcement causes more harm than it prevents. Discussions about free trade are rendered meaningless without also restoring freedom for the people of this region and respect for their human rights. We call on all APEC delegates to recognise that:

1. Notwithstanding the vast amounts of legal and financial resources expended on law enforcement, the trade in cannabis and other illicit drugs has flourished around the world.

2. Prohibition creates a lucrative and violent black market that has seen increased profits for organised crime, increased property crime, the erosion of civil liberties, an increased burden on the criminal justice system and increased opportunities for corruption.

3. Tough policing has unfortunately only increased the harm associated with cannabis and other illicit drugs, without reducing demand for or supply of illicit drugs. The dependent user fears seeking treatment and the recreational user is undeterred but adopts high-risk practices and continues with his or her drug use.

4. Law enforcement leads to the arrest of many more drug users than large-scale traffickers and dealers, and drug use often continues inside prisons.

5. The removal of one so-called 'Mr Big' only clears the way for another to take over, and the drug trade continues to flourish.

6. Despite their best efforts, law enforcement agencies have only ever been able to interdict up to 20% of the drug supply, leaving more than 80% on the streets.

7. Law enforcement costs represent a disproportionate amount of funds needed to ameliorate the declining social and health problems of the very community it polices.

8. Cannabis prohibition removes the rights of people to make their own decisions over behaviours that only effect themselves. Cannabis prohibition creates fear, suspicion and divisions within communities and between peoples.

9. Many people use cannabis as a traditional religious or spiritual sacrament, including Hindus, Sadhus, Rastafarians, and Coptics among others, yet they are persecuted, arrested and imprisoned for their religious beliefs and practices.

10. Many people also find cannabis to be a useful and more effective medicine than pharmaceutical alternatives, including patients suffering from AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and intense pain. In particular, the United States federal Government continues to prosecute patients in States than have local laws authorising the medical use of cannabis.

11. Cannabis prohibition has resulted in millions of people in the Asia-Pacific region facing criminal conviction, fines, imprisonment, and even death for their drug use. There is a disturbing trend for harsher and more punitive sanctions against drug users: · Law enforcement policies in the United States have resulted in massive numbers of people being imprisoned for drug use, with the vast majority being Afro-Americans, even though only 13% of illicit drug users are Afro-American. More people have been imprisoned for marijuana use under President Clinton than any other President. · There are also thousands of people currently imprisoned in Chinese labour camps, and many people both in China and in other Asian nations are executed for their drug use. · New Zealand has some of the world's toughest cannabis law enforcement practices, yet drug use here continues to increase; the latest research has shown cannabis use has increased from 43% of all people aged 15-45 having tried cannabis in 1990, to 53% of that same age group in 1998. 16% of all people aged 15-45 in New Zealand admit to being regular cannabis users.

12. Many of the problems associated with illicit drug use are symptoms of disempowerment due to dislocation from indigenous culture, lands, language and social structures. Poverty and inequality of opportunity combined with a mainstream stereotyping and scapegoating of drug users have added to these problems. There is a need for culturally-specific harm reduction programs which are determined, conducted and controlled by these communities themselves.

13. Harm reduction programs, which have been shown to have positive outcomes around the world, have more chance of success than prohibition.

There is ample evidence that alternatives to drug prohibition should be considered. For example:

1. The World Health Organisation in 1998 released a report that acknowledged that the consumption of alcohol and tobacco is more harmful than the use of cannabis.

2. The United States' Institute Of Medicine in March of this year released a report that refuted the 'gateway' theory (that assumes cannabis use leads to the use of harder drugs), recognised that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, and acknowledged that cannabis can be a valid and useful medicine for many seriously ill people.

3. Curtin University in Western Australia only last month released a report that found that prohibition and decriminalisation has the same effect on preventing cannabis use, but that prohibition creates unnecessary and additional harms to cannabis users, such as loss of employment and travel opportunities, relationship difficulties, and an increased risk of further involvement with the criminal justice system.

4. The New Zealand Parliament's Health Select Committee in December 1998 issued a report that called upon the New Zealand Government to "review the appropriateness of existing policy on cannabis and its use and reconsider the legal status of cannabis."

5. The Harm Reduction policies in the Netherlands have resulted in a measure of success. The link between soft drugs such as cannabis and hard drugs such as heroin has been broken through the controlled availability of cannabis in some outlets. There is no significant difference in rates of cannabis use in jurisdictions that enforce a strict prohibition and those that have decriminalised.

We therefore call upon all the member nations of APEC to abandon cannabis prohibition policies forthwith, and to explore effective alternatives that serve to minimise any harms associated with drug use and abuse.

Thank you for taking the time to read and consider this letter.

Yours faithfully,

Mr Chris Fowlie
National Coordinator
NORML NZ Inc.

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