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Huff, Puff and Blow...

Huff, Puff and Blow...

The New Zealand based MildGreen Initiative, a drug policy think tank (est 1998) reiterates yet again that "These tragedies surrounding inhalants and 'anything they can get there hands on' are a product of poor drug policy."

What has changed these past 40-50 years? Certainly not the pharmacology of these substances. What has changed are the rules that make safer drugs illegal and dangerous alternatives readily available.

It can be fairly said of these 'huffing' young teens, had they indulged in a joint of cannabis they would be suffering no perceptible risk. Even if they had indulged to the point that they required assistance, a glass of orange juice is about all the medical intervention that is required. They would be alive and well today.

We continue to distort the truth surrounding NZ most popular 'other, albeit illicit drug' and expect young people to listen to us. Get real. When the writer offered complimentary copies of "Safety First" and "Beyond Zero Tolerance" (Prof Rodney Skagar) to the Christchurch Library and to the Canterbury District Health Board Resource Centre they refused to approve them for distribution even restricted to adults only.

The price we pay for sticking our collective heads in the sand and wasting millions of otherwise better directed resources is considered acceptable 'to send a clear message'. Now we reap the rewards of our folly.

1998 Health Select Committee Report was erudite, courageous and clear when in its final analysis it pointed out that the double standards surrounding alcohol and cannabis is an impediment to credible (anti)drug education.

The Ottawa "Bible of Public Health" Charter is quite specific, when you identify such impediments, remove them. The Charter is the mantra for HEALTHY CHRISTCHURCH. Perhaps they could care to comment....

Unfortunately MP Dunne et al are unable to get over what the evidence says, and why a statutory empowered expert review committee recommended as he still touts prohibition as if we redoubled our efforts it might eventually work.

What legislation we have in place is Rt Hon Helen Clark's partial prohibition. One that places possession and sale of cannabis like substances as R18. This has merit. And unless media and other policy wonks and commentators give balance to the merits the healthy message the 2008 restricted substances regulations send, we will remain 'at a loss to explain and diminish' both alcohol and other drug related harms. Not that Hon Dunne is about to let on these regulations were brought in to protect young people.
Without doubt, these regulations as they currently remain unused, do challenge our sensibilities as to why cannabis is not included under them, more especially as it was United Future who held Labour's coalition to 'a thou shalt not talk about cannabis in this term of parliament or we'll chop up the treasury cheque book' despite there being a global debate and sustantial international committement to revision of drug policy.
Peter Dunne went to the UN and pretended the 2008 regulations didn't exist. He attended various Ministry of Health drug policy events at Te Papa and refused to acknowledge that experts were calling the 2008 regulations "world class". Indeed Professor Nutt former chair of the UK expert advisory committee (ACMD) said of these regulations "I wish I had thought of them first" and when asked if cannabis should be in them, "absolutely" he emphaticaly replied (in answer to questions at the 2009 Christchurch, Otago School of Medicine lectures).

So why haven't we heard about these regulations?

Could it be because they became law the day John Key became right and honorable?

Could it be because the required intervention, good 'healthy' regulations were gazetted and got Royal seal of approval smack in the middle of the 2008 election and no one noticed?
Or is it because really good drug policy is just plain boring?

Our current 'moral panic' response effectively makes these soft 'alternatives' to alcohol and cigarettes compulsory and a right of passage. With such double standards, we couldn't set up our kids for failure if we tried...

From colleague and Californian Education Professor Rodney Skagar (yes he visited NZ on a lecture tour hosted by the NZ Drug Foundation) - "Although we urge young people to abstain from alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, our national surveys show that many do not heed our warnings. To prevent adolescents who do experiment from falling into abusive patterns, we need to create fallback strategies that focus on safety. Putting safety first requires that we be careful to provide our young people with credible information and resources. We also need to teach our teenagers how to identify and handle problems with alcohol and other drugs—if and when they occur—and how to get help and support."

Join us in supporting the Safety First Project in advocating for reality-based approaches to drug education at home and in school that foster open and honest dialogue around the risks and consequences of drug use. We also invite you to critically examine random student drug testing, an invasive policy that can erode relationships of trust between students and adults at school and unintentionally direct students to more dangerous behaviors.
Blair Anderson, Christchurch NZ. Educators for Sensible Drug Policy.

Blair Anderson
Social Ecologist 'at large'

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