A New Zealander who has come home after heading the Salvation Army in Pakistan says prohibition never works, but more restrictions can reduce the harm from drugs and alcohol.
Commissioner Alistair Herring, 63, who returned from Pakistan in April to head the Salvation Army's NZ addiction services, said Islam's ban on alcohol did not stop Pakistanis suffering serious addiction problems.
"Muslims are not allowed to hold alcohol licences in Pakistan on the premise that Islam is against addictive substances," he said. "What tends to happen in reality is that Muslims who want to drink will go to the Christian or non-Muslim community for their alcohol. I have talked to Muslim folk in Pakistan and they acknowledge that it is a problem. There is also a huge drug problem, of course."
He said Salvationists vowed not to drink or smoke voluntarily "because of who we are and the services we provide". But compulsion was "quite a different thing".
"Prohibition is never going to work, has never worked," he said.
He said he would be "very cautious" about decriminalising cannabis, as proposed by Auckland Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse, but he acknowledged the inconsistency of laws on cannabis and alcohol.
"I understand the younger generation saying to their parents, 'So you are against my drug of choice but what about your drug of choice?'" he said. "We tend to want to use a sledgehammer with drugs and a feather duster with alcohol."
But he saw signs that the "public voice" about the need to limit the misuse of alcohol was strengthening.
"I think there is further to go yet before the public voice will become so strong that the alcohol industry will be required to look at measures that the tobacco industry has been required to accept."
Mr Herring and his wife, Commissioner Astrid Herring, served in the Salvation Army's London headquarters before being posted to Pakistan. "It was an eye-opener," he said. "We never felt unsafe, but we were wise about our movements."
He said there were 50,000 Salvationists in Pakistan and the church was respected because of its work for the poor regardless of religion. Simon Collins