Rodney Hide: Drug laws now in disarray

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The possibility of testing on animals added to the debate. Photo / Sarah Ivey
The possibility of testing on animals added to the debate. Photo / Sarah Ivey

It's possible our politicians haven't a clue what they're doing with drug policy. It's easy to see why. Drugs are outside their experience, highly emotive and dangerous politics. Politicians as far apart as Nandor Tanczos and Don Brash have come unstuck attempting a rational discussion.

These two politicians constitute a grim warning across the political spectrum.

The result is drug law that is incoherent and now in disarray.

Within a year we have gone from prohibition to laissez faire to a regulated market and now back to prohibition.

Nine months ago all political parties bar Act were hailing the new regulated market as world-leading and a new era in harm minimisation.

All those same parties have now run a mile. The long and considered process that included a weighty Law Commission report has been abandoned in favour of legislation to be passed under urgency as soon as Parliament resumes.

Previously "legal highs" such as BZP were banned under the Misuse of Drugs Act. That was the prohibition phase. But the problem was Walter White types racing ahead of the law with ever-new synthetic drugs. Out on that chemical frontier we had a wild, wild west. Politicians passing laws couldn't keep up.

Last year's Psychoactive Substances Act was designed to end all that. It would make drug-taking safer, regulated to adults and taxed and controlled by government. We were told over and over that prohibition doesn't work. Better to have "legal highs" out in the open and properly regulated.

Act's John Banks was the only dissenter but his opposition was because of the Government's lack of assurance that animals wouldn't be used for testing.

Part of the problem with the new regime is Prime Minister John Key's reluctance to authorise testing on puppies and bunnies - but he's thinking that rats and mice might be okay. Mickey can get high but not Peter or Pluto.

The approach we oh-so-briefly had was reasoned and rational and probably greatly reduced the damage people caused themselves through drugs. But nonetheless it proved flawed. Drugged youngsters outside "legal high" stores - and their desperate mums and dads - make great TV. And it's election year. The new regime never stood a chance.

We don't want drug-taking out in the open.

Better to drive drugs underground. It's better for politicians too: forcing drug-users underground means politicians are no longer held responsible for their plight and, better yet, hides them from Campbell Live.

Drugs won't go away. And in all of the debate two words were always missed out: personal responsibility.

I doubt it's ever wise to look to politicians for guidance on what we should and shouldn't be putting inside our bodies.

- Herald on Sunday

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