Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Ali Williams is a victim of the ridiculous war on drugs

Ali Williams. Photograph by Greg Bowker
Ali Williams. Photograph by Greg Bowker

Another headline. More drug victims.

At this point, Ali Williams and James O'Connor, two former test rugby stars, are guilty of nothing having been arrested on cocaine charges in Paris. And guilty of nothing they are, whatever the outcome.

Has there ever been a more futile, damaging legal line than the ridiculous war on drugs?

It has created so many victims, in so many ways. Prohibition, as it inevitably does, has created a disaster it can't solve.

Williams and O'Connor are just two more victims, their names being dragged through unflattering headlines. They will be condemned by sports bosses, men who care only for image and know nothing about what they talk about.

When drugs are an issue in people's lives, it is a health issue. It should not be a legal one. Prohibition is creating the problem, and not only because it has the potential to ruin job prospects, travel opportunities etc etc.

(as it may well do with Williams, the former All Black lock, and O'Connor, once a diminutive Wallaby back).

We need to stop demonising drugs and the people who use them by allowing politicians - remember the White House Reagans - to hurl vote-catching cliché's about. Many drug users cause no problems at all, nor suffer beyond the standard physical risks associated with other problems such as high sugar intake, tobacco/alcohol use and a sedentary lifestyle.

Which brings us to addiction. As I've said before in columns, those in the rehabilitation business estimate that more than 80 per cent of people in our jails have substance abuse problems. We need to approach that intelligently, not on false pretences while waving a big stick.

For many years, I put everything and anything into my body, without remotely believing that I deserved to be regarded as a criminal, or was a danger to society beyond the poor family and friends who had to deal with the consequences.

My body, my right. I know many, many people who did the same, and some still do without major issues. They are all very fine people, and none have stood outside primary schools, selling drugs to kids (an image drug bashers love to push). Actually, using drugs can be a lot of fun. Of course, both drugs and alcohol can help take people to dark places.

Yet much admired alcohol continues to ravage people's lives, backed by massive advertising campaigns. At least those with alcohol issues can get help, without outrageous stigma or legal dangers attached.

As the experts will tell you, when it comes to those with the worst problems, addiction is in the person and not the substance. In other words, addiction - which has heavy genetic links - operates outside our silly laws. It is a complicated disease, and one which will defy the shallow methods of the legal system although the new drug courts in west and central Auckland are a significant step with noble intent.

The maddening hypocrisy of it all is everywhere. Another former All Black Dan Carter has admitted publicly that he drove drunk in Paris - and that is a real crime - but you won't hear anyone calling for prohibition on alcohol. Carter even got to make smarmy PR social media statements, controlling the situation in a way that the drug-tainted Williams and O'Connor will not be able to.

Talking of hypocrisy...here's an odd business about odds.

When you flick on the TV to watch rugby, a smiling bloke known as Staffy wanders about the field, peddling gambling by giving you the TAB odds in a charmingly helpful manner. Yet gambling devastates lives.

Lotto meanwhile is sold as a playful community project, even if the odds of winning anything significant are terrible and it is sending desperate individuals broke.

Sport also pushes massive amounts of sugar, a substance which is destroying the health of many societies. But that's fine, apparently.

Apart from that, I wish Williams and O'Connor well. Theirs was a victim-less crime, if indeed they are eventually found guilty under French law.

- NZ Herald

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