In a strange twist to last week's big meth bust in Northland one commentator ruminated on that popular theme, the decriminalisation of all good-times drugs.

I call them good-time drugs because people use them to make their lives seem more exciting and themselves more interesting - a compelling reason why they should stay banned. We shouldn't encourage delusion.

Few things are more tedious than a droning drunk. I should know because I've been one, and been cornered by many. Likewise, a drugged-out good-timer feeling like they're the centre of the universe makes for dull company. I've known a few of those, too.

The argument that the drug problem would be solved overnight by making it legal is one I agreed with ages ago, when everyone I knew seemed to be out of it every chance they got, in the first flush of LSD and cannabis use. What seemed glamorous then looks, in hindsight, to have stopped many of those people in their tracks, reliving the glorious groundhog days before their hair and teeth fell out, before a new set of knees became a more alluring prospect than listening to old Jimi Hendrix CDs. They've become could-have-beens who weren't, and I blame drugs for that. They were a substitute for real experience, discouraged achievement, and we're still at it, research tells us; the over-55s smoke dope more often than any other age group. Growing up in the aftermath of World War II we were reluctant to get serious, seeing where that had led the world, I guess.


I no longer think that legalising good-time drugs makes sense, not when drugs that can cure cancers or ease suffering have to jump through so many hoops before they're deemed to be safe. If the state is going to get involved in drugs it has a responsibility to be that thorough, and drugs people take for fun or to feel fabulous are unlikely to ever pass any safety tests, not if they deliver the intense impact users seem to crave.

If the argument goes that the drug trade would become purer or safer if we handed it over to big "respectable" business, then the argument just gets silly. Nothing will stop criminals manufacturing their own product to compete with the official one; they already know how to do it, and have distribution and sales sorted. The guys up north who were so hilariously incompetent with their massive delivery of meth were the comic exceptions in a highly organised international business.

Alcohol is always touted as an example of our supposed double standard to drug taking - that alcohol is OK while nothing else is, as if it's just a question of taste. Some people become addicted to alcohol, yes, with tragic or boring results, and many people drink too much and become violent or drive drunk, but we don't turn a blind eye to it. They are punished for it, all the more because they choose to get drunk and be reckless.

A mesh of laws covers where and how people can drink, where they can buy alcohol, and at what age. They are there because we know the harm alcohol can do when people abuse it, but don't see why ordinary drinkers should be deprived of it because a minority make fools of themselves.

Most people who drink don't beat total strangers over the head, vomit in the street or bash their wives. Most people who drink don't deliberately set out to get plastered. Drugs like methamphetamine are used because users want to be off their faces and feel fabulous, and to hell with the consequences. It's no comparison.

The hand-wringing attitude that if meth - all good-time drugs - were legal we could "help" users ignores the fact that they already know where help is to be found but choose not to find it. They like what they're doing, know very well that it's bad for them, and don't care about the harm they cause themselves or their families. In any case busybodies are already working flat-out on smoking and obesity, also issues that are about choice in spite of known consequences.

As for cannabis, decriminalisation would turn the nation's profitable cottage industry into yet another racket for white collar shysters, and they're flat out already speculating in housing. Using it for pain relief is a separate issue, and I don't see why sick people shouldn't have it if nothing else works. Campaigner Helen Kelly, who has incurable cancer, shouldn't have to beg for it or get it illegally after all she's done for working people in this country. For that alone she deserves a medal.

- Rosemary McLeod is a journalist and author.