Peter Scherer, an editor of this newspaper long ago, held the philosophy that "To save people from themselves is to breed a nation of fools." He comes to mind every time I hear Ross Bell of the NZ Drug Foundation or Green MP Chloe Swarbrick calling for drug testing at rock festivals.
Swarbrick appears to think it terribly enlightening for boomers to be told some young people are going to take illicit drugs whatever we do, while Bell's mature enough to know we know this. Both think it therefore logical we should make drug use as safe as we can.
My mother said you shouldn't call anybody a fool, you're damned in a gospel if you do. But how else do you describe people who are willing to swallow or snort chemicals they know so little about?
As Prime Minister, Sir John Key didn't mince his words when he visited schools and someone would ask about legalising drugs. It was the one subject that could change his sunny demeanour. If you take drugs, he'd tell the students, you're an idiot.
I'll bet the great majority of his audience thought that an accurate description of classmates who imagined they were cool. It's a more effective message than the confusing purpose of decriminalisation and drug testing.
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What exactly would concert pills be tested for? From what we read, drugs that have killed rock stars and people at events in the United States recently have been laced with a powerful anaesthetic called fentanyl, developed from morphine.
A tiny amount can stop you breathing. But it produces a rapid "high" and heroin addicts reportedly switch to it when heroin no longer does it for them. It's also cheap to produce, so it's being mixed with cocaine, methamphetamine and pills without users knowing.
It's getting harder to avoid that word, Mum.
How exactly would testing at rock festivals be done? If the heroin, cocaine or whatever proves to be what it's thought to be, do helpful people in white coats hand it back, saying, "This is fine, you're good to go."
When the Herald asked this question in an editorial last summer the managers of a testing agency, KnowYourStuffNZ, replied in an op-ed piece. Wendy Allison and Jez Weston explained they needed only a tiny amount for testing (much less than a pill) and they never handed it back because that would be a crime of supply.
Furthermore, they wrote, "We never describe a sample as 'safe' as every substance has risks. We never describe a sample as 'not contaminated' as every testing method has limits."
They added, "We already provide warnings about the specific drugs identified and advice on safer behaviour as part of the testing process. Despite this, there will still be harms from drug use, even for people who have used a testing service, just as there are for any health service."
Confused? I am. I think the kids at rock concerts will be too when they've given their grain of powder or pill to Wendy or Jez, who come back and tell them nothing definite. Word will get around that unless they tell you it is contaminated it's fine.
Drug testing inevitably would be seen as official approval of the substances that pass a test and the taxpayers would become liable for the "harms" acknowledged by the testers.
We saw this happen with party drugs in 2013. It was only once a few of them were licenced that we started hearing about the damage they were doing. Disturbed users, their distraught parents and hospital emergency room doctors held society responsible.
That is as it should be, the Drug Foundation will say. It is looking forward to taking maximum social responsibility in the form of health services for users of newly legal recreational drugs. Testing of drugs at rock festivals would be just the beginning.
If significant numbers of our young population are swallowing psychoactive substances of unknown manufacture we are well on the way to breeding a nation of fools. But I doubt things have come to this.
Today's younger generation is much more sensible than mine was at their age. Drinking habits, drunk driving, teenage pregnancy and the like have all improved.
Personal responsibility is not currently fashionable in politics and media but it's still a strong element of common sense, which might be why support for legalisation of cannabis is dropping as we get closer to this year's referendum.
The criminal law sends a clear message about the merits of certain drugs. Criminal law lightly enforced is no less clear. It says use of these substances in not wise but not worth prosecuting. It's up to you. This Government has already put that message into legislation. I'd leave it at that.