Thursday, July 03, 2008

Reefer Madness

Latest international cannabis use figures prove that New Zealand is descending into "the world's gutters", says outspoken drug education expert Mike Sabin.

A recent World Health Organisation survey using data from 17 countries found cannabis use was highest in the United States, at 42.4 per cent, closely followed by New Zealand at 41.9 per cent.

The study also found New Zealand ranked second behind the US in terms of cocaine use, with 4.3 per cent of participants reporting having used the drug, compared with 16.2 per cent in the States.

It was now well accepted that cannabis was addictive and that it could induce compulsive drug-seeking behaviour and psychological withdrawal symptoms, Mr Sabin said.

The latest survey found that by the age of 15, 27 per cent of New Zealand youth were using cannabis.

Lock up your sons and daughters! As Mike Sabin would have you believe, New Zealand is turning into the hedonistic centre of the world.  Or is it really that Kiwis are just a little more honest about their drug use?  The cannabis statistics here on the general population are consistent with earlier surveys, but the notion that the herb is giving way to a cocaine epidemic makes me wonder if Sabin is indulging in a little himself. 

The difficulties with surveys such as these seem too obvious and numerous to point out.  First, one would expect that the drug use is over-reported in countries with more relaxed penalties for drugs (i.e. if you live in a country where being caught with drugs can mean the death penalty, you are much less likely to put your hand up for open and honest participation in these surveys).  Second, last time I checked, a survey of 17 countries does not make a world review. Third, it is always difficult to know whether the people surveyed constitute a statistical sample of the wider population. Finally, it has been well-documented that interviews with adolescents or children do not necessarily reflect the reality of the situation. The statistic of 27% of 15 year-olds smoking brings to mind the surveys conducted during Britain's "video nasty" era of the 1980s, where children en masse claimed to have seen films such as Driller Killer and I Spit On Your Grave.  When grilled on the details of the narratives of these films, it was evident that the majority of these kids had not seen the films, but saying that they had viewed these gory, illicit films earnt them a cultural cache at school. (This is not to say that there are not some 15 year-olds who have tried it, rather that the statistic itself is probably not reflective of this amount.)

Sabin's scientifically unsubstantiated claims that cannabis is psychologically addictive and that Aotearoa is falling into the gutter reek of broader commercial motivations not interrogated in the story itself: that the Government's approach to drug policy is not working and that we should use tax-payer funds to bankroll his private company Methcon.  Perhaps Sabin should read the Herald's Your Views for a fascinating and refreshingly honest insight on how people are using drugs in New Zealand, and whether the use of cannabis leads to the use of harder drugs. While I agree that the social effects of harder drugs like crystal methamphetamine need to be addressed, one really has to wonder if hysteria and privatization are the answer here. 

1 comment:

  1. See to me it just shows that its blatently obvious that the current prohibition of drugs ISNT WORKING.

    Drug (ab)use is a medical problem, not a legal one. The decriminalisation of all illegal drugs would allow resources to be directed towards prevention and treatment programs, take control of distribution away from criminal gangs (I'd rather a meth smoker got his hit from the doctor than the local Mongrel Mob), free up police resources for more important matters and allow society to look at WHY people take drugs in an open and sensible manner.