I remember the synthetic cannabinoids debate. I remember it well. But more important than that, I also remember the nature of the substance then being debated - and how it differed, markedly and materially from the drug-law reform being proposed today.
Inveterate Herald political curmudgeon John Roughan does not. On any meaningful score, and in any meaningful sense - he is ignorant. In fact, judging by the tone and tenor of the article which appeared under his name in yesterday's Weekend Herald, it would appear manifestly apparent that Roughan considers ignorance to be amongst the highest of virtues.
Perhaps he is right. Perhaps never having dabbled with psychoactive substances in one's youth makes the armchair in a writer's ivory tower sitting room an altogether more comfortable position from which to sit in supposed 'impartial' judgement upon the progressive law reform proposals of others.
I wouldn't know. I have been spared the luxuries of existing 'above the fray', as it were.
As a young man, many of my best friends were drug users. A goodly portion were, what you might say, "drug dependent". For a variety of conditions - whether physiological or psychiatric - these people turned to pharmacopia in order to cope with the needs and demands of their day-to-day existence.
Some people used anti-depressants. Others, stimulant-drugs prescribed for their ADHD. Still further luminaries turned to more illicit substances in order to cope with what ailed them, and some indeed were simply in pursuit of a buzz or an 'enhanced' approach to recreation.
Many of them used cannabis. But not all. For various reasons, a few of us dipped into the horrid half-world of the synthetic.
And yes, part of the reason was that it was legal and available - but it wasn't exactly by choice. Instead, it was almost invariably because real cannabis *wasn't* legal and *wasn't* available that the far less desirable alternative worked its way onto peoples' radar.
But "legal highs" proved to be a very, very different family of drugs indeed to regular old cannabis, and acres of user-testimony (which we might almost term 'survivor stories' considering the serious ill-effects of some of the latter releases) serves to confirm that these were not good substances. In fact, having seen up close and personal what they did to one of my closest friends and others ... I would have absolutely zero compunction saying that methamphetamine appears relatively less harmful by comparison.
So when Roughan erroneously attempts to claim that the insane irrationality of the synthetic cannabinoid experiment vitiates the sanity and rationality of serious attempts to reform our laws against medicinal cannabis or decriminalization more generally ... this makes exactly as much sense as stating that because methylated spirits ought not be sold in bars for human consumption because of their patently poisonous effects, regular beer and whiskey should not be vended either.
In other words, it's a completely nonsensical position.
Like should be compared with like - and even when compared with unlike (as Roughan does by raising alcohol prohibition), the actual facts of the situation - rather than mere rhetorical blustering in service of an agenda - ought to be what's taken into consideration.
This is why it's damned curious that Roughan can in the same breath decry prohibition for alcohol, claim that it doesn't work and shouldn't have happened ... apparently because he, personally enjoys it (and really, what is non-medicinal drug-use for many people other than "pleasant in itself"). And yet simultaneously state that the continued prohibition for cannabis is somehow entirely different in substance rather than just substance (ahem) from that which has gone before.
It's a fact-free spin-zone perspective designed to bolster and support his own personal prejudices. And we can prove that not only via recourse to how he chooses to describe his own enjoyment of alcohol perpendicular to his mischaracterization of cannabis ... but also by taking a look at the substance behind his rhetorical stabs at the much-maligned "health regulators" on the issue of how prohibition has played out for synthetic cannabis.
Roughan claims that "years have passed and we don't see or hear anything about" an "underground" market in synthetic cannabinoids. In answer to that, here's a link to an NZ Police press release from just four days ago about a series of raids on houses involved in the synthetic cannabinoid trade. Here's another piece from last month which features a police raid in Canterbury netting a whole kilogram of the stuff.
Now this is not to argue that taking synthetic cannabinoids off the shelves was a bad idea. With people still evidently being seriously hospitalized on a reasonably regular basis through synthetic cannabis use, there's clearly a strong argument that restricting the availability of that substance had some clear merit to it in the name of harm minimization. Instead, it is to simply point out that Roughan hasn't bothered to let facts of any stripe burden him as he reaches for a Talkback-grade personal opinion on issues which he has no problem admitting he's fairly utterly ignorant about.
And in any case, if Roughan's comparison between synthetic and natural cannabis were to hold any water, we'd be expecting to see a similar raft of regular and ongoing potentially life-threatening hospitalizations from simple natural cannabis usage. We don't, and never have done. Although interestingly, Roughan's own preferred drug of choice, alcohol, continues to stock emergency-rooms and police cells in staggering numbers which dwarf in scale the harms wrought by cannabis or even synthetics.
I wonder why he doesn't mention that.
What Roughan's column represents is the comfortable and easy prejudices of a section of the National-voting middle class come out to play. It is not in any way, shape or form, a substantive analysis - and is interesting only for the breathtaking breadth of willful ignorance which some attempted-opinion-shapers in this country intentionally cling to when it comes to upsetting the apple-cart on a status quo that demonstrably isn't working.
Whenever a new idea whose time has come appears to be slouching toward Bethlehem for impending immanentization, there will always be armchair critics. Men whose lack of imagination is inflamed and anguished at having to envision a world where their own personal prejudices are not the dominant force in the legislative-political cosmos.
As the momentum for change grows, so too do their howls of discontent voiced through the popular media and presses. And that is a sad thing, indeed - for the increased harmonics of their oft-impressively shrill tones can occasionally even succeed in discolouring or, worse, outright destabilizing the course and progress of the rational and reasonable debate taking place around them.
It is clear now that one of the arguments which will be deployed in the immediate future to oppose sensible reform of our cannabis laws, will be the Government's previous insensible experimentation with synthetic highs.
But the New Zealand Public will not be fooled.
The most accurate line in Roughan's column was also its conclusion - that it's "none of [his] business".
As applies the eventual course and outcome of this debate ... I can hardly say I disagree.
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