Our children deserve better: Our drug laws put them at risk

Excited children running over sand dunes to reach the beach

There are more than enough uncertainties in the world, these are indeed tough times to be growing up. Our children face so many issues and threats that they must understand, manage and negotiate. The issue of ‘drugs’* need not be one of those threats. However, the lies, the misinformation and the ideologically driven propaganda that underpins our understanding of ‘drugs’, our understanding of addiction, and our understanding of treatment - make ‘drugs’ a threat.

Our ‘drug’ laws - that fiercely punishes possession of set of psychoactive substances, while allowing others to be peddled and promoted — has no science or to evidence to support it. The bifurcation of psychoactive drugs is based upon racism, powerful vested interests and the control of the Other. Paradoxically, most of the prohibited drugs would, if they were legally regulated, be inherently less risky than the current legally regulated drugs ethanol and nicotine.

How then are our children expected to make sense of these lies and deceptions embedded within the drug narrative? Our children deserve drug laws and policies that educate and inform, drug laws that reduce the risk from harm. The truth is our drug laws are causing more confusion, more harm and threaten the life opportunities of our children.

Allow me to explain. As a result of driving certain psychoactive drugs underground, prohibitionist drug policies mean our children:

1. Have no idea of the strength of the drug.

2. Have no guarantee about the purity or indeed content of the drugs purchased — it could be contaminated or even mixed with toxic ingredients that could cause serious harm, even death.

3. Have to buy these drugs ‘underground’ — exposing the person to the vagaries of a potentially dangerous criminal underworld with no legal recourse for consumer protection.

4. Are placed at risk of acquiring a criminal record for unapproved drug possession — which would have lifelong damaging consequences upon employment prospects, education, insurance, travel and housing.

5. Buying, using and/or sharing unapproved drugs puts them at risk of serious criminal sentences such as a Drug Court order with a residential rehabilitation requirement, random drug testing — even imprisonment.

6. Unapproved drugs have to be used in secret. For some people this may mean using in an isolated location which could be potentially dangerous especially — such as a condemned building, under a railway bridge, by a river etc.

7. Have to hide their use of unapproved drugs making it more difficult to manage and harder to seek help, support or advice if problems arise.

8. If the person has a life-limiting medical condition that can be managed with unapproved drugs — trying to acquire a regular reliable supply underground places further strain and pressure upon the chronically sick person.

9. Enforcement laws unfairly target poor people, young people and indigenous communities — and once a young person, who is already disadvantaged, gets a criminal record for unapproved drugs — life opportunities become very severely limited.

10. Instead of catching criminals, valuable police time is diverted to scour the countryside to dig up cannabis plants, stop and search people, carry out dawn raids, — time that could be better spent catching criminals and protecting victims from physical/sexual violence, robbery, trespass, theft and burglary.

11. Prohibition enforcement fuels an extremely lucrative underground illegal market where disputes and turf wars can’t get resolved by arbitration, consumer rights or the courts — so enforcement breeds violence as disputes get resolved by violence, knives, baseball bats and guns.

12. Unapproved drugs are already used widely, but the entire market from seeds, growing, chemicals, the equipment, the preparation, storage, marketing, packaging, distribution and profit is entirely unregulated, unaccountable, underground and undeclared — this existing lucrative underground business is losing countries millions of dollars in tax revenue and employment opportunities.

There is no excuse for continuing with draconian ideologically based drug policies that have remained largely unchanged for 50years. These are policies have caused untold harm to individuals, families, communities and countries, it’s way past time that we should abolish prohibition, learn to live and manage the drugs that, whether we ban them or legally regulate them, they are already here, in use and in circulation. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand the Law Commission Review in 2011 recommended the Misuse of Drugs Act should be repealed and replace with Health based legislation, wise advice for any country. We all need evidence based drug education, harm reduction, regulation and treatment — desperately.

Julian Buchanan
July 2022

*I use the term ‘drugs’ to exclusively refer to prohibited psychoactive substances. When people talk about drugs they should be more appropriately be referring to all psychoactive substance legal and illegal, but they’re not, they misleadingly promote the notion that only banned substances are drugs. So I use the term ‘drugs’ to refer to the social construct of banned substances otherwise the term makes no pharmacological sense.

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Julian Buchanan DipSW, MA, PhD

Julian Buchanan DipSW, MA, PhD

Retired Professor, international expert in drug policy, researcher, public speaker, writer and ex UN advisor.