New Zealand has generally followed suit with international drugs policies – implementing a ban on cannabis in 1965, in accordance with an international treaty that sought to prohibit the production and supply of various drugs.
Since then, the 1975 Misuse of Drugs act has further entrenched the legislation surrounding the supply and possession of that sweet Mary Jane, and inculcated – in the minds of many New Zealanders – a view that the drug is inherently harmful.
Cannabis enthusiasts around New Zealand are afforded little sympathy – amounting to little more than ‘drop-kicks’ in the eyes of many, including, it would seem, the eyes of our National drug policies.
At least, that’s what we can reasonably surmise from the various policies that, upon closer inspection, serve no practical purpose other than facilitating harm to our poor, misunderstood stoners.
Let me explain.
Within the fine print of the Misuse of Drugs act, are various clauses that seek to impose criminal penalties on those caught in possession of drugs utensils.
“So what?” You may disdainfully decry “Being caught with drugs utensils is practically equivalent to being caught with drugs! Of course they should be punished.”
Now, I could present a coherent argument for why neither of those instances should actually merit the punishments that are outlined by the act, but here I wish only to present a particular, narrow argument – specifically against the outright prohibition of drugs utensils – which in itself is sufficient to warrant vehement protest.
The argument looks something like this:
People are going to smoke pot regardless of legislation. This is just a fact. There has been found absolutely no evidence to show that criminalizing weed utensils has done anything whatsoever to deter its use.
So once we accept this, we are in a place to evaluate the true consequences of instituting an indiscriminate ban on all drugs utensils.
The incorrigible pothead, shunned by society and scorned by its laws, is unable to find, wherever he might look, a utensil with which he can smoke the tangy plant safely.
A glass bong, which serves to filter the carcinogen-loaded smoke, is nowhere to be found, as a direct consequence of legislation. Yet in his kitchen drawer sits a pair of his girlfriend’s favourite metal knives. So with his innate Kiwi ingenuity, he heats these knives upon the metal coils of his stove, presses them together with small nugget of weed in between, and sucks the resulting smoke straight into his lungs.
Thus not only has he compromised his health, by inhaling directly the unfiltered, carcinogenic smoke, but he has also forever ruined his girlfriend’s prized cutlery.
What I’m trying to demonstrate is that, by reducing the availability of quality-assured drugs utensils, which through various means are able reduce the negative health consequences associated with smoking dack, we are directly facilitating harm to the smokers.
And considering around 42% of Kiwi adults have blazed at least once in their lifetime, this is not something to be readily ignored.
As if all of this wasn’t backwards enough, in 2014, the regulations against drugs utensils were further tightened. A previously legal device (perhaps due to its relatively recent emergence) – the vaporizer – was banned.
Vaporizers are by far the safest means by which cannabis can be smoked, since the vapor inhaled by the user contains only a small fraction of the cancer-causing chemicals (if any at all), that are present in the smoke of traditional consumption methods.
Many health-conscious smokers were starting to adopt this new device before legislation eventually crashed the party.
“No, hippies, you must continue to blacken your lungs using spot knives over the kitchen stove, thank you very much. Your health is none of our concern.” – is basically the underlying message of those amendments to the drugs act.
But there is hope yet. Just a few months ago, the NZ ministry of health released a document that outlined a consideration for a review of the regulation on drugs utensils.
The document they released is surprisingly lucid, and reasonable, with regard to the reality of the situation. They have acknowledged the need to “[get] the legal balance right”.
They also state, among other things, that “vaporisers have the potential to reduce harm when used to smoke illegal or legal drugs and can also be a safer alternative to injecting drugs.”
It is actually difficult to see how, given the arguments outlined in the document, the ministry of health will not ultimately decide to change current regulations. But of course we’ll have to wait and see.
So all of this looks mighty promising, not only for the future of that ever-present demographic within our society – the ever-oppressed stoner – but for New Zealand at large. If we continue to adopt rational, evidence-based policies, then we’re on the right track.