While many of us were feeling morally superior to Singapore as Nguyen Tuong Van was hanged, remember that New Zealand is not so hot on sane drug laws either.
The use of the death penalty – which has outraged the public and been condemned by prime
ministers on both sides of the Tasman – is a brutal extension of the same law we have here.
Politicians and media have been quick to denounce the death penalty – and rightly so – but
they have ignored the fact that New Zealand also uses force to stop people using drugs. New
Zealand and Singapore both enforce a prohibitionist “War on Drugs”. They hang people, we
lock them up, but the objective is the same.
Aussie PM John Howard tried to deflect attention from the law, when he said that “I hope the
strongest message that comes out of this… is a message to the young of Australia – don’t have
anything to do with drugs”.
But drugs did not kill Nguyen Van – prohibition did.
The New Zealand Herald, in an editorial titled “Executions abhorrent and futile” (2/12/05),
said that Singapore’s use of the death penalty was an admission “it has no faith in the ability of
its citizens, or its institutional framework, to cope with illegal drugs.”
But the same could be said about drug prohibition in New Zealand.
The penalties are lower than in South East Asia, but New Zealand still arrests more people on cannabis charges per head of population than any other country. There are stories behind every one of these busts, mostly involving ordinary people but some attaining widespread notoriety through sensational media coverage.
Nguyen Van, Schapelle Corby and the “celebrity drug bust” have confirmed what ordinary New Zealanders already knew – that drug use is commonplace. Many role models and upstanding
members of the community are involved. Using marijuana is now a normal activity, with 80 percent of 21-year-olds having tried it. Most enjoy it and do not suffer any ill effects.
The question many New Zealanders will be asking is, why is it that our Government looks towards Indonesia, Singapore and the United States for its cannabis policy, and not towards Europe, Canada or several Australian states?
The good news is that in the absence of law reform, Police are arresting fewer people on marijuana charges, according to official crime statistics for the 2004-2005 fiscal year. This continues a 3-year trend. The number of marijuana offences dropped almost 20 percent from 18,271 to 14,654.
However marijuana charges still make up 80 per cent of all drug arrests.
And despite the significant reduction, New Zealand still retains its position as the top marijuana-arresting nation on earth, with 358 arrests per year per 100,000 population.
(Norml News Summer 2006)