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Joint enterprise deserves to succeed

C6 Focus, Sunday Star-Times, New Zealand
June 3, 2001
by Frank Haden

I have to welcome the start to the government's review of our out-of-date cannabis laws even if I can't offer much hope of anything useful coming from it.

We are too firmly embedded in outdated prejudices, too defiantly ignorant of the way sophisticated countries have found out about social drugs and amended their laws accordingly, to have any real hope of improvement

As a community we have never shown the slightest inclination to clean up our hypocrisy on mind-affecting drugs in general. We applaud or at the very least condone the tax revenue-producing addictive drugs, alcohol and nicotine, though both contribute hugely to the unnecessary early death rate.

Just last week we learned how doctors have been prescribing cartloads of fashionable tranquillisers for no good reasons other than so silence their patients' incessant complaining about their boring lives. The indiscriminate handing out of these benzodiazepine tranquillisers has produced a community of addicts who simply can't manage without them.

The news has been received in near-silence. Who cares?

Well, I care, for one. I loathe hypocrisy. I deplore the double standard that lets us condemn, on superstitious grounds, a drug that does almost no harm to its users, but turns a blind eye to supporting the habit of thousands upon thousands of people who moan to their doctors that they can't cope with life unless they are popping tranquillisers.

On Tuesday night Prime Television, most of the time the only channel that shows programmes worth watching, screened a disturbing BBC documentary on the appalling extent to which British doctors continue to prescribe benzodiazepine tranquillisers when they know they can cause addiction. Their irresponsible medication has produced thousands of addicts who can't manage without the drugs, prescribed for every kind of anxiety from sleeplessness to guilt.

Addicts were interviewed describing their withdrawal effects, shaking and beset by overwhelming panic, symptoms that disappeared as soon as they popped another tranquilliser.

These are respectable doctors, don't forget, acting within the law, writing prescriptions for respectable patients and filled by respectable pharmacists.

It is the same story in New Zealand. Our Health Ministry admits the number of benzodiazepine prescriptions has barely dropped, from 469,000 to 463,000 since it was classified as a Class C controlled drug two years ago.

A group called Patients' Rights Advocacy wants the drugs classified as Class A so doctors have to notify the Health Ministry every time they prescribe it, but the ministry won't have a bar of it.

With this sort of respectability attached to official addiction, how can anyone put up a case for retaining the old laws making cannabis use a criminal offence?

Professor Ashton's Article on Cannabis

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