One thing that has always puzzled me is why New Zealanders associate the policy of drug liberalisation with the political left wing. The ideas of personal freedom and individual responsibility would, at first glance, sit more comfortably on the right, yet our political spectrum is more complex than that. There are conservative left-wing parties (e.g. Jim Anderton’s Progressive Coalition), liberal left-wing parties (the Green Party), conservative right-wing parties (NZ First and United Future), and liberal right-wing parties (ACT NZ perhaps…). However it is the liberal right-wing perspective that is less often heard in New Zealand. In my opinion it is this perspective that has the most ideological legitimacy to support drug liberalisation.
The Greens are a group of people who would raise taxes, enforce school zoning, and tighten the Resource Management and Employment Relations Acts, for example. Yet, for some peculiar reason they advocate “personal choice” with respect to drug laws. Right-wing parties who generally adhere to the principle of personal choice tend to sideline themselves by either becoming populists, like the ACT party, or a bunch of lunatics whose press releases read more like schoolboy jokes than legitimate political opinions, such as the Libertarianz.
What I wish to explain is why, from a right-wing perspective, soft drugs (at least) deserve to be legalised.
It stands to reason that if 52% of the population have tried marijuana, as statistics say they have, then it can hardly be considered an immoral act, notwithstanding some greater moral imperative such as the deprivation of human life or property (vis-à-vis murder, assault, burglary etc.). Indeed, regardless of statistics, one has to wonder how on earth the consumption of dried plant matter can actually be immoral if it is only affecting the person who consumes it. What prohibitionists would argue is that there is some greater social cost, or cost to the health system. This is utter garbage.
The idea that the archetypal stoner is some sort social vagrant is less of an objective judgement about health, and more of a subjective opinion about what constitutes a good quality of life. It is not for the aspiring corporate lawyers among us to tell people that when they smoke marijuana they shall become zombies whose lives will be useless. People have different views on what is a desirable life to lead, and just because these archetypal stoners may not go on to become wealthy BMW drivers does not mean that they will not lead a fulfilling life, nor that their contribution to society will be worthless.
This argument assumes, of course, that everyone who smokes marijuana will become some sort of zombie, and as such is a worst-case scenario. The reality is that most people have tried marijuana, many use it infrequently, and very few become regular users.
Some people, predominantly politicians who espouse the ill-defined and fickle concept of “family values”, would claim that soft drugs are a gateway to harder drugs such as methamphetamine. This is no more than an untested assertion. The alternative and more commonsense view is that it is the fact that these drugs are illegal, rather than some inherent characteristic of the drugs, that makes them a gateway. People who wish to purchase such contraband must, in most cases, visit a predominantly gang-operated “tinnie house”, the unscrupulous proprietors of which then hook them on drugs such as methamphetamine. Were soft drugs such as marijuana and ecstasy legalised, then people could purchase them legally in regulated stores, much like in the Netherlands.
The argument about health costs is a spurious one. A simple tax on sales, calculated at a point sufficient to gain revenue for hospitals but insufficient to encourage a black market, would ensure funds for hospitals, much like taxes on alcohol and tobacco do. This way, the hard working mums and dads of places like Ohariu-Belmont could be relieved of the tax burden they currently face paying for hippies’ drug-related illnesses. Again, this is a worst-case scenario. In reality most people can smoke marijuana or pop pills without having to be admitted to hospital at all.
Basically, there is a great deal of scare mongering about drugs in society. Most people recognise that there are health issues and social concerns over any substance, legal or illegal, which has the power to alter chemicals in your brain. The issue is that these problems become grossly inflated by politicians and the media, who have vested interests in ensuring votes and sales by promoting a culture of fear. The best thing we can do is legalise soft drugs and give people the choice to consume whatever they choose, but ensure that we have a caring and tolerant society in which young people do not feel compelled to turn to substance abuse to escape their problems. In other words, policy in the area of drugs should merely be a matter of tolerance and personal freedom.