02 October 2011

Dope debate

 Should dope be decriminalised?

Act Party leader Don Brash's suggestion last Sunday that consuming cannabis shouldn't be a criminal offence caused a political outcry.

But a Blenheim drug and alcohol counsellor suggests it could be a good time to examine all drug laws in this country.

Mark Fairhurst joined Te Rapuora Health Services nine weeks ago but has been an alcohol and drug counsellor for 30 years. He holds some clear ideas about the attractions – and hazards – of mind-altering substances.

Humans have been taking them for centuries but in earlier cultures it was done only by nominated people in religious or other official ceremonies.

"Problems arose when alcohol became more freely available to the general public."

Keeping cannabis illegal deters some people from trying it, Mark believes, but those who dodge the law have no way of knowing its potency. Crops can be strengthened through good husbandry practices, and soil and climatic conditions alter the effects of its main chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

Cannabis from Northland might affect someone differently to cannabis grown in Marlborough, Mark says. If cannabis was decriminalised, the stringent rules for all pharmaceutical drugs would need to be applied, ensuring its toxicity, and the risks involved in taking it, were clearly identified.

Mark is not calling for cannabis to be decriminalised but he hopes other drugs will be included in any review.

"Who decides alcohol is a good drug to take?"

To explain how alcohol affects us, he sketches a human brain on a white board. There are three parts: the old brain that keeps us breathing and our hearts pumping, a mid brain that controls our reflexes and balance, and the outer cortex or new brain which makes us human, forming morals, ethics and judgement. Those are the first to be affected when alcohol is imbibed, Mark says. "So you can't even tell how intoxicated you are!"

Reflexes and concentration are next affected until the drunk person becomes too sleepy to consume any more, preventing alcohol reaching the old brain and halting vital functions.

People he sees come to Te Rapuora after referrals from the court, the Corrections Department, Child Youth and Family – or their mother, he says. Sometimes it is family members of someone using drugs who seek counsel.

Mark disputes Don Brash's claim that cannabis use causes no harm to anyone except the user. Families and the wider community are always affected by drug abuse with education, employment, relationships, parenting and finances likely to suffer.

"And if you are taking alcohol or cannabis to relax, you are starting to talk about problem use."

1 October, 2011
The Marlborough Express

No comments:

Post a Comment