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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33, No. 1 18 February 1970

Pauline Swain comments on the Interim Report of the Board of Health Committee on drug abuse and drug dependency in New Zealand

Pauline Swain comments on the Interim Report of the Board of Health Committee on drug abuse and drug dependency in New Zealand

The first report of the Blake-Palmer Committee on drug dependence and drug abuse in New Zealand has now been published. Predictably adopting a middle-of-the-road and almost non-commital line, the report recommends no relaxation of the controls on pot.

The Committee does concede there are "strong influences working towards the establishment of a more permissive approach to the use of drugs in New Zealand." And it has obviously made a close study of the Wootton Report (1968, Britain) and local submissions by experts like Dr J.R.E. Dobson, head of psychiatric medicine at the North Canterbury Hospital Board. But it does not recommend any change in legal penalties for marijuana or any other drug offences: it even uses the work "enlightened" to describe present penal provisions.

In Britain, penalties have been lowered and there is legislation under preparation to change the offense of possession from a felony to a misdemeanour. There are similar moves for relaxation of the law relating to marijuana offenses in the United States. In New Zealand however, "the committee are unanimous that the relaxing of legislative control on the use of marijuana at this stage would be irresponsible."

While stating that it is unfair to stereotype a drug abuser as "morally depraved", the Report virtually equates possession of cannabis with committing a serious assault, by moral standards! Although it notes that there is an increasing tendency to consider marijuana separately from hard drugs in the mass media, the Report itself contains no definitive conclusion or recommendation to that effect. Rather, its tone suggests that marijuana is more dangerous than the short-term surveys of it would indicate.

There are frequent comparisons between marijuana and alcohol. The Committee believes that if a community is prepared to sanction a drug with potential abuse by a minority, then that drug should be alcohol—largely on the grounds that alcohol is the evil we (the Committee?) know . . .The Report also states that whereas the strengths of alcoholic drinks can be easily standardized, this is not so with marijuana. A main objection to the drug is on this point: who knows what strength, potency or quality is going to turn up in the next reefer? The Committee doesn't, and apparently has not judged marijuana in the context of state surveillance which it did with alcohol.

Mentioning police powers of search under the 1965 Narcotics Act, the members of the Committee endorse these powers as being one of the more effective ways to prevent illicit drug trafficking. A re-naming of the Vice Squad, relating to narcotics investigation at least, is also recommended.

The Report is insistent on the need for psychiatric care of drug abusers "drug abuse is more a psychiatric than a pharmacological problem." The recommendations refer to this, suggesting a psychiatric assessment of every drug offender coming before the courts. The overburdened state of mental health facilities and scarcity of qualified personnel already existing render this idea, though it's laudable enough, impractical—at least as things are now. Cross your fingers that the authorities don't interpret the Report's emphasis on psychiatric care as license to put all drug abusers where they put alcoholics now—in mental hospitals.

The Report is inconclusive. It is neither harsh nor progressive. But at least it is only an interim Report. Anyone concerned about the drug situation in New Zealand now has an opportunity to see the way officialdom is thinking. The Committee will call for further submissions, and this would be the time to put forward reasoned arguments in areas that need more thought by the Blake-Palmer Ten.

Cover Design by Bob Brockie; Congress photos on page 3 by Alan Browne; photos page 4 by Helen Whiteford; photos of Brian Talboys on pages 5 & 8 by Richard Silcock, published by courtesy of the PPTA Journal; cartoon on page 7 reprinted from Punch; photo on page 9 by Bob Joiner; photo of Gerard Curry on page 10 by Peter Craven and photo of Peter Rosier by Bob Joiner; photo pages 11 & 13 by Bob Joiner; cartoon page 13 reprinted from Punch; photo page 18 by Murray Vickers; photo of Robert Redford on page 19 published by courtesy of Twentieth-Century Fox and photo of Paul Holmes by John Miller.