I marched through Henderson last month with my fellow Westies to express our concern about the impact of so called “legal highs” on our community. Some people chanted loudly calling for banning, some expressing anger at the parliamentarians who voted for the bill. I dont really share either of these views but we all shared one concern, concern for the impact on our community of these synthisised chemical cocktails on our vulnerable, young and poor.
This debate has changed my thinking and over the last few months, in interviews on Bfm and on the Native Affairs program I have found myself advocating for a major change in the legal status of marijuana, this is a huge change for me as I have previously been wary of this approach, we have enough trouble with alcohol I thought? This change in heart is as a result of talking to users, doctors, community workers and long time smokers of organic marijuana. The overwhelming consensus is that, compared with the chemically synthesised, variably manufactured psychoactive substances, organic marijuana is a way less damaging option.
The discussion now needs to move to an alternative solution. Challenging as it is the wider community, medical fraternity, law makers and decision makers need to collaborate on the way forward. It is easy to simply view the “legalise dope” as the same old debate we have heard for the last 50 years accompanied by public smoke ups, dreadlocks and all the cliches. We have a different set of issues to address now and we need to put some intellectual grunt into the solutions. Legal highs have simply brought this debate to a head (pun intended).
I have been working on a series of practical pieces of work in the short term that may pave the way for a more regulated approach to the sale of legal highs which may make the future discussion on legal sale of marijuana more acceptable.
The regulating policy on where shops can be set up to sell highs is being worked through with our communities, we also have a by law coming into being in May to stop the selling and consumption of these products in public places and we are working with our community and police on support and prevention programs for our youth. The other key is to make it easy for our community to be more empowered in the decisions that are being made on our behalf, we are putting together a community toolkit so that people can feed back their concerns and their user experiences directly to the Ministry of Health to ensure that when the government enter their next phase of debate on the issue, they have quality real time experience and feedback on which to base their decisions.
We cannot pretend that we can solve the issues by pushing them underground, the alternative is challenging but I think we are ready for the debate. The need to escape our day to day life via a variety of chemical substances is as old as humanity, lets get over the prejudice and on with finding a humane way forward.