Say "Yes" To Drugs?
I am well aware that my title may suggest that I am advocating the use of drugs so let me say from the outset that I am not.
However, today is the World Drug Day co-ordinated by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Their annual World Drug Report provides one of the most complete assessments of the international drug problem, with comprehensive information on the illicit drug situation. It provides detailed estimates and information on trends in the production, trafficking and use of opium/heroin, coca/cocaine, cannabis and amphetamine-type stimulants, based on data and estimates collected or prepared by Governments, UNODC and other international institutions, (and) attempts to identify trends in the evolution of global illicit drug markets.
Consider that the population Indonesia is c.230 million and then work out how many users of the following drugs and then work out the actual numbers from the given percentages of the population: Cocaine 0.1%, Cannabis 0.7%, Amphetamines 0.3%, Opiates 0.16%.
This week, calling for universal access to drug treatment, Antonio Maria Costa, director of UNODC said, "People who take drugs need medical help, not criminal retribution." said Since people with serious drug problems provided the bulk of drug demand, treating this problem was one of the best ways of shrinking the market.
However, back in In 2005, Tom Lloyd, a retired UK chief constable, said that prosecuting users is misguided and counter productive; prosecuting dealers without tackling demand or their profits doesn't work.
If the money wasted on misinformation, enforcement and condemnation had been spent on tackling the underlying causes, so many lives blighted by drugs and crime could have been different. There are a number of alternative methods available, but sadly we can't hold a rational public debate.
I agree, especially with "tackling the underlying causes". Prevention is always better than a cure.
Without a fundamental change in society, one that offers both opportunity and equality, then I do not believe that there is much rationality in the government and other authorities here positing Say No To Narkoba.
I well remember a few years back standing at the now inaptly named Harmoni intersection in Jakarta and staring at a banner with these words and thinking that I was breathing in massive amounts of noxious exhaust fumes which were far worse in their long-term effects than the occasional intake of a non-addictive recreational drug such as marijuana, known as ganja in Indonesia.
Folk are able to choose whether or not to imbibe some recreational substances such as addictive tobacco or alcohol..
I wondered too about the intake of body and mind altering substances which governments have knowingly allowed us to imbibe. There are pharmaceuticals, such as Vioxx, Bextra and, most notoriously, Thalidomide, which have had to be withdrawn from consumer markets because of their serious side effects. There are decreases in fertility as urine 'contaminated' with contraceptive pills ends up in water supplies. There are pesticides and fertilisers spayed and spread on crops which also end up in water tables, ultimately drunk. And the crops end up on our kitchen tables. Meat animals are fed on gods know what and end up giving us BSE, swine and bird flu.
Then there's the full spectrum of food additives, colorants and artificial flavours, and the excessive amounts sugar and salt in our ready packed snacks and meals. Consider too the proliferation of so-called food and health supplements we consume.
Yet certain remedies, commonly found in plants, are restricted by commercial considerations. Take aspirin, which I won't dignify by capitalising, which is a derivative of salicylic acid commonly found in nature, such as the bark and leaves of the willow tree. Hippocrates knew this 2,500 years ago, although it took until 1900 for the German company Bayer, to patent the name, a patent they lost in 1919 as part of the Treaty of Versailles with the end of World War 1.
Why then, is aspirin not marketed here as a generic medicine? (Incidentally, Heroin® was also a trademark Bayer was forced to give up in 1919.)
Narkoba are generally defined as recreational drugs which have been deemed to be illegal because their traffickers and users can be harmful to society. And this is true.
There are a number of highly addictive chemically produced drugs, such as heroin, cocaine and ecstasy, which are marketed by criminal gangs with financial resources and armies greater than many countries. Indeed, in some countries, these gangs seemingly are the de facto government. The death toll among gang members competing for supply routes and the gangs' addicted customers is unquantifiable but high, too high. I'm definitely not suggesting the decriminalisation of such evil people, although excuses can be made for many of the addicted.
Heroin is a main source of income for the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan as it wages war against non-believers in their brand of bigotry. Innocent civilians are numerous victims.
Here in Indonesia, the growing and trafficking of marijuana, known as ganja, by both the military and the Aceh Free Movement (GAM) undoubtedly prolonged the war, which only ended with a genuine act of nature, the tsunami. Unfortunately reports continue to surface of renegade acts of violence linked to the trade. And these would surely cease if marijuana were decriminalised.
Consider the use throughout human history of marijuana as a pain reliever.
Queen Victoria is supposed to have used it for period pains. It was sometimes used in childbirth and a poignant archaeological discovery in the Middle East revealed cannabis remnants near the body of a young woman who probably died in childbirth 5,000 years ago.
Cancer patients have claimed that cannabis helps suppress nausea after chemotherapy and the UK government now allows such use under medical supervision.
I can also attest to its beneficial effects. Twenty five years ago, whilst awaiting the arrival of a doctor to put to rights my herniated vertebra (slipped disc), a friend gave me some 'pot' to smoke. When the doctor arrived, I was smiling.
It has only been for a mere 70 years that the use of marijuana as a recreational drug has been prohibited. Marijuana is also known as hemp. The earliest known woven fabric was apparently of hemp, and over the centuries the plant was used for food, incense, cloth, rope and up to 25,000 uses.
In America, William Randolph Hearst, the multi-millionaire newspaper proprietor immortalised in Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, owned enormous timber acreage, land best suited for conventional pulp. According to Popular Mechanics, 10,000 acres devoted to hemp will produce as much paper as 40,000 acres of forest pulp land, so it was in Hearst's interest to see the Marijuana Tax Act passed in 1937.
At this time, DuPont was patenting a new sulfuric acid process for producing wood-pulp paper, which ultimately accounted for more than 80% of all DuPont's railroad car loadings for the next 50 years. Also, in 1935 DuPont developed a new synthetic fiber, nylon, which was an ideal substitute for hemp rope, and in 1938 they introduced rayon, which would have been unable to compete with the strength of hemp fiber or its economical process of manufacturing.
Hearst's media orchestrated a campaign against blacks and Mexicans, seen as the main users of 'reefer'.
"Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men's shadows and look at a white woman twice."
Here in Indonesia, a little sense is beginning to prevail. In 2002, then President Megawati issued a decree which led to the formation of the National Narcotics Board (BNN) and the development of a national strategy toward the abuse, trafficking and eradication of illicit substances. Despite the existing laws and regulations specifically criminalizing the use of illegal drugs, the strategy clearly stated that "drug users should be referred to drug treatment and rehabilitation (by court order) rather than imprisonment".
In March, the Supreme Court issued a circular reminding judges of this decree. This is a small but positive step toward softening Indonesia's harsh prohibitionist approach.
There's a long way to go, however, before we can all breathe easier.
Arguments Pro and Anti Drug Prohibition
The International Drug Policy Consortium is a global network of NGOs that specialise in issues related to illegal and legal drug use.