The seizure of industrial quantities of methamphetamine near Ahipara should spark a bit of stocktaking.
The drug bust will be remembered for the sheer quantity of the attempted importation and the comic incompetence of the criminals. (It's interesting the drug runners' ineptitude has been the object of more scathing comment than the importation itself.)
The police appear to have been completely unaware of the audacious if bungled operation until locals twigged to something unusual going on.
If the police were genuinely taken by surprise, the war on drugs is surely in a parlous state. Not that the authorities have ever looked like winning the war which has been an abject failure around the world.
Sure, some nasty people have been put behind bars and huge quantities of drugs taken out of circulation but the exercise has drastically drained state resources with no perceptible benefit.
If one drug becomes scarce then users move to the next one available. If one supplier is forced out, another takes his or her place. Drug prohibition has turned some states into quasi-gangster fiefdoms.
Most don't mind admitting they take the recreational drug alcohol and before we get all huffy about hopeless druggies and their self-destructive, pathetic characters, we should always remember that most of us often over-indulge on a drug which is much more destructive than the worst of the so-called hard drugs like heroin or P.
Any idiot can see that the way we handle recreational drug use is appallingly hypocritical and stunningly counter-productive.
For instance, it's clear that a lot of criminally-minded, poor people with families enjoy using P. A lot are so addicted they would just about sell themselves and their kids into slavery for a fix.
So what do we do? We make the use of the drug a criminal offence as though addicts give a toss. We prohibit supply so that criminals and criminal gangs take over manufacture and distribution, thereby creating a dangerous black market. In other words we put the worst possible people in charge of providing a dangerous substance that some people feel they need more than oxygen itself.
Many people with good jobs also use hard drugs but it is the poor who need to burgle and steal to get the money for their habit. The people who need the most help and whose families are most vulnerable will bear the worst consequences of our drug laws. The collateral damage on children does not need to be spelt out.
Few would argue taking hard recreational drugs is a good idea. However getting high on life does not cut the mustard for most people so we have to be realistic about the undeniable urge to achieve some sort of different state on occasion. A large proportion of drug users get high without becoming addicts or doing any more damage (and often less) than your average weekend drunk.
We don't need to worry about them. But we do need to worry about addicts and young potential users.
What we need to aim for with our drug regime is complete control. Control means decriminalisaton (taking the use of drugs off the list of criminal offences ) and moving from there to legalisation (making it legal to sell drugs). As with alcohol and tobacco, the state can then regulate use and impose tax. It can take charge of open and honest education about the health effects of drug use and help addicts rather than punishing them.
The idea is to make drug use and regulation, as English writer Johann Hari says in his recent book Chasing the Scream, boring and mundane.
Will it lead to more people taking drugs and more people becoming addicted? Overseas experience shows drug use may increase but part of that increase will be people switching from alcohol to other less harmful chemicals. Ill-effects will be unavoidable but they will be much less dramatic than those caused by prohibition. If a habitual P user can get a fix legally and slowly be weaned off –perhaps by resorting to a softer drug – society will be better off.
Easier supply will make drugs more available to young people but I would rather the state having a role in that than criminal gangs supplying god knows what.
The battle to decriminalise the recreational use of cannabis is nearly won. This will happen in New Zealand within the next five years. Then we will have to deal with harder drugs. The sooner we see sense the sooner we can start to minimise the damage.
We will also reduce the opportunity for criminals to make arses of themselves.