The new meth contamination level isn’t really about houses

The Gluckman report on meth has been welcomed with open arms. It confirmed what lots of people already knew and, in the minds of many, should have come sooner. More houses will be freed up and less money wasted. But, a shade over 200 houses became available, while another 400 hundred or so still didn’t meet the threshold for occupancy, despite it being 10 times higher than the health-risk-derived numbers ESR supplied to the Ministry of Health in 2016, which informed the 2017 Meth Standard. So, is it really just about houses? And, if it isn’t that much of a problem, how come so many houses remain uninhabitable? And, if it isn’t about houses, what else is it about?

Try decriminalisation of drugs.

Need more convincing? Track the chain of events below, which hint at the direction the Labour party strategy around methamphetamine appears to be taking.

  • Early this year Helen Clarke stepped out alongside Ross Bell and declared that things need to change as far as our attitudes to drugs are concerned. We need to be more like Portugal, where all drugs are decriminalised. You can manufacture or sell them, but you don’t go to jail for using them. A clear statement of intent?
  • Andrew Little has been talking a reduction in the prison population another (over 50% of prisoners use meth.) Around 70% of these are in jail for burglary to feed their habit  a habit that will now be classed as a health issue. How would decriminalisation help that statistic?
  • The Gluckman report identified that there are “no major health risks with meth in property from use alone.” So, no problems housing people with meth habits, and others, where the levels of meth residues are within those recommended by the Gluckman report. (This despite ESR confirming, just a few weeks ago, that they stand by their numbers.) They made this comment in rejecting the submission to the Residential Tenancies act Amendment Bill Select Committee made by the NZ Drug Foundation – a submission that has some familiar themes to it.
  • Encouraged by the media, no doubt a fair reflection of society when it comes to meth, the public responded with enthusiasm: “Thank you, professor, for telling us what we always knew to be true!” But is it? At least one parent of a child is happy to punch people in the face for suggesting that this is the case.
  • The political opposition to the strategy that is focused on freeing up housing has been muted. How could you go against the leading scientific mind in New Zealand and suggest that houses should remain vacant? With the focus on housing alone, you can understand why politicians would want to step back.
  • Now the debate around decriminalisation starts just as our PM (who has stayed largely aloof from this so far) goes on maternity leave, with Winston at the helm to run it.
  • If it goes well, the PM returns as the leader of a liberalising party, a heroine to the masses who want to be free to choose to use drugs like meth, party pills and cocaine.
  • If it goes badly, Twyford falls on his sword and the PM picks up the pieces, essentially free from the ‘damage’ associated with the strategy going wrong, ready to regroup and come back another day.
  • If it does get through and the policy is changed, then it becomes an election issue next time around. How many voters with meth habits would want to become criminals again?

Decriminalisation of drugs is a debate that should be had. But, it should be tackled head-on. If ever it can be considered a good idea (and there are plenty of reasons why we should avoid following the lead set by Portugal), we are simply not equipped to handle such a change at this time. We do not have the attitude toward drug use and treatment, nor the capacity or capability in the treatment and support services space, to deal with the massive number of people in this country who think that meth is a good idea.

Already, in following the recommendations in the Gluckman report around testing, Labour have turned Housing New Zealand properties, and the suburbs in which they located, back over to drug users, dealers and gangs. All our thoughts should go to those law-abiding people who live in suburbs that were cleaned up by moving people on through a proactive approach to testing for evidence of meth being used or manufactured. They will once again feel the fear that comes from being surrounded by people who will steal, abuse, threaten, intimidate and beat, and who will go on to prey on their young people; luring them into a life of drug dependence and the poor outcomes that flow from that life.

Labour have developed a comprehensive and coordinated strategy where people have successfully fallen for the ruse that this is just about housing. It is far, far greater than this and the consequences for New Zealand will be dire. If it isn’t just about housing, what questions does this raise about the level of confidence we should have in the Gluckman report?

 


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A guest post submitted to Whaleoil and edited by Whaleoil staff.

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