The weird part was that I was sure we had been there before. Visiting a cult recruitment drive sounds like the sort of thing we might do in real life, just to see what it was about, so when I woke up I actually asked him if we had done such a thing.
Him: I'm pretty sure I'd remember the blowjob part.
As you probably know, I've been tracking the media that surrounds the legal high industry in New Zealand since 2010. For those that aren't aware, last year New Zealand introduced legislation that allows for the legal sale of new psychoactive substances, in an effort to curtail the cat-and-mouse game that has been played since the introduction of BZP in the late 1990s. The way that went:
1. New substance is introduced.
2. New substance is banned.
3. Slightly different new substance is introduced.
Each time we go round this track, the substances are moving incrementally further away from anything that's been tested or widely used, and the safety of them has become more and more uncertain. Under the new legislation, there is a testing procedure required before substances can be sold, so it goes like this:
1. New substance is introduced.
2. Testing takes place to establish risk.
3. New substance is only sold if proven to be low-risk.
Now, there are a lot of problems with this legislation, not least of which is that the group assessing the risks involved does not include any experts in drug policy. However, in my opinion it's a step in the right direction. We're currently in a changeover period - there were a lot of things available when the law was made, and the government did not want to blanket ban them all and continue the cat-and-mouse game. Instead, they said that anything currently being sold must be submitted for testing immediately, but may remain on sale until testing is completed, unless there are reports of harm in the meantime.
Fair enough, I say. The problem is, there's a big gap between what the government counts as 'reports of harm' and what the media reports as harm. I have watched the media reports as they are published (through a simple google alert that spots 'legal high' in the national news aggregator Stuff). As a summary, very few have contained substantiated reports of harm. There have been some that have doctors and emergency rooms talking about people presenting with problems, but sadly when it comes to quoting actual figures, they are low on statistics and high on conjecture. "More than usual" and "clearly he was high on something" are the sort of words used.
As time has gone by, these reports have led to a general belief among the public that legal highs are the new P*. Funny thing is, even P wasn't/isn't as harmful as the media made out, and the extent of the problem nowhere near as big as was implied. Sound familiar?
So anyway, now we have a situation where people are marching in the streets to have the substances banned, and shops that sell them closed down. There was an organised national march this weekend. In some places as many as 100 people turned out. Here are three news reports that came through my alerts last night. You'll note the terminology used within them:
"young mums showing up in Tokoroa with babies as well as an old man in his 70s trying to get a fix"
"One of the children looked very unwell."
"People are going to hospital with brain damage"
Recovering addict Rachel Klinkhamer,..."
"synthetic drugs were "way more addictive" than anything she had seen" - quote from some random person in the protest.
"People are dying from using synthetic cannabis."
"Her blood tests came back showing she had synthetic heroin in her system."
"Families are breaking up and the people using these things become violent"
"this is more about protecting our children rather than putting down users"
All of these quotes are from random people who were marching in the protests. None of them are substantiated, and if you look at the language used, you see YOUNG MUMS and BABIES and FIX and BRAIN DAMAGE and ADDICT and DYING and HEROIN and BREAKING UP FAMILIES and VIOLENCE and WON'T ANYBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN!?!
The thing is, there is no evidence of brain damage caused by synthetic highs. There have been no deaths attributed to legal highs. There is no evidence that they are addictive. Children look sick when they have colds. Families break up all the time, for lots of reasons. But placed in this context, these words stir up emotions that cause people to become polarised on the topic of these substances by comparing them with things that we know to be harmful and using children as a lever.
Synthetic pot is apparently the new heroin, yo (top tip - it isn't really). But the thing about heroin is that it only started to become a real problem in societies, one that was centred in the poor and marginalised communities, after it was prohibited - after access to it became expensive, difficult and involving criminal activity. And this is what people are advocating doing with the synthetic highs that our government is currently working to regulate.
If this moral panic succeeds in achieving another ban, we will be back to square one in terms of how to deal with new psychoactive substances. And that means the cat-and-mouse game will continue. Either that or they'll blanket ban everything and we'll end up with 300 'new heroins', all available on the black market for way more cost and with way less regulation, supervision, and access to health interventions than we do now.
Way to go, Think Of The Children Brigade.
(i am snowcrash in those comments by the way)
And the saddest thing of all about all this is that some substances that have had several thousand years of user testing with minimal risk of harm associated, are already banned and there's 'no chance' according to our government that they'll be given the opportunity to prove their safety through testing and become legal.
On another note, the Finnish word for cat is kissa. The Finnish word for smooch is pussata. Coincidence? I think not.
* NZ term for crystal meth.