War on drugs : The collateral damage

Propaganda vs economic reality

Government propaganda from time to time feeds us figures on the war on drugs. We read of the biggest drug haul this year or ever. Just google “drug haul” to get a taste. We read the million dollar phantasy figures about the “street value” of confiscated drugs, which in themselves or in the wider context of the illegal drug economy make no sense. All to created an image of our totally non-sensical drug policy actually achieving something positive.

Any economist will tell you that according to his/her textbook all you will achieve by reducing the supply is rising prices. This in turn will lead to more crime to pay for more expensive drugs to feed your habit or just to have a good time. The economists believing in market theory agree that you cannot solve any real or perceived drug problem by fiddling with the supply side. Nobel-Prize Winning Economists: The War On Drugs Is A Catastrophic ‘Billion-Dollar Failure’ reads the headline in Business Insider Australia. “The pursuit of a militarized and enforcement-led global ‘war on drugs’ strategy has produced enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage.”

The human face of the collateral damage

Looking at this catastrophic big picture we tend to forget the human costs behind the figures. I just pick two recent examples.

One is the very unsettling case of a “Northland Local Hero” Kelly van Gaalen or as Jack Tame headlines it A sad case of unnatural justice.


Arts and culture winner Kelly van Gaalen, of the Kaikohe Community Arts Council,
with Mayor Wayne Brown. Photo / Peter de Graaf

She’s a former member of the Kaikohe-Hokianga Community Board, the former chair of the Kaikohe Community Arts Council and the former promotions manager for the Kaikohe Business Association. Last December she was one of 15 recipients of Northland’s Local Hero medal, acknowledging her efforts in a community that has had more than its share of tough timesLast year her family was the victim of a home invasion. Three men broke in and beat up her husband. In the aftermath, police officers discovered a 684g  bag of dried marijuana in the van Gaalens’ homeThere were no incriminating texts on van Gaalen’s phone, no wads of cash under the floorboards and no sawn-off shotguns on the kitchen bench.
Did the police use discretion and destroy the drugs? Did the justice system allow her to stay home and raise her kids? Did the 32 character references provided in court allow for a discharge without conviction or a community sentence?
Nope. Despite her “extremely worthwhile contribution” to Kaikohe, in the words of the presiding judge, the 38-year-old’s plight ended in lunacy
Van Gaalen, home invasion victim, mother of three, Local Hero medal recipient and general menace of Kaikohe, was sentenced to two years in prison.

You are lost for words if you hear of such crazy sentences as you like to think that this could only happen in crazy America and not sensible little New Zealand. However the word “sensible” has been sullied by a group of rednecks calling their pressure group the “Sensible Sentencing Trust” when it is anything but sensible.
How can this judge sleep at night ? How can he/she look in the mirror in the morning ?How can he/she live with the creature looking back being a nasty cruel sadist who probably started pulling off the wings of flies, graduation to blowing up frogs and now destroying the life of an obviously good women and damaging her children in the process.

The other example is a report in last month NZ Herald titled “At risk visitors barred from entering New Zealand“. It tells us that the total number of people who were refused entry stood at 1345, an increase by 319 when compared with 1026 the year before. The implication being that we can sleep tight at night in the knowledge that our vigilant immigration officers are keeping the badies out.

Unfortunately the truth can be quite different as one of these cases I was involved in demonstrates. She is an 18 year old European high-school graduate who had traveled through some Asian countries and wanted to visit a New Zealand schoolfriend. She was picked out at arrival from Bangkok and interrogated about drug use. She was honest enough to say that during her travels she once smoked pot and once had used ecstasy. She also admitted to have used cannabis 2 or 3 time a year before in her home country. Then the immigration officer went into her facebook page and took a screen shot of an old entry under the section
From:                              Lives in:                                  Studied at:
Worked in: My Deep Dark Basement Where I Grow My Weed And Store My Whores

I wonder how thick a person must be not to recognise this entry of a 15 year old girl on facebook to be a joke. However honesty together with an old joke on facebook were enough to refuse her entry because as her file states : “Section 16(1)(a)(i) – Drugs”
Section 16 of the Immigration Act says:
(1) No visa or entry permission may be granted to any person who—
(a) the Minister has reason to believe—
(i) is likely to commit an offence in New Zealand that is punishable by imprisonment

That is the legal part of it. The logic behind this decision is that we don’t want people who might smoke dope while visiting our country. If you would take that approach seriously you would for instance have to ban three quarters of all the overseas revellers having a good time at the Queenstown Winter Festival from ever entering the country.

The teenager after a night in a police cell being returned to Bangkok and consequently refused entry there and put on a flight back to Europe, which cost her thousands.  From now on if she would want to travel to a country where a visa is required she would need to tick the box [Have you ever been refused entry? YES/NO]. The consequences of which are obvious. Her travel will be greatly restricted. What crime did she commit to deserve such harsh punishment ? Being honest ? Any young kid denying the drug use question would in all likelihood be lying. This one was stupid enough to admit what is today considered as normal: Having experimented with dope.

The moral hazard

The message we are sending to our teenagers and to the ‘Northland local hero’ for that matter is to never tell the truth to authorities. This is exactly what I told the teenager  as her life lesson to take from her experience with NZ immigration. As a lawyer I always advised my clients to say nothing. Now I am free to advise to lie as the figures of authority lie to us all the time starting with our Prime Minister.

How stupid the hero was. Her explanation was she had two marijuana plants and one grew especially well. She had smoked the drug daily since her teens and shared her supply with as many as 20 friends. This honesty landed her in jail for no good reason whatsoever.

The collateral damage of the war on drugs are not only destroyed lives but the collapse of the moral fabric of our society.


PS:  What irony. Writing this blog I came across an item in the NZ Herald titled “To puff or not to puff, that is the question”.

It reported that scientists have discovered that 400-year-old tobacco pipes excavated from the garden of William Shakespeare contained cannabis, suggesting the playwright might have written some of his famous works while high.
Try to imagine a judge saying to Mr Shakespeare: Despite your “extremely worthwhile contribution” to English literature I sentence you to 2 years imprisonment for possessing and smoking cannabis.

PPS: Recommended reading:  War on drugs is war on us  

by  Dr. Hans B. Grueber

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