Smoke and Mirrors

by Responsible Choice · 6 comments

Whenever you want to create an illusion you need a distraction, otherwise your sleight of hand is way too obvious and the prestige of the illusion is lost.

But what illusion I hear you ask.

In this instance the illusion is a common one, however the motivation behind this article (namely anger and frustration) has been further augmented by the target demographic for said illusion.

In English? The NCPIC is at it again with their bullshit, self-justifying propaganda, aimed squarely at positing cannabis as a dangerous drug, but this time it is aimed squarely at some of the most vulnerable groups in our community.

Namely Indigenous youth.

As if the Australian government and its related agencies hadn’t done enough to ‘help’ our Indigenous brethren, they are now piloting, via the NCPIC (National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre), an ‘education’ program aimed at addressing the problem of cannabis use in Indigenous communities.

Now you must look closely and be careful to not take your eyes of the issue that is being deftly pushed into the background. Namely alcohol use and abuse in Indigenous communities.

Now I want to get this straight from the get go. This is not about stereotypes, nor is it about racism on my behalf. In my humble opinion alcohol is an issue for EVERYONE in Australia, however there are a few facts that we need to bear in mind if we are to penetrate this dodgy magic trick.

A good place to start is the Creative Spirits website. It does a great job of pointing out many fallacies surrounding Indigenous Australians and alcohol; however it doesn’t skirt around the truth, namely that when Indigenous people drink, they drink more, on average, than non-Indigenous Australians. In short when those Indigenous drinkers do drink, they generally get wasted. Not unlike their white brothers though really as far as I can see, but the major difference being that Aboriginal people in Australia have been, and continue to be, so far behind the eight ball as far as general health goes that the effect of such consumption on individuals, families and communities is staggering. Probably most significant for me is this quote from Alastair Hope, Western Australia coroner:

You know how you destroy a culture? …You make sure that kids are born with alcohol foetal syndrome, they won’t be able to pass on the dreamtime and the culture.

Further to that Lorian G Hayes’ article Aboriginal women, alcohol and the road to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in the Medical Journal of Australia paints an incredibly sad picture of the social circumstances that our Indigenous people endure with regards to alcohol use in their communities.

But we’re not done.

Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet has an excellent academic work titled Review of the harmful use of alcohol amongst Indigenous Australians. This snippet from the paper jumped out at me:

Intentional harm causing injury or death to self also occurs at greater rates among Indigenous Australians. Alcohol plays a significant role in this difference and it has been estimated that alcohol is associated with 40% of male and 30% of female suicides within the Indigenous Australian population. It is estimated that between 2000 and 2004, there were 159 male and 27 female alcohol-attributable deaths from suicide among Indigenous Australians. This is compared to 123 and 27 deaths, respectively, among non-Indigenous Australians. This is clearly disproportionate given that Indigenous Australians comprise less than 3% of the entire population.

Ironically the NCPIC’s ‘educational’ initiative, Young Men and Yarndi: a pilot to diffuse information on cannabis, its use and potential risks among young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians  professes to provide education

about cannabis-related issues… based around five key themes; frequency of cannabis use by young people; changes in potency; cannabis and the foetus; cannabis in urine; and cannabis and mental health

Anyone of the more diligent cannabis investigators out there  will no doubt notice a few red flags in that sentence alone, a few of which I have addressed in previous articles. Whilst there is some interesting faux research references contained in the document, and a lovely diagram of the IMB model, the rationale behind such a program must be questioned. Surely alcohol must remain a social health priority amongst Indigenous communities, and I would even go so far as to say to the exclusion of all other drugs, perhaps save tobacco.

I am not saying for a second that cannabis should be used by Indigenous youth, particularly those of school age and under. However I am asking what would we prefer them to be using, alcohol or cannabis, because given the Indigenous experience in Australian, both historically and currently, drug use is a fact of life, just as it is in non-Indigenous communities. It is not a sign of moral corruption or a lack of fortitude as our puritanical and archaic laws might suggest, but rather the way we all interact with our environment in a way to relieve our stress. Drugs are here to stay, and for those who find that statement defeatist I would suggest a look at history might be in order. What we should be doing as a society is identifying harms and aiming to reduce them, not flogging the same old ‘drugs are bad’ shit as if some misguided individuals and governments are not engaged in a war they can’t win;  one that shouldn’t have been waged against society in the first place.

Our focus needs to be identifying the greatest harms and minimising them. Stoned Indigenous kids are not the goal, but healthy happy and vibrant kids and communities are. What we have here, courtesy of the NCPIC, is an effort to essentially direct youth away from cannabis (nothing wrong with that) but unfortunately through the use of disinformation, propaganda and hearsay.

And if you can’t use something that will relax you without risk of death and chronic illness, what are you going to do?

Grog. Maybe solvents even.

NCPIC, you are not helping the problem, you are the problem. Grog kills, cannabis doesn’t.

At the end of the day it is as simple as that, but as long as programs like this are allowed to be pushed on to our youth, misconception, poor health and tragedy will continue to be the lot of all Australians negatively affected by alcohol.

 

What do you think?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jesse J January 22, 2013 at 8:16 am

How refreshing it is to see an article that does not encourage yet doesn’t degrade Cannabis use .It is not often I see an article that is so close to the mark.You see things as they are and not through the fearful eyes of a everything is bad if it scares me because I was taught to be fearful not happy person.Cannabis should be restored to its former position in our society, just imagine how many trees we would still have if cannabis was not taken from us.If we still had it we would still have 95 percent of our paper made from hemp pulp and clothes from its fibre and soap crèmes pain relief house bricks etc etc etc.Kepp up the good work dispelling the illusions.

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Monica Barratt January 24, 2013 at 9:10 am

Thanks for your article. I agree that it is misguided to focus on cannabis problems to the exclusion of alcohol problems, but I’m not convinced that NCPIC is advocating such an approach. They focus on cannabis only because that is their mandate (they are a cannabis-only centre). I don’t think that necessarily implies that they don’t also think that alcohol problems should be addressed urgently in indigenous and non-indigenous Australians alike. But they would have to leave that job to another research centre, given it doesn’t fit their mandate.

Caveat: I work at NDRI, which has an indigenous research program around all psychoactive substances, both cannabis and alcohol. You might be interested in some of our work … see http://db.ndri.curtin.edu.au/research/research.asp?resprtyid=26

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Responsible Choice January 24, 2013 at 10:05 am

Hi Monica,

Thanks for your comment. I am familiar with the some of the work of the NDRI actually. http://www.responsiblechoice.com.au/cannabis/cannabis-effects/

I am not suggesting that the NCPIC is focusing on cannabis problems to the exclusion of alcohol. As you rightly state it is their mandate to develop such pilots/programs, and as such alcohol is unlikely to be a focus of anything they do.

What I am suggesting, albeit in an overly simplistic way, is that by devising such pilots the NCPIC actively enforces the idea that cannabis is a drug to be avoided at all costs. This becomes problematic, particularly in Indigenous communities, because given their disgraceful treatment by the Australian government, drug use will predictably be an ongoing issue for them. That is by no means to say that broader Australian society doesn’t have the same issues, however as my article hopefully shows, Indigenous communities will suffer disproportionately by comparison.

If a government agency actively portraits a relatively harmless drug as being one which is incredibly problematic and to be avoided at all costs, the result will simply be a shift to the use of another drug that is deemed ‘safe’, let alone legal and easily obtainable (namely alcohol), the result being communities that would actually see a net benefit from a decrease in alcohol use via cannabis being posited as a viable, safer option, are likely to see an increase in the use of THE most problematic drug in their communities, let alone in our broader society.

I actually don’t believe institutions such as the NCPIC are justifiable, particularly given the patent failure of the war on drugs, and also given the fact that they are a self-sustaining entities. By that I mean assumedly Jan Copeland and her entourage are not going to readily acknowledge the fact that cannabis is nowhere near as problematic as alcohol, as such an admission would only serve to undermine the centre’s existence. As a result we have pilots the likes of the one I have highlighted. Perhaps it is the isolation and specialist focus on a specific recreational drug such an institution has that is to blame for such ill-conceived schemes; regardless in the broader scheme of things the NCPIC does two things, neither of which contribute to REAL harm reduction in Australia. Firstly they continue fostering the idea that cannabis is an incredibly problematic drug in Australia, which it patently is not, and secondly, by its very existence, hampers real and desperately needed drug reform in our country.

Cheers.

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Monica Barratt January 24, 2013 at 10:14 pm

You make some good points. I think we agree that the arbitrary focus on one drug is a problem. This focus on a specific substance (be it cannabis for NCPIC or be it any of the schools in my field that focus on one type of drug or one route of administration) leads researchers away from considering the broader issues that surpass individual drug types.

The classic example of this is when we have media report on global trends in drug use. Australia always comes out as the highest users (or almost the highest users) of amphetamines, and this often makes headlines. What is never mentioned in these reports is that we have a comparatively low level of cocaine use. What any stimulant user will know is that if we had easy access to cocaine in this country, a fair few (perhaps the majority?) of our amphetamine users would choose cocaine instead. Thus, our world-famous appetite for amphetamines is not necessarily anything to do with inherently loving speed, nor does it mean we take more stimulants than any other country in the world… rather, it is a function of our drug market situation. As with your example above, we can’t understand one drug use without looking at other drug use and the context… so if we had a ‘amphetamines institute’ in Australia that was not permitted to research cocaine use, it wouldn’t make much sense.

I think we should look at the whole picture rather than chop it up into arbitrary chunks. It’s unfortunate that some of our funding precludes this (eg. if I apply for a grant and it stipulates more research on ‘alcohol’, and I get that grant, it’s hard to broaden the picture beyond what you are paid to do.)

Thanks for your well-written blog – I’ll keep on reading 🙂

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Brian July 11, 2013 at 2:05 am

I have smoked dope for over 45 years, Its the only reason I am still here,

Over the years, I have been with different woman in that time, All knew I smoked heavily, Even tho they didnt smoke dope,

They have all commented that when we went overseas, or any where else I needed to be straight,
They could not understand that I could just stop smoking Dope with out any bad side effects,

They were under the impression that Dope was very addictive, and you just cant stop smoking it,

Proved them wrong,

NBC today, A woman gave her 10 year old son Cannabis to stop Epileptic Fits, 200 a day,

Also tried 17 different prescription Meds that didnt work,

From the first treatment, The Epileptic fits stopped, That was nine months ago,
This woman has her son back, Due to Cannabis ingestion,

I watched a TV show here Couple of weeks back, On scpycophrenia, Or however you spell it,
The Australian population has 3% of this,
After the show, Dope smokers were 3% sphcycophrenia, So no better or worse than what is already out there,
And he did try hard as hell to make the dope the monster, But failed miserably,

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Jim Tang January 18, 2014 at 7:22 am

RC, I can’t thank you heartily enough for your well written, informative and analytical articles. It is such a grace for me to see such articulation of the issues, without a leaning bias to be seen. It is important that we have advocates for freedom of choice who don’t shy away from the negative aspects of illegal substances and yet also elucidate both the qualities of and the reasons for drug use.

The fact that you can swear so minimally and keep a level-head whilst talking about the NCPIC is an inspiration. I have lost hairs and dented my forehead from the one-track, falsified info that has spouted from them in the past.

Across some of your articles I’ve read, I’ve noticed you regularly bringing the point back to harm minimization (people will continue use regardless of the law) and comparative legislature on drug prohibition relative to their harmfulness. It would be ideal if drugs were legislated against in terms of their health-outcomes and if personal use of reasonable quantities of many (but not all) substances were decriminalized.

You herald a well-articulated call for the middle road, for less oppression of users without ‘opening the floodgates’ on broadscale use of harder, more addictive substances (which in all likelihood, have a small role to fulfill for us as well). I especially approve of your acknowledgement of the potential harms associated with cannabis use and over-use. Too often, the only defenders of the liberty to drug use are too ardent, aggressive and blind to the relatively-small drawbacks of regular cannabis use and medication. They sour their own argument with their angsty passion.

I admire your writing ability, RC. Will be bkmarking, sharing and trawling here again soon. <3

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