War on P

Written By: - Date published: 7:15 am, October 12th, 2009 - 27 comments
Categories: john key, law and "order" - Tags:

Did John Key pick up a pair of cowboy boots on his latest trip? Because he’s come back talking like some kind of macho macho man:

My message to the gangs is clear. This Government is coming after your business and we will use every tool we have to destroy it. We will be ruthless in our pursuit of you and the evil drug you push.

So there is to be a “War on P”. That sounds like the sort of thing a good part of the population will stand up and salute doesn’t it? And at some level it is an understandable instinct. P and the like have done a lot of damage to lives and communities. Most of the population would probably agree that the country would be better off without them. But is a “war” the best way?

History suggests not. Prohibition in America has become a byword for disaster and spawned an era of gang violence and corruption. More recently the American “War on drugs” (started by Regan in the 1980’s) has also been an expensive failure:

It’s a war without a clear enemy. Anything waged against a shapeless, intangible noun can never truly be won — President Clinton’s drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey said as much in 1996. And yet, within the past 40 years, the U.S. government has spent over $2.5 trillion dollars fighting the War on Drugs. Despite the ad campaigns, increased incarceration rates and a crackdown on smuggling, the number of illicit drug users in America has risen over the years and now sits at 19.9 million Americans.

It seems that Key has failed to learn from history, and thus is doomed to repeat it. He is talking tough instead of exploring the evidence and the alternatives. He has now very personally identified himself with this “war”, as he did with the reform of Auckland governance. These are issues against which the success or failure of his leadership will be judged.

27 comments on “War on P”

  1. marco 1

    Check out Paul Holmes column in the Sunday Herald. Refutes your apathy quite nicely I think.

    • Pascal's bookie 1.1

      Does he show that the war on drugs approach works? When should we start seeing actual results?

      As an example, let’s say the drug trade in NZ is about 1 Billion bucks P/A. Key wants to start getting serious confiscating the proceeds. What percentge of that billion bucks every year do you think it would take to actually make a difference?

      The way I see it, if the govt is only confiscating about 30% of it a year, (eg 300 odd million dollars of property each year), that’s only going to be bringing it roughly into line with the tax legit business pays. So it’ll need to be much more than that, but I doubt they’d be getting even 100 mill a year. Instead there’ll be a couple of high profile confiscations amounting to nothing in the broader scheme of things. At the cost of civil liberties.

      But hey, Johnno will look tough on crime.

    • Zaphod Beeblebrox 1.2

      I doubt anyone could write a more lightweight article. The were no figures or analysis produced and no discussion of the details about how this is going to work. Sure Holmes said nothing untrue, but he provided no critique or explanation of he policies announced.
      He also ignored the fact that most of this has been done before by the last government

  2. Pascal's bookie 2

    Good post r0b.

    I guess we’re about to find out just how classically liberal certain ‘classical liberal (TM)’s are.

    I’m guessing they’ll stay put, somehow arguing that all of this is no where near as bad as the EFA, which was just the sort of thing Pol Pot did.

  3. Red Rosa 3

    Good post.

    There have been a number of articles written over the last few years by retired and disillusioned senior police and policy makers in the US, which essentially say the same thing.

    The US ‘War on Drugs’ seems essentially like Prohibition all over again. The anti-drug ‘industry’ with large numbers employed in a myriad of agencies, gets heaps of funding and provides heaps of jobs. So it gets heaps of votes. But the overall effect is negative.

    A disturbing aspect of the current National government is its apparent determination to ape policies from 1930s Southern US states. Boot camps, chain gangs, the feudal farm and business oligarchy….

    Many of the current NZ right wing bloggers are running lines eerily reminiscent of the more extreme anti-New Dealers, still alive and well in the US and apparently taking up residence (and maybe arms?) here.

  4. For Key the perception is more important than the reality.

    Decriminalisation can work. Not many people decide not to take illegal substances because they are illegal. It is more likely that they decide not to take them after seeing the damage the substances cause. Cost is not of major concern to a junkie nor is the threat of incarceration.

    We could try decriminalising the possession of these drugs and pour the resources saved in prisons into education, treatment and rehabilitation. Or we could have our leader jump up and down and give strong speeches.

  5. Nick 5

    I think you had better do some more reading. Re(a)gan didn’t start the War on Drugs in the US. It was much earlier than that.

  6. RedLogix 6

    In all sorts of issues, political leadership is able to give shape and form to necessary social change. Through speeches, public debate, law change and the policies of Ministries… but when they step over that line and begin to enforce change when the people are not ready, it is always an expensive failure.

    The interesting thing here is that a majority (say 80-90%) of people want these P-type drugs eliminated. I’m one of them. But the remaining chunk of the population who either makes or buys this evil crap is still a hell of a rump. If we, the majority, declare war on them… expect a reaction.

    The drug makers and sellers, hell I really don’t care… summary execution on detection… is at some point in the future a final solutiuon we may well have to resort to. But it is a war we will loose nonetheless, unless we discover why people use drugs and how to get them not want to.

  7. Noko 7

    And an excellent way to literally rip the funding out from under the gangs would be to legalise the plant that over 20% of New Zealanders enjoy on a frequent basis, cannabis. The medical harm, crime costs (ignoring those of enforcing the current prohibiton) and related costs are all much lower than the social costs of alcohol.

    Decriminalisation won’t work, because it still leaves the supply and production in the hands of the gangs, though it is a good stepping stone for those uncomfortable with the prospect of full legalisation.

    The Puritanical drug free utopia preached by prohibitionists will never be reached, every culture (with the exception of the Maori, probably because of the lack of native psychedlic plants in New Zealand including the Kava that their ancestors left behind in the Pacific Islands) has used drugs, and nearly everybody famous you’ve heard of has smoked cannabis, from George Orwell to Barack Obama.

    The costs of enforcing the prohibiton against cannabis would be much better directed towards either other drugs, and the medical aspect instead of the enforcement aspect of them, or to other things like the education budget or even a tax cut.

    I’d much rather see a guy walking down the street with a goofy smile and red eyes than a aggressive drunk ready to punch me out for no other reason than he doesn’t like the way I look, wouldn’t you?

  8. kelsey 8

    If you care to actually read the policy, this is not just about piling on the prohibition, which criminalizes the users as well as the suppliers. Indeed the policy goes tough on the suppliers, but not on the users.

    He’s taking a rehabilitative approach to the users – providing more rehabilitation services and encouraging the courts and police to use diversion instead of locking them up. That’s not quite decriminalization but not too far off it. This approach is what The Standard was arguing for several months ago, but I guess now that John Key has put it forward it’s bad again?

    • r0b 8.1

      So which aspects of the policy do you think Key is identifying as his priority when he says: “My message to the gangs is clear. This Government is coming after your business and we will use every tool we have to destroy it. We will be ruthless in our pursuit of you and the evil drug you push”?

  9. lprent 9

    kelsey: The problem is that Key is good at saying the nice things, but then not performing. He is hardly credible because he doesn’t have the guts to stand up against his own MP’s let alone the morons from the SST Act party.

    In this case I suspect we’d have a cycleway response. Lots of talk, and no action on the

    …providing more rehabilitation services and encouraging the courts and police to use diversion…

    When he fronts up with the money and the legislation then I might get interested.

    In the meantime I’d expect that the legislation for the punitive part will go through rapidly, under urgency, and not bothering to have any useful select committee procedure (which Act MP’s will avoid anyway because it might cause them to hear things that they didn’t want to know – like it won’t work). I’d expect that the other positive bits will reappear as ‘policy’ before the next election because it won’t have had the funds allocated or the bills put through the house.

    In the meantime, I’ll treat Key as being an ineffectual mouth without any significant power to implement his ideas.

  10. roger nome 10

    i’m actually just thoroughly sick of this whole debate. I can’t believe people still think that the punitive approach to the consumption of selected drugs is a good thing. It just clogs up our prisons (that costs $100,000 per prisoner per year), feeds gangs with excessive black-market profits, and creates a seedy underbelly in which rape and violence proliferates. When the fuck will New Zealanders drag their heads out of their arses?

  11. randal 11

    according to Ron Mark on q+a on saturday morning the authorites know WHO the big boys are in the P trade. Is that so ron. so what are you going to do about it?

  12. George D 12

    The War on P was started by Labour.

    All of this was entirely predictable. We said in the late 90s and early 00s that the continued criminalisation of marijuana would lead to an explosion in other drugs, as marijuana retailers tried to up-sell their consumers to products with higher margins.

    Nobody listens until it’s too bloody late. These proposals are not going to fix everything, but they’re hardly inconsistent with the drug policy of the last Government. I blame Jim Anderton and his idiot enablers.

    • IrishBill 12.1

      I believe Zet described hims as Jim “no fun” Anderton in a recent post on this issue and I have to agree fully. Labour’s policies on drugs were a failure and National are only making it worse.

      • George D 12.1.1

        And this is what pisses me off immensely. Instead of having an opposition that can be trusted to speak sense, and fight for what is right, they just sit their with their mouths shut and let National make things worse and worse.

        Why am I upset with Labour? Because I expect better. My expectations for the Tories have always been nearly non-existent.

        What is the point of even talking about this issue when none of the parties in Government are even going to deal with this. Even the Greens have given up, because they know that it is too hard, and makes it easier for Labour and others to deliberately marginalise them.

        I despair.

  13. Zaphod Beeblebrox 13

    Would be interested to know waht the Libertarians in ACT think of all this. Does this mean we will be seeing more raids like the one on Tuhoe two years ago?

    • Pascal's bookie 13.1

      “Does this mean we will be seeing more raids like the one on Tuhoe two years ago?”

      Armed with the new and improved surveillance tools like covert video in the home for three days before you need to get a warrant? Oh yes, that won’t be used for anything but the top notch P dealers.

    • MikeE 13.2

      Can’t speak for the rest of them, but this libertarian in ACT is against any war on a letter.

  14. Jared 14

    The difference is that the US has a porous border with many available entries for drug smugglers to get their goods into the US from Mexico and South America. Our main issue isn’t psuedoph on the shelves, its imported precursor chemicals coming in by the barrel load from Asia. To counter that John has announced 40 more customs staff to target P shipments into the country and $22 Million for helping those already addicted. Unlike the US, I think we can make a serious dent in the P epidemic.

  15. roger nome 15


    With the amount of money that’s involved you can be assured that ways will be found. These crims are making many millions of dollars through this – and with that kind of incentive, it’s amazing what the human brain can devise to achieve its desires. We are opportunistic primates after all. I think we should just spend less time and money on this hopeless battle against human nature (humans have been getting high for many thousands of years now) and focus on making sure everyone has hope for a brighter future (i.e. make sure everyone has the resources to participate in society fully). That way people will be less likely to want to be “out of it” all the time.

    But that’s always been the problem with the conservative right, they’re far more concerned with punishing pariah’s than asking why they’re that way in the first place, then seeking to redress the problem. In other words, so long as they get to sit on their seat of judgment in their comfortable home, they couldn’t give a crap what the world outside is like.

  16. Jared 16

    That is utter bullshit Roger. If the government just sits on its arse doing jack shit you bet the public would be crying foul. In this case they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they are seen to be doing nothing to combat P, and tragedies like the RSA Massacres etc occur its a fast ticket out of parliament, and the waste of yet more innocent lives.

  17. MikeE 17

    While I agree with the post entirely, was it not this same blog which Cheerleaded the ban on BZP and other safer substitutes last year?

    • felix 17.1

      Really? Don’t recall anyone here ever supporting any of Anderton’s brain-farts but I could be wrong.

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