FIJI DRUG DECREE: FINALLY, COMMON SENSE

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EDITORIAL Fiji Times Suva, Fiji Islands

July 31, 2001

Finally, someone in authority has recognized the invalidity of the drug decree. Drawn up by the previous illegal regime, the decree was intended to act as a deterrent in a bid to reduce the use of marijuana particularly among young people.

It backfired badly, sending virtual children into adult prisons. This has been happening for 14 years and it is cause for amazement and deep sorrow that it has taken this long to recognize it as unfair, immoral and useless.

It may also be significant that it was the 1997 Constitution's Bill of Rights that presented the legal opportunity to dump the decree.

The decree's failure is there for all to see. Drug use is increasing throughout Fiji with young people especially vulnerable.

And making criminals of those youngsters for possession of the tiniest amount of the drug will not stop them from using it.

Indeed it can be argued that a prison term may have the opposite effect.

Justice Nazhat Shameem has done the nation's youth a great service in her judgment that the mandatory term of three months for a drug offence breaches the Bill of Rights.

At the same time, great care should be taken to avoid sending the message that drug use is acceptable.

It isn't. It is still a crime and Justice Shameem has simply said that the courts should have the authority to impose sentences as they see fit.

But our society is losing the war against drugs.

The drug decree has manifestly failed but what can be put in its place?

Global experience has shown that marijuana will not go away. But it can be controlled.

Education campaigns in our schools would give students the information they need to make an informed decision on dope -- for make no mistake, they will be exposed to it.

They need to know about the effects of marijuana, its origins, its criminal aspects and the risk of punishment.

Once the mystique is removed the drug loses much of its appeal to the teen set. Youngsters who know no better see drug use as cool -- something to be enjoyed, even aspired to.

They know nothing of the psychological and medical effects of marijuana smoking. If they did they might take a far different view.

There is nothing cool about lung cancer, impaired memory, shortened attention span and depression.

The drug decree could never teach kids that and it's high time we made sure that we do so.

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