Children caught with cannabis in schools should not be punished in
ways that seriously affect their future, a speaker at a cannabis law
reform forum said on Monday.

The forum of cannabis users, critics, experts, supporters, politicians
and educators spent 2-1/2 hours in debate and discussion focusing on
practical steps to reduce harm caused by misuse of drugs.

New Zealand Drug Foundation chief executive Sally Casswell, who
organised the forum, said the most important policy goals in relation
to cannabis harm was to delay early onset of cannabis use.

"This is not a simple task, because children under 13 who are using
cannabis often have a range of other problems," she said.

She suggested that children caught with cannabis in schools should not
be punished in ways that seriously affect their future. Schools could
make sure that suspensions and expulsions become increasingly rare.

New Zealand School Trustees Association president Chris France said
schools were facing serious problems with substance abuse.

In the 12-month period to July 2000, 1506 students were stood down for
drug related incidents.

"Decriminalise marijuana or not, schools do not see any factual or
clear information that indicates that such a change will lower the
occurrence of substance abuse already present in schools . . ."

"I have to tell you that . . . in many ways schools are not really
interested in the philosophical debate going on here - we just pick up
the results in your schools and have to deal with them," he said.

He did not support a change to legislation which would make these
substances more readily accessible to students.

More funding was needed in schools to deal with the problems, Mr
France said.

Auckland University of Technology's dean of health studies and
cannabis law reform supporter, Max Abbott, said he believed the
present law was not accomplishing what it was presumably intended to

The law should be changed so that the possession of small quantities
of the drug for personal use is not a criminal offence.

This should be followed by a formal review of the economic, social and
health impacts of a more extensive reform including the possibility of
state control of the production and distribution of cannabis and the
use of tax revenue from legal cannabis sales to fund drug education,
prevention and treatment programmes.

"In most places where legal restriction have been relaxed, consumption
has generally not increase significantly relative to similar
jurisdictions with more strict legislation," Professor Abbot said.

Speaker Ngahau Davis of far north community Moerewa, who said those
who will make the decision on law reform should first visit his town
and see the "harsh" impact cannabis has had.
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MAP posted-by: Derek

Newshawk: Ken Russell
Pubdate: Tue, 14 Nov 2000
Source: Dominion, The (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2000 The Dominion
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