Who exactly is doing the tarnishing?
Opinion By Abe Gray (Otago NORML)
For four years now our group of grass-roots student activists (we appear to one of the only such groups on a New Zealand campus these days) has been publicly smoking cannabis as an act of protest every week, on the Union Lawn, much to the chagrin of the University administration. They have tried all manner of tactics to get us to cease and desist, ranging from heavy-handed to outright fascist. First they tried to have Campus Watch come and illegally intimidate us and attempt to move us along. We called their bluff. Then they tried to have clandestine photographers take our pictures while protesting, for purposes of future prosecution. Well guess what â€“ we film our activities every week and put the footage on YouTube for free, so why waste a bunch of resources to have someone hide in the bushes and take our picture? All of these efforts are under the auspices that our activities are somehow tarnishing the reputation of the University of Otago.
What I would like to know, though, is who is really doing the tarnishing?
Every day we see the image of our University tarnished by another drunken scarfie puking their guts out in some familyâ€™s front yard. And guess what, the source of this tarnish is another widely disregarded an un-enforced law. That is â€˜that alcohol shall not be sold to intoxicated personsâ€™. Every weekend we see already-legless individuals queuing up outside the student pubs. Presumably they are not spending all of that time waiting in the queue just to stand around in the bar, especially considering they can barely stand before entering the bar! No, they will not just stand there, they will make their way to the bar and order drinks and they will be served. No matter that theyâ€™re slurring their speech and picking fights, â€œGood on ya mateâ€ for â€œjust having a bit of fun.â€ Then they will spill out on to the streets and wreak the riotous havoc that seems to have been perfected over the last several years. But I donâ€™t want to make it seem like I am picking on publicans, most of them Iâ€™m sure take their job very seriously and follow the terms of the Sale of Liquor Act to the letter of the law. Besides, for most of the drunken property damagers, getting more booze once you are already dangerously intoxicated is as simple as wobbling down to one of the many local liquor stores, conveniently located a block or two from the worst parts of the scarfie ghetto. (Is that what they call a correlation?)
Just a few weekends ago, as I finished working at the library, I took a stroll past the Hyde Street Keg Race to view the carnage in action. When I arrived on Hyde Street I saw a scene that was reminiscent of the Undie 500 riots, albeit only about Â¾ of the intensity. At the end of Hyde Street there were about eight cops standing there with their arms crossed, doing nothing. It seemed to me that they must be waiting for a fight to break out or for someone to start a fire, because there was plenty of litter, property damage and general disorderly behaviour already going on, but it didnâ€™t seem to faze them. As I continued walking down Albany toward Leith Street, I noticed a steady steam of severely intoxicated people moving their way past the eight police officers and making it the further 200 meteres (some just barely) into the entrance of Leith Liquorland. After several minutes they would come out obviously struggling to keep their balance under the weight of their intoxication, not to mention the armloads of booze they had just purchased. Then they would walk back past the cops, and right back into the thick of the carnage to fuel it further.
As I saw this I thought to myself, â€œThey are so anal about us meeting on the Union Lawn and violating a law that no one actually cares about, saying that we are undermining the fabric of Dunedin society. Yet conversely, in Hyde St you had genuine chaos about to unfold and the police would rather just sit there and wait to spend ratepayer dollars to clean up when they could have walked 200m down the road and done their job enforcing the law that was actually designed to prevent this sort of mess.â€ Of course, this is the same Leith Liqourland that found itself conveniently â€˜forgottenâ€™ to be included in the liquor ban during the Undie 500 riots. That â€˜oversightâ€™ by the Police and the DCC resulted in the worst rioting and the most damage taking place within blocks of this alcohol retail outlet, but I bet the owners didnâ€™t complain that they were still allowed to trade during the riots, and I canâ€™t imagine that they volunteered to help with the clean up.
And this brings me to my conclusion. Why are a bunch of genuine, heartfelt, grass-roots student activists (the kind of people that University is supposed to produce, and the kind who pick up all of the rubbish on campus after their own events) being actively opposed and pushed to the margins? Supposedly it is because we openly disregard a law. But at the same time a Dunedin lawyer and former Dunedin police officer are allowed to own and operate a million-dollar liquor business in the heart of the scarfie ghetto, seeming to openly and knowingly disregard a long-established law, yet these type of â€˜business ownersâ€™ and â€˜investorsâ€™ are seen as community heroes. I say donâ€™t buy the propaganda being fed to you by the Universityâ€™s Marketing and Communications office and other media. Think critically about who in this community is actually trying to make a positive difference and who is openly parasitising us. My point is not that we should have more rigidly enforced restrictions surrounding the consumption of alcohol, but that in light of the relative harms posed by these two substances I have just compared, that it is time to cut through the lies and propaganda and have equal and just treatment under the law for both alcohol consumers and cannabis consumers. For Godâ€™s sake, itâ€™s time to legalise cannabis!