Last November, Colorado became the second US state to legalise recreational marijuana use within its borders. You can now go to just about any major city and find numerous dispensaries carrying high-grade cannabis some people are saying is even better than the pot coming from Mexico. When asked for her opinion, a 23-year-old mother of two in neighbouring Nebraska said, “I don’t use, so it doesn’t really affect me, but I don’t see anything wrong with it.” Her attitude is a big part of the drug problem people do not like to talk about.
Whether you live here or in the United States, the fact that you do not use drugs or alcohol dangerously does not mean the problem does not affect you. To believe as such is to live in a fantasy.
Back in the US, the four states bordering Colorado have seen a number of problems resulting from last November’s vote. Those problems stem from the fact that people are purchasing marijuana legally in Colorado only to transport it across state lines to places like Sydney, Nebraska. It is illegal to do so, but that does not stop people from doing it. They are purchasing in Colorado and selling it illegally back in their home state.
Local officials say marijuana related arrests in Sydney have risen since the first of the year. They also say property crimes have also gone up. The local sheriff attributes the rise in property crimes to local marijuana users who need cash to sustain their habits. So while the young mother does not think the Colorado law affects her, it does. One day she may actually find herself the victim of a property crime at the hands of someone looking to buy pot.
A Societal Problem
The drug and alcohol problem in any community is not one limited just to users. It is a societal problem that requires a societal solution. That solution may be different from one community to the next, but it requires everyone to be honest about reality and be willing to pitch in to help fix it. Ignoring it in the hope that it will never reach your home is a good way to invite it in.
So what are the solutions being offered? Here are a few of the more common ideas:
- Harm Reduction – Here in the UK, we provide opiate addicts with free methadone via the NHS. The idea here is two-fold: to reduce the harm of the drug posed by dirty needles and reduce crime by providing the drug free of charge. Proponents of harm reduction believe this is a very successful and pragmatic approach.
- Aggressive Education – Some have suggested we approach drug and alcohol education with the same level of aggressiveness that we have invested in tobacco education. Tobacco use is now anathema nearly everywhere in the Western world; perhaps we should now turn our energies to making alcohol and drugs the same.
- Early Intervention – Many in the medical community believe that early intervention could go a long way toward preventing young people from becoming addicted. The early intervention strategy calls for paying attention to the habits and tendencies of young people in order to identify factors putting them at greater risk. The presence of those factors would result in intervention counselling.
- Life Skills Training – Proponents of life skills training believe that one of the best ways to keep people off drugs is to teach them how to function in daily life without them. For example, train them to find work, start a business, create and follow a budget, etc. In other words, train them how to be successful so that they can find satisfaction in their own accomplishments rather than turning to drugs and alcohol.
Just like there is no single approach that works to bring every drug addict to recovery, no single strategy is going to solve the alcohol and drug problem in the UK. Nevertheless, that does not mean we should throw up our hands and give up the fight. We need to take advantage of every possible solution and apply them in combination until we find something that works for a given community. If nothing else, we know that trying to solve the problem solely through tougher enforcement is not going to work. We need to start looking at adding other solutions.
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