This item looks at the moral panic surrounding supposed drug use by tenants in state housing in Aotearoa/Neew Zealand.
Every so often an illicit drug comes along that has the State and the Establishment so worked up they over-react to it. Here in Aotearoa/New Zealand the drug concerned is P for ‘Pure’, a local name for methamphetamine. The negative health impact of this drug is not in question. However, it’s not so much the impact of methamphetamine addiction that has created anger. It is the use of methamphetamine contamination criteria by Housing New Zealand (HNZ), which is responsible for administering New Zealand state housing, to justify kicking state housing tenants out of their homes and forcing them to pay thousands of dollars to have the houses decontaminated.
In a rare sympathetic insight from a mainstream media outlet the Stuff website has this to say in the article “Meth House Myth” (June 1st, 2018):
“It’s been called the biggest scam ever played on New Zealand. For years, tens of millions of dollars were spent on testing and cleaning houses for methamphetamine residue that wasn’t dangerous at all. Throughout, Housing New Zealand led the charge, kicking tenants out of homes and pursuing them for thousands in the Tenancy Tribunal.” It turned out that there was actually no evidence to show that methamphetamine contamination posed any risk to anyone.
In an article also published on the Stuff website (“The meth house is a myth: There’s ‘no risk’ from drug smoking residue, Govt report reveals”, May 29th, 2018) it was reported that:
“A bombshell report shows there is no real risk to humans from third-hand exposure to houses where methamphetamine has been consumed.
“This means tens of thousands of homes have been needlessly tested and cleaned at the cost of millions of dollars, with some demolished and left empty.
“The study by the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor Peter Gluckman found that New Zealand authorities had made a “leap in logic” setting standards. Essentially, a standard used overseas based on what “clan labs” should be cleaned to was now being used as a trigger to start cleaning here, despite no real health risk at that level.”
Despite the fact there is no clear scientific or medical information to prove that a methamphetamine contaminated house posed any health risks “ ‘…there has been an assumption among the general public that the presence of even trace levels of methamphetamine residue poses a health risk…,’ Gluckman said.”
The article went on to state “Gluckman said testing and cleaning still made sense when there was suspicion that methamphetamine had been produced on a property – but this was more to do with reassurance.
“He said a “moral panic” around cleaning and remediation had occurred only in New Zealand. If science had been involved earlier in the policy-making process this could have been avoided. “Mould was a much larger health risk to tenants than meth residue.”
It’s not just in the area of housing where drug testing has been imposed on the basis of misinformation and stereotypes rather than facts. The introduction of mandatory drug tests for social welfare beneficiaries by the Ministry of Social Development in July 2013 has also proven to have been a waste of public money.
In a NZ Herald article dated May 16th, 2016, it was revealed that “Last year, there were 31,791 referrals for drug testable positions nationwide and just 55 sanctions for failing a drug test, according to Ministry of Social Development (MSD) figures.”
That’s a failure rate of 0.17%!
Even in the private sector it has been revealed that less than 5% of people who have been referred to pre-employment and random drug tests have failed them, according to the NZ Drug Foundation (March 2017).
This ties in with the results of similar mandatory drug testing regimes imposed upon people receiving social welfare benefits in other countries. According to Forbes website (February 17th, 2015) the results for drug testing social security recipients in the USA were not much different. In Florida the failure rate was 2% (compared to 9.4% of the general population, in Utah it was 0.2% (compared to 6% of the general population) and 1 in 800 people in Tennessee (compared to 6% of the general population).
Indeed, the evidence is clear: the extent and impact of drug use among the poor is greatly exaggerated and used to justify intrusive drug testing that serves no function other than to provide government agencies with an excuse to force people out of state housing or eliminate their social welfare payments.
Even though the evidence is that people in state housing are not methamphetamine addicts, or that drug use among social welfare beneficiaries is lower than within the general population, the lies continue to be promoted.
There are three facts about drugs such as methamphetamine that need to be faced.
The first is that anyone, including children, who want access to illicit drugs can access them if they know the right people. The simple fact that most people don’t use illicit drugs despite the fact they’re easy to access, proves that we don’t need drug prohibition laws.
The second is that drug prohibition laws have failed to prevent anyone who wants access to illicit drugs from getting access to them. This raises the question of what the purpose of the drug prohibition laws are really intended to do.
The third is that when the drug prohibition laws are enforced it is done most brutally against the poor. Despite the fact drug use among those in lower socio-economic cohorts is much lower than among the general population only they are kicked out of their homes or stripped of any welfare assistance if they use drugs.
The ‘fight against drugs’ is nothing to do with combating substances such as P. It is an excuse used to remove the poor from neighbourhoods that are wanted by developers and to allow the government of the day to state they are doing something about a problem that is not only exaggerated but which is largely the result of the actions and inaction of various governments themselves.
People don’t end up poor because they do drugs but a very tiny minority of them do use drugs to escape from reality. Who can blame them if they do when their reality consists of a daily grind of just getting by?
There is nothing specifically anarchist in putting forward the idea that people who want to use drugs should be able to do so. Many people take the view that drugs should be sold, taxed and regulated to ensure quality control and to keep it out of the hands of minors. The money from the taxes raised from the drugs could be used to provide effective treatment for those people who are addicted and informed and providing facts about drugs based on scientific facts (rather than pseudo-science and scare-mongering) for those who are not.
However, from an anarchist point of view, this would not be enough as it still allows far too much state and corporate meddling in the private lives of those who use drugs and those suspected of using drugs.
An Anarchist blog artilce entitled “The Revolution will not be sober: the problem with notions of ‘radical sobriety’ and ‘intoxication culture’” by Zoë Dodd & Alexander McClelland (March 25th, 2016) had this to say about drugs and drug culture which is certainly worthy of discussion:
“…we believe that altering the relationships we have with our minds and bodies through substance use is a form of resistance and emancipation. For us, drug liberation is the emancipation of drugs deemed illegal and the people who use them from the control of the state and social structures. In our experience, drug use can facilitate authentic, compassionate, and emotionally bonded social relationships that are not possible otherwise. Drug use can be therapeutic and provide autonomy outside of the pathologizing system of western medicine for coping with trauma and difficult life experiences. Within an economic system that relies on our bodies as a tool of production under a capitalist rationality, getting high can be a tactic for survival, a therapeutic practice, and an active refusal to engage with capitalism.
“Maximizing our own pleasure by getting high can be a political imperative when we live in a society that is organized around viewing our bodies and minds as a form of capital. Under a capitalist logic, pleasure as an end unto itself is often viewed as dangerous, selfish, problematic, and destructive. But for thousands of years people have been using all kinds of drugs and substances to alter their relationships with their minds, bodies, with each other, and with their physical environments. Drugs were (and still are) used for ceremonial purposes to expand people’s relationship to land, expand worldviews, and as forms of healing medicine. Drugs have been widely used for years within communities of self-proclaimed queers, dykes, fags, gender radicals, freaks, skids, and punks to fuck with the ways in which society understands how we are supposed to act and be in the world. It is via practices of colonization, the introduction of capitalism, liberal legal frameworks, and the proliferation of western medicine that certain kinds of drug use have been arbitrarily pathologized and highly regulated, producing moralistic notions of illicit drugs, “addiction”, and the “addict”.
Whether or not one agrees with such sentiments the one thing that is absolutely clear is that testing state housing for methamphetamine and drug testing social welfare beneficiaries are forms of oppression used by the state to stomp upon the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in society.