Indonesia`s current attitudes toward drugs does not reflect sound knowledge concerning the problem. The huge percentage of prisoners convicted on drugs charges in our prisons suggests that the use of drugs in this country is much more widespread than corruption.
Tobacco is not considered a drug here and cigarette companies advertise aggressively using images of sports and music to sell their products. The government also reaps a large income through the taxation of tobacco.
Alcohol, being prohibited under most interpretations of Islam, has a more definite position. Apart from being heavily taxed, the sale of alcohol is strictly regulated. However, the many news stories of police confiscating home-brew in local papers indicate that alcohol consumption, although underground, is widespread.
Recently, an Indonesian drug authority has said that ganja (marijuana) might be legalized in some places here (The Jakarta Post, June 2). All over the Islamic world, from Morocco to Aceh, we can find the traditional use of marijuana, while the Hindu Shadus in India worship Shiva with cannabis. It appears that in times past cannabis was considered the intoxicant of choice in communities that shunned alcohol.
Although Islamic countries currently prohibit the use of marijuana, it is still widely popular even under pain of death. In Malaysia, there are several Acehnese men on death row for importing marijuana, while recent police raids of several prisons here found plentiful stores of ganja in the narcotics sections of the prisons. As a plant, cannabis has many uses. The fibers of the stem can be used to make good quality rope, textiles as well as paper. The flower buds are used as an intoxicant and can be ingested orally or smoked.
In Holland, there are ganja coffee shops that prove popular with tourists and in the UK there is an annual "legalize marijuana" march every May. Moreover, experiments carried out by the Brixton Police in London showed that going soft on ganja allowed the police more time to pursue more serious crimes such as muggings and hard drug dealing.
Brixton is an area of London with a large population of West Indian immigrants who traditionally use ganja for recreational and also for religious purposes. The Rastafarian religion shuns alcohol but uses ganja as a sacrament, and reggae poets such as the late Bob Marley and Peter Tosh have for a long time campaigned for the legalization of the plant.
However, Indonesian law still states that ganja is a drug of the same class as heroin and cocaine. Under current laws, the possession of ganja is a crime much more serious than the possession of crystal-methamphetamines. This might be one of the reasons why crystal-meth, called sabu-sabu, is popular among drug-taking policemen here.
In places such as the UK, crystal-meth is considered one of the most dangerous drugs on the streets. It is highly addictive and causes teeth to rapidly rot, in addition to impotency, paranoia and extreme and violent behavior. It destroys not only users` lives, but also those of the co-dependents -- the people around the addict.
The medicinal use of ganja has been proven to be beneficial in cases such as multiple sclerosis. Though UK researchers recently found that the heavy use of new strains of hybrid ganja -- referred to as "skunk" on the streets -- which is much stronger than the traditional varieties, could cause serious mental problems such as schizophrenia.
The long-term use of traditional and natural cannabis has also been well documented and researchers have found that the ill effects are for the most part caused by the tobacco used to mix with the cannabis buds when smoked. Many ex-hippies in their 70s are now still smoking weed and some find that their short-term memory fails them.
The loss of short-term memory is the most widely documented negative effect of ganja. Heavy and long-term use of legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol has been found to have far more severe consequences than the heavy use of traditional ganja.
In liberal countries that legalize and regulate the use of drugs, no increase in drug usage in society has been found. It seems that if people wish to use drugs, they will do so regardless of whether they are threatened by the gallows as in Malaysia and Pakistan.
It was the same in Indonesia under the Dutch, when the government regulated and monopolized the sale and usage of opium. Visitors to the opium dens wasted away in the public eye, and people, especially the young and impressionable, could see for themselves the ill effects of opium without it being glorified by misinformation and criminalization. As drugs go underground, young people are more prone to glorifying them and criminal networks more likely to profit.
True information about drugs is most important in a comprehensive drug policy. Fear mongering does not work. However profitable it may be -- think of the potential boost in tourism -- the idea of decriminalizing cannabis in Indonesia is sure to be vehemently opposed. Before we even think of taking that step, it would be wise to review our drug laws.
It is absurd to have laws that imply that crystal-meth is less dangerous than marijuana and that a shot of heroin or a snort of cocaine is comparable to a puff of ganja. When young people look up independent drug information and find the truth, they lose respect for authority. If they don`t find the truth, but rather find myths and hearsay, they are liable to tread down the dangerous path of addiction and, ultimately, death.
Source: www.thejakartapost.com (28 Juni 2007)