January 2010


 I believe that Marihuana is still illegal mainly due to one particular reason – misconception. There are many arguments against legalising Marihuana, I find them nearly all flawed. Here I will discuss one of the most common – that Marihuana though not very harmful in itself, leads to harder drugs. That it’s a stepping stone towards heroin or cocaine. I disagree.

First of all, let’s start by defining a drug. A drug is a substance that when inserted in a person’s body causes a change in how a person thinks and feels. Whether it is smoked, drank, swallowed, sniffed or injected doesn’t make a difference in what qualifies as a drug. Thus, not considering alcohol and prescribed pills that affect the Central Nervous System, such as tranquilisers, as non drugs because they are legal is a big mistake. After a particular dose of them, a person starts feeling changes such as relaxation, increased self-confidence, euphoria and many others. They are drugs, and how.

The stepping stone theory states that many people who end up hooked on hard drugs usually start with softer ones and then proceed to harder ones. There are many exceptions, however in general I agree with this theory.

Many scientific studies suggest that the first ‘drug’ a person who had proceeded to hard drugs had started with is Marihuana. However usually such research has one big flaw. The people filling in questionnaires or whatever method of data collection say their first drug was Marihuana because they don’t consider alcohol as a drug. Very few people have intoxicated themselves with Marihuana without having done so previously with alcohol at least once in their life.

 When a person takes his first drug, which is usually alcohol he learns a lesson. He learns that with a chemical outside of himself he can control his mood. That he can change a feeling he doesn’t like such as shyness to one he prefers such as self confidence. Due to our culture, where alcohol is socially accepted most people do thread on this stone.

Marihuana does exactly the same thing. The state of mind arrived to after its use is different, however the level of change is approximately the same, if not less drastic (in fact much more people do irresponsible things such as violence or unprotected sex if they are intoxicated by alcohol than Marihuana) than the effect of alcohol.

If Marihuana was legal, the second lesson the individual learns is that if he breaks the law, he can find new drugs with a much more severe alterations in his state of mind. This is a big step. One has to be willing to take a drug he knows is dangerous as well as break the law. With Marihuana criminalised, this step is broken in two. The man who ‘arrives’ to heroin or cocaine would have already got used to breaking the law in order to acquire Marihuana.

 Thus, it is its illegality that makes Marihuana a stepping stone.

This has many implications. That alcohol is sold from a legitimate pub, disco or supermarket means that the consumer doesn’t have to mingle with some criminal network to acquire it. On the other hand, the same networks that supply Marihuana, are more likely then not to be related to networks providing harder drugs.

Another problem is that if the individual considers Marihuana a drug, and alcohol a non-drug, after he smokes his first joint, he has already accepted the fact that he has already taken drugs. It is then a less big deal to take something that falls in the same category – illicit drug. It is tempting to think that after all drugs are not that much of a big deal. By legalising Marihuana, it is easier to spread the idea that alcohol is a drug, with a potential for harm, especially getting addicted to it. Not as devastating as heroin or cocaine, however neither Marihuana is.

This is one of the reasons I strongly believe it should be legalised. I’m not saying it’s harmless. However, even biting your own fingernails can cause appendicitis and thankfully no one is considering making such practice illegal.

The internal PN squabbles regarding Franco Debono’s abstinence in Parliament mean nothing for me. Neither do the attacks on the government by the opposition. Repeating the same old story ad nauseum. The PN says everything it’s fine, which obviously a lie, and the PL says this government is on the brink of collapse, also a lie.

However, one thing did arouse my interest. Dr Debono wanted to make a point. The point was that backbencers like him should also be given weight from the party. Quite a good point, though I don’t really bother. Yet Dr Debono went on to state his opinion on a law that had been on hold since 2002. The right for a suspect to have legal assistance while being interrogated. This did arouse my interest. Finally, I thought.

Strangely enough, in a couple of weeks the police had their time to do their homework, and the law will come into force on the 10th of next February. What homework? The way this law is drafted changes nothing. Absolutely nothing except the fact it shows that Dr Gonzi gave a little attention to Franco Debono. Hopefully they’ll live happy ever after.

The suspect (emphasise on suspect, the suspect in not only not a criminal proved guilty, but does not even have a charge in court against him) has a right to ask for consultation for half an hour before the interrogation begins. Consultaton before the suspect and his attorney do not even know what evidence will be used against the suspect. The half hour ends, the attorney leaves and the interrogation begins. There is little if any that the attorney can say to his client except that he has the right to remain silent, and that what he says can be used against him. Those same words that the police officer should tell you to make the arrest legitimate.

To add insult to injury, remaining silent on advice of your lawyer can also be used against you. It’s called ‘inference of guilt whatever that means. I can just imagine the prosecutor stating “Your Honour, this man must definitely be guilty since his lips didn’t move for 48 whole hours”

The 70’s and 80’s were horrible times. Ask someone who had been under arrest in those days, irrespective of political color. We have moved a lot forward since since. However it doesn’t mean we should take anything for granted.

If Commissioner Rizzo is reading this he must be fuming with anger. However, what I am saying is not that his administration (I’ve seen him only on the media and he seems a person of real integrity) is corrupt and disrespects human rights. What I would like to tell him is that bad apples are found everywhere, and in places of such importance checks on the potential bad apples should be mandatory. Neither he, nor his assistants can be present everywhere at the same time. It might be true that having an attorney during the whole interrogation, as well as having it videotaped, will make it harder to solve some cases. (Though the videotape can also be used against the attorney if he tries to decieve the police by suggesting rights that the suspect does not have). However if we want to make sure the abuses in 70’s and 80’s will not happen again what we need is not to vote a particular party, but put the necessary checks and balances. (I’ve been a fierce critic of both Dr Sant and Muscat many times, however I do commend them of getting rid of the violent factor in the Labour Party)

I will present two small examples (happened in Malta this last decade) to show how important these checks and balances are. As I will show, these measures will help mainly the innocent and the petty criminal. Most of the time the big guns of crime know their rights more than their attorneys.

An acquaintance of mine, a timid guy with mental health problems was arrested because he was found nearby a place where a robbery had taken place. On him a screwdriver was found, even though it was definitely not used in the robbery. I met this young man on the bus just after he had been released. He was traumatised, crying and shivering. He assured me the police did not beat him, but for a person in his vulnerable state of mind, the shouting as well as the ‘you are guilty’ attitude were too much he could handle.

The other case I’d like to mention, is one I had read about in a local newspaper. A 19 year old girl with a clean police conduct was caught with a single ecstasy pill. Definitely not a crime to be sent to prison for. An admonition maybe, or if one goes at length, a probation order?

Ara l-istampa bil-qies kollu taghha.

However during arrest the girl made a confession – a confession that really shows she was just a naive occational drug user with not real criminal intent. She admitted that she had bought six pills of the drug, gave two to a friend and two others to another friend while keeping two for herself. She also stated that on the occasions she and her two friends take the pills before a party, who ever is available first will buy the drugs for all three of them.

Technically, since she handled the drugs to her friends, even if there was no intent of making profit, that was drug trafficking. In her situation, the law demanded a minimum of three months imprisonment. While giving the sentence, the judge himself admitted this was unfair, but also stated he had no other option.

Does anyone think a drug baron would be so stupid? Or that a thief with a minimum of experience would loiter around the area of the crime he had just committed with a screwdriver in his pocket?

It is these people the law should protect. People that might easily be you, I or a close friend or relative.

As an environmentalist, as well as a believer in civil liberties I’m very angered at the latest attack by Pope Razinger on homosexuals. Once again this Pope is using the environment as a lousy excuse to oppose something he disagrees with. In this case it’s the fact that the Portugese parliament has accepted homosexual marriages.

Mr Razinger stated he considers gay marriages as unnatrual and an ‘attack on creation’. What the Pope doesn’t seem to note is the fact that many animals including cats, do engage in same sex activities. He also seems not aware while there are species of animals where couples engage in long term, even life-long relationship, not a single one of them found the need to sign a contract for it.

Worse still, Mr Razinger considers this ‘blurring of gender’ as the road to the destruction of humankind, and compares it to the destruction of rainforests. May the Pope gently explain how? I don’t feel that I need to explain the consequences of destroying rainforests, most probably you already know them. But gay marriages? Does he think that by giving homosexuals the right to marry everyone will turn homosexual and no human male sperm will ever meet a female egg? Does the Pope still think that gays can be ‘cured’ or that heterosexuals can be ‘converted’.

While these comments have angered well meaning homosexuals as well as  environmentalists, his comments might flare more the fanatic homophobes. A law is being proposed by the Ugandan governement, a counry with a Christian majority, to introduce ‘aggravated homosexuality’. Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, punishable by long term imprisonment. The proposal states that ‘aggravated homosexuality’ such as homosexual activity involving an HIV+ person or that of a ‘repeated offender’ would be punishable by death. Worse still, knowing that a person is a homosexual and not reporting it to authorities is punishable by three years imprisonment, even if that person happens to be you own son. I’m sure the Ugandan government is appreciating the support of his new ally, the Pope.

Groups of Christian fanatics, mostly found in the U.S. take the law in their own hands and harass, assault and even murder homosexuals. To add insult to injury, they turn up at the victims funeral carrying slogans such as ‘GOD HATES GAYS’ or worse still ‘THANK GOD FOR AIDS’. These criminals must surely be rejoicing at Mr Razinger’s words. Most probably they take them as an approval for their cowardly acts.

 

Speaking for the majority of environmentalists, may I at least ask the Pope one thing? If you intend to continue fuelling hate crimes could you at least be decent enough and at least refrain for doing it in our name.

Regarding the racially related violence that spread in Rosarno yesterday 8th January, all that Interior Minister Roberto Maroni did was condemn immigration, stating that violence by migrants had been ‘tolerated all these years’. Unfortunately Maroni is (partially) succeeding in fuelling hatred between the people of Rosarno and immigrants. Thanks to this, the attention is taken away from the real cause of the history of violence in Calabria – the N’drangheta – an organisation larger and more brutal than the Sicilian Mafia, that unlike the latter prefers to keep a low profile.

Once again a right-wing leader is using the tactic of divide and rule. Let the oppressed African workers fight with the oppressed, albeit less severely, people of Rosarno. Most of the people in Rosarno support the N’dangreta. What the immigrants do not know is that most of these people, otherwise honest men and women, do so out of fear of this deadly organisation.

Maroni’s words were condemned by the Italian left as xenophobic and racist. However what I find really worrying is not the words he said, but those he didn’t. If one relies on the Interior Minister’s condemnations, the N’drangeta barely exists. Unlike the violence of the immigrants, that of this criminal organisation is never mentioned.

The extreme violence of the N’drangheta is not mainly targeted at African immigrants, but rich Italians living in the North, ironically the core voters of Maroni’s party. In fact, the organisation got its financial boost to make itself on the same level or even better than the Sicilian Mafia and the Camorra, by kidnapping children and relatives of millionaires from the North for huge ransom sums of money. Most of these victims just ‘vanished’ either because their families failed to pay the ransom, or because they happened to see something they shouldn’t. A few were given back to their families after the ransom was paid. All of these had been severely physically abused and psychologically traumatised for life. In the last three decades only one person managed to escape. Unfortunately, probably out of fear, he was captured and sent back to the criminals by the people of Rosarno themselves.

The ransom money was in turn invested in massive drug trafficking where a kilogram of Cocaine is bought for €20 and sold more than douple that price for every single gramme. Most of these drugs were sold to rich adoloscents in the North, the same people Maroni claims to defend.

The ‘caccia al negro’ serves well for duping the people of Rosarno and let them vent their rage. A ‘caccia al Mafioso’ would not only be more horrible, but might also be the beginning of the fight against the N’drangheta.

In an intercepted conversation between two N’drangheta leaders one says “noi siamo il passato, il presente e il futuro” (we are the past, the present and the future). However, the other voice shows concern for the organisation “se la gente si ribella, noi siamo finiti” (if people revolt, it’s the end of us).

The words Maroni said show him as a racist. However, the words he failed to mention show an even more sinister side.