Image by nicholas macgowan via FlickrInviting the Vanua to Join the Fight Against Drugs
Monday, 19 January 2009 03:50
Police recognize that the fight against drugs will not make headway unless the community is involved.
The success of the vanua policing concept in Tukavesi, Cakaudrove, where the community joined Police in clearing out marijuana farms and apprehending the growers, has shown that it is possible to stem out this growing problem.
In the hopes of replicating the successes of Tukavesi, a team of senior Police officers led by Commissioner of Police Andrew Hughes will be in Keiyasi, Navosa to launch Vanua: Rai-Ki-Liu for the province on Wednesday, 12 July.
Vanua: Rai-ki-liu is the result of a yearlong nationwide consultation to find a Community Policing model suitable for Fiji. Vanua:Rai-Ki-Liu is the way forward for the Fiji Police in partnership with the community. It is also symbolic of the culturally diverse communities that co-exist within Fiji at the present time.
The Community Policing Review was undertaken in January 2005 in partnership between the Fiji Police and the Australia/Fiji Law and Justice Sector Program in which over 1,000 people from 33 villages, service providers (Government and non-Government) and police personnel across Fiji were consulted.
The key findings of this review formed the basis for the Vanua Rai-Ki-Liu Model and it is focused on three key areas: the Youth of Fiji, the vanua, and squatter settlements (urban and rural).
The model emphasizes a community with a common vision, working in partnership with a community justice approach. It also recognizes the key players in prompting fair and equitable justice for all across Fiji.
The United Nations estimates that 160 million people worldwide use cannabis with a significant number of its users experiencing panic attacks, paranoia and other “psychotic symptoms” while under the influence.
The UN are also concerned that newer, more potent strains of cannabis are equally threatening as heroin and cocaine and that it can no longer be dismissed as soft and harmless as many proponents have previously purported.
The head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa warns that countries with inadequate drug policies get the drug problem they deserved.
“With cannabis-related health damage increasing, it is fundamentally wrong for countries to make cannabis control dependent on which party is in government,” he said.
“The cannabis pandemic like other challenges to public health requires consensus, a consistent commitment across the political spectrum and by society at large.”
Mr. Costa maintains that the considerably more potent forms of marijuana available today than a few decades ago, shows that it was a mistake to dismiss it as a “soft drug” earlier on.
“Today the harmful characteristics of cannabis are no longer that different from those of other plant-based drugs such as cocaine and heroin,” he said.
In the last two years, drug-related offences reported to Police have fallen steadily from 433 in 2001 to 417 in 2003. For the period 2004 and 2005, this number fell even further to a steady 312 cases for both years - a decrease of 33 percent from 2003. While these numbers represent a significant decline, anecdotal evidence shows that the holdings of marijuana growers remain a concern.
Tied to marijuana use are the realities of violent crimes and mental health problems affecting our young people who have abused the drug on a continuous basis. It is a fact that those who have at some point taken and/or trafficked in marijuana commit the majority of sexual offences and violent robberies.
Force Psychologist Lorraine Meades agrees that marijuana is anything but a “soft” drug.
“An increasing problem in Fiji and other countries is young people presenting at psychiatric hospitals with Drug Induced Psychosis from using marijuana,” she said.
“Marijuana is anything but a ‘soft’ drug. It can have serious health impacts such as lung cancer and chronic bronchitis but it can also have serious psychiatric impacts.”
Ms. Meades said that an acute drug-induced psychosis (irrational thoughts and fear) brought on by marijuana usually lasts a few days. Once stabilized (which usually requires medication) the person must never use marijuana again. This psychotic episode has sensitized the brain and further marijuana use can result in another acute episode or, of more concern, a serious psychotic illness.
“In some people marijuana can precipitate an existing predisposition to a psychotic illness and bring forward an episode of schizophrenia or manic depression. This can become a lifelong illness,” Ms. Meades said.
The shift from leisurely consumption of this hallucinogenic drug to commercial scale farming in the last decade shows that rural Fiji is on the cusp of a major shift in its agro-based economy of traditional roots crops and kava to cannabis.
Under-development and scarcity of basic infrastructure such as roads, water and electricity coupled with limited access to markets for their products, has given rise to the simple economics of supply and demand for the marijuana producers in the highlands.
Keiyasi is known as a major supply area for marijuana. The unforgiving terrain, limited access to many of the villages and settlements in this part of the country and general disenchantment of the people who live here, has created the ideal environment for this odious operation.
The return to an honest day’s work for those to ply this trade needs more than the intervention of Police with the help of the community. Government along with the relevant non-Government and faith-based organizations also need to be actively involved in turning the tide on drugs.