Hard News by Russell Brown


Approved by lunchtime

As you may have read in the news, Peter Dunne approved a medical cannabis product yesterday. Indeed, he received the application to use Aceso Calm Spray to treat a patient with severe Tourette's in the morning and had it approved by lunchtime. The interesting question is whether this product required approval at all.

The Aceso spray's chief active ingredient is a cannabnoid called cannabidiol, or CBD, which has promising, if not quite yet proven, applications in treating various conditions, from epilepsy to anxiety. CBD also is thought to mitigate some of the psychoactive effects of THC, which is the chemical in cannabis that get you high. It's present in 50-50 parts with THC in Sativex, the only approved cannabis-based medicine in New Zealand (this is a much higher ratio than in all but a handful of specialist strains of raw cannabis).

The statement from the minister's office says the Aceso spray was "chosen for its low THC content" and hence "its reduced psychoactive side effects." What it doesn't say is how low the THC content is.

Denver-based Dixie Brands, the manufacturer, says that because Aceso is refined from industrial hemp, it contains "little or no" THC  and "levels so low that the product is federally legal and can be shipped across the country" and this Company Week story says it's one of two product lines Aceso makes with "THC-free oil from Europe". The other is Therabis, which is for pets. Dixie also makes products containing THC, at a separate facility.

 Here's where it gets interesting. The Ministry of Health's medical cannabis page, which the statement from the minister's office links to, says this:

Cannabis products are Class B1 controlled drugs and Ministerial approval is required before these can be prescribed, supplied or administered, in accordance with regulation 22 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 1977.

But the Misuse of Drugs Act defines a "cannabis preparation" in quite a specific way.

... that is, any preparation containing any tetrahydrocannabinols, including cannabis resin (commonly known as hashish) and cannabis oil (commonly know as hash oil), produced by subjecting cannabis plant material to any kind of processing

CBD is not a tetrahydrocannabinol. A preparation containing only CBD is not a cannabis prepration under the law.

Now, you could be a stickler and and say that even a trace of THC is enough to class the Aceso spray as a controlled drug. And it seems likely that the spray contains a trace of THC. (There are products guaranteed to be 100% pure CBD, but they're expensive and produced as reference samples for drug-testing labs to calibrate with.) But that takes you down a strange road.

Because there are already products containing trace quantities of THC available in New Zealand. Foods, cosmetics, hemp oil. You don't even need a prescription to get them – you can just rock up to any shop that happens to stock them. The quantities are too small to be psychoactive, but if you consume the edible hemp products with sufficient enthusiasm, it's possible to register a positive drug test for marijuana.

 I doubt we're about to suddenly take these products off the shelves. But what if Aceso products were sold as hemp products? Or if the spray was marketed not as a drug, but as a breath freshener, or a spiritual cleanser? What would prevent it being stocked alongside all the other minimal-THC-containing hemp products?

I'm not proposing that. CBD is a chemical we still don't know all that much about and it ought to be treated as a drug in a therapeutic setting. [NB: Cannadidiol is regulated under the Medicines ACt – see note at the end of the post.] What I am saying is that the basis on which the ministry asserts it should be subject to such special controls is quite dubious.

Peter Dunne told me last night on Twitter (his accessibility and responsiveness there is very, very welcome) that "I assume MOH officials made that assessment when the application was received." I'd like to see the reasoning, but it might take another OIA request.

But basically the issue is this: how long are we going to be so hung up about any and every form of cannabis-derived medicine that we impose the burden of an application to the minister on every individual doctor and patient who wants to use it? It's worth noting that both the Director of Mental Health and the acting Director of Public Health had to have a word in the recommmendation to the minister.

The statement from the minister says this approval shows the criteria drawn up by senior officials to guide his decisions are "not an impediment to robust, clinician-led, assessment-based approaches”. Well, they clearly are, for reasons I've been through at length here already. That's why they're being reviewed. We are very much not there yet.

UPDATE: As Ross Bell points out, CBD is regulated under the Medicines Act. It's defined as a "prescription medicine". But the ministry's page refers to the Misuse of Drugs regulations – and, as noted above, it's doubtful whether the spray is in fact a "cannabis preparation" under the law. The basis for requiring ministerial approval for a drug already regulated as a prescription medicine seems even more dubious. This should be a one-off product approval, no more.


Friday Music: Magnificent melancholy

In the unusually detailed record company bio accompanying I'll Forget 17, his debut* album as Lontalius, Eddie Johnston notes that the first the world heard of him and his music was in YouTube videos of him covering Crowded House songs.

There's a circularity in the fact that I'll Forget 17 was mostly made at Neil Finn's Roundhead Studios, but perhaps a greater one in some of the record's plangent melodies, which could have have come from the hand of Finn himself – and then been shaped in a world of R&B, pop and the internet. That's about the closest I can get to characterising what's going on here.

Songs from this album have been previewed and trailered quite extensively, which is good for marketing but not always good for the art. They make far more sense here as a cohesive whole. Johnston showed quite a degree of self-awareness in naming the record (the title is a lift from a Frank Ocean lyric). He won't be a teenager for long and it might be the last time he gets to feel this way on the regular. There's no ironic distance here: this is how the kid felt.

The unusual weave of guitar, electronics, strings, drums and piano on I'll Forget 17 doesn't sound like anything particular in modern pop music right now  (I was trying to think of what Velvet Underground song the guitar intro to 'It's Not Love' reminded me of – turns out it's 'The End' by The Doors). But its magnificent melancholy does have parallels. It's what Johnston was hearing in the Drake covers on Soundcloud that got him noticed by the world. His cover of 'The Real Her' didn't just make me listen to Drake in a different way, it made me listen to that kind of music differently.

And the timing seems pretty sweet. It's was only last week that the music blogs got frantic about a leaked Drake cover of Nico's 'These Days'. I know, fellow old white guys, I know: Drake covering Nico? As it transpired, it wasn't a cover by Drake, but an unmastered version of a cover duet with another artist, the terribly-named Baebo Baggins – which happened to escape in a version that only had Drake's vocals on it. It probably wasn't an accident, but the leaked version has gone and something more like the one that's coming out has replaced it. And it's really lovely.

So this is the world Eddie Johnston is heading into. By the end of the month, he'll be in Los Angeles, completing an album (it's already half done) with sometime Frank Ocean producer Om'mas Keith – which will presumably sound very different to this one, made with his friends. It's another way in which he won't be 17 any more.

But for now, I can't recommend this record highly enough. 'All I Wanna Say', 'Kick in the Head' and 'It's not Love' are shimmering, swelling songs to make 17 year-olds feel sad in their bedrooms – and to make everyone else remember for a few minutes when that was them too.

You can listen to all the tracks from I'll Forget 17 on the Lontalius website.

*Although it's being called a "debut", there is in fact another Lontalius album: 2013's The World Will Never Know About Us, a collection of tiny tunes (the longest is under two minutes) that you can play and purchase at a price of your choosing on Bandcamp. It's really worth a listen.


Our old kitchen stereo, a good-quality Yamaha micro system I found years ago in a sale at Paul Money, had been ailing for a while. It would simply refuse to power up for a couple of days and then inexplicably start working again. The non-working periods got longer, to the point where we decided that having paid down our GE Credit card, it was time to look and see whether Harvey Norman might have a more modern system for us.

The website wasn't promising, but when I went into the Mt Roskill branch, there was a Sony CMT-SBT300W, which featured AirPlay (and hence Wifi), Bluetooth and USB playback, as well as a CD player and FM tuner. It's the version without a DAB tuner, but whatever. It plays from everyone's phone and I can AirPlay lossless tracks straight from my computer in the office. Best of all, it was $310 off because the box had been opened.

While we were removing the old system and installing the new one, out popped something I'd forgotten had existed: my old 80GB iPod Classic.

It was dusty and had literally not been touched for years, but it lit up the second I touched the clickwheel. So I connected it to my computer and it synced. I deleted and restocked it with as much music as I could be bothered with – about 60GB – and it synced again, perfectly. There was a slight hiccup when I realised it couldn't play Apple Lossless files and had to re-sync with everything crunched down to 256k AAC, but that meant it just held even more music. It feels like this device and its tiny hard drive would survve the zombie apocalypse.

I've also been due a new iPhone – my four and half year-old 4S has been amazing, but I wanted something a bit quicker to travel with and Spark was offering a good deal with paying it off, so I got an iPhone SE on launch day, Thursday. It's the innards of the 6s squeezed into the smaller frame of the iPhone 5 and it's a little miracle. Apple still makes wonderful devices.

But even after I synced it with my existing data, there was no music on it. And when I went to fix that, there was this:

So. No obvious means of doing one of the things that made me want a 64GB phone for travelling: putting music on it. I'm supposed to get with the programme and just have iCloud Music Library replicate my desktop iTunes over the network. If I wanted to play music on a plane, I'd need to painstakingly download from the cloud each album (or each track) for offline play, even though I have them on my computer.

There is a straightforward workaround: I just need to turn off iCloud Music Library, sync all the music I want and then turn on iCloud Music Library again. I know that. But Apple doesn't say so and I assume many new phone owers are flummoxed by this. It's another example of how Apple makes great devices and poor choices about how they work with content.


Two new local videos this week ...

Chelsea Jade continues to make excellent use of her childhood instruction in ballet. This video from down at Silo is really swish ...

And Tourettes has worked up his poem for the local cultural apocalypse, 'The New New Zealand' into a suitably moody track, with hints of Burial.

I'm not sure if they cleared everything sampled in the video – from the Skeptics' 'A.F.F.C.O.' to The Quiet Earth – but if not, I trust the owners will be kind. It's art, after all, and these things are there as more than wallpaper.


A report from the LCD Soundsystem reunion.

Afrika Bambaata's 40,000-strong record collection is to be preserved at Cornell University.

Apart from the absolute tragedy of the three headliners, the Glastonbury lineup looks pretty good.

And this week's most joyous headine: Avicii quits music.



More fresh (uploaded this morning) disco fruit from A Label Called Success. A live mix from Manuel Darquart:

And mo' disco from Hamilton's remarkably productive Terrorball. This is from his EP of edits of tunes from the Daft Punk side-project Le Knight Club, but his Soundcloud profile has lots of other new work too – nearly all of it free to download (although you can give him money on Bandcamp if you like).

Auckland's Dub Terminator is back! In a dub'n'bass style this time, and it's fire. Free download:

Strange atmospheres from New Zealand producer Caitlin Blake:

A wicked Copycat re-take on the Beastie Boys' 'Brass Monkey'. (Hit 'Buy' for a free download from Bandcamp.)

And finally, a really neat dub of one of my favourite records ever, 'Frankie Knuckles' and Jamie Principle's 'Your Love'. It's a share-to-download bizzo on HearThis:


The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant


UMR: Medpot and the public

It does not take any special insight to suppose that Helen Kelly's media campaign on medical cannabis – framed as it has been in the context of her own battle with lung cancer – might have moved public opinion on the issue. Well, now we have some data how that opinion is shaping up.

The most remarkable element of the UMR polling question on medical cannabis, reported in the past hour on Checkpoint with John Campbell, is the consistency of support, across demographics and political allegiances, for the proposition: 

Do you support or oppose the use of marijuana being allowed for medical purposes?

But before we proceed, a word on the provenance of these results. The medpot question was included in UMR's polling to February 15 as a favour on the part of UMR's lead researcher Stephen Mills, who is a friend of Kelly's. Mills included a subsequent question on attitudes to the law on cannabis in general. If that second question seems a little off the pace of the current debate, that's because it's been brought back – after 19 years! – from a series UMR did for the National Business Review. 

The results of both questions were Helen Kelly's to do with as she wished. She showed them to one news organisation – which, weirdly, couldn't see a story in it. When I drew Checkpoint's attention to them, the response was quite different.

By chance, it has all happened in a week marked by interesting interviews with Peter Dunne and Kevin Hague on Morning Report today (as Dunne has noted, his comments won't be such a surprise to anyone who has read the new National Drug Policy), and the declaration by the Johns Hopkins-Lancet Commission on Public Health and International Drug Policy that all drugs should de decriminalised.

Anyway, the results.

You'll note that the lowest support for the proposition is among National Party voters, at a mere two thirds, with 20% opposed. The response from New Zealand First voters was roughly the same. In all other groups – across age, sex, location, domestic circumstance and voting allegiance –  support is 70% or greater. We've seen strong poll support for medical cannabis before, but I'm not sure it's been quite this universal.

I'd like to see a research company now step up and ask a more sophisticated series of questions. Do you support access to raw cannabis for medical purposes? Or only cannabis-based pharmaceutical products? Should people be able to grow their own for medical purposes? Should medical cannabis be regulated exactly the same way as pharmaceutical drugs, even if that currently means many people who need it will find it difficult and expensive to access? Should people using cannabis for purposes such as palliative care or pain relief be treated the same by the police as ordinary dope smokers? Should there be some way of providing safety advice to those people, or are they on their own?

I take a similar view of the second question:

Do you personally support or oppose the legalisation of small amounts of marijuana for personal use?

The overall result is a 46-46% dead heat, with 8% who don't know. Support is weak among National Party voters – but also amongst the least wealthy households. A slim majority of Labour voters is in favour, while Wellington is gaggin' fer it. Older New Zealanders are notably less keen than they are on medical cannabis.

And yet, there is a significant shift towards support over 19 years:

But this question is, frankly, a bit broken. It uses the word "legalisation" but describes something that looks more like a form of decriminalisation – only "use" is "legalised", and only in a "small amount", implying that supply and distribution would not in fact be legalised. The two terms are constantly confused in the media and that's a problem if we're to consider the appropriate policy.

If we're in favour of legalisation, what does that mean? Sale and distribution by private enterprise, as in Colorado; or by the state, as in Uruguay? Do we want marijuana regulated like alcohol, or like psychoactive drugs, as per the Psychoactive Substances Act? Do we stick with our Smokefree philosophy and only legalise less harmful ways of consuming cannabis? Should advertising be allowed? Should tax revenues be tied to education and treatment?

Decriminalisation, if anything, offers an even more complex slate of options. The traffic-fine system in South Australia, the removal of penalties for personal posession of all drugs in Portugal, or the Netherlands' venerable "we just won't enforce the law in these circumstances" – they're all forms of decriminalisation, all quite different. Does the public want the state to maintain a close, even controlling, interest in individuals' drug health, like the Portugese government does?

People who research what are still illicit drugs and their consumption are beginning to talk seriously about these questions. I spoke to Chris Wilkins of Massey University before this week's Media Take recording and he told me he and the university are staging an expert conference in May to discuss exactly these things. I'm looking forward to that.

But ultimately, this is also a discussion that public needs to have. And at some point, whether the government of the day wants it or not, it is a discussion we will have.

Update: Checkpoint's excellent report, story and audio.


Media Take: Crime and punishment

Last year, at a Wintec Press Club lunch, I listened to Paula Penfold tell the story of how she and Eugene Bingham put together their reports for TV3's 3D untangling the monstrous conviction that put Teina Pora in prison for a rape and murder he never committed.

It's the kind of story journalists like to hear. It helps us believe that in an era of shrinking budgets and sagging standards, what we do can still matter. But, as Penfold acknowledged, there's a deeper story here: that of private investigator and ex-cop Tim McKinnel, who spent six years working to free Teina Pora and in the process exposed some unpleasant truth about our justice system.

It's the story told by Michael Bennett in his new book, In Dark Places:

Bennett's book is a bracing read: pacy, accessible and important. He joins us this week on Media Take to talk about it.

In what has become a kind of crime and punishment special, we also talk to reformed gang member Fa'afete Taito, Deirdre Nehua of the prisoner reintegration service Out of Gate, and the Salvation Army's Reina Harris about the backdrop to a Waitangi Tribunal claim over persistently high rates of Maori incarceration and reoffending.

And we'll also take a hard look at a news phenomenon that's been doing my head in: the feckless and and often nonsensical stories about "meth houses" and contamination. As this Science Media Centre roundup of expert opinion indicates, the conflation of the risks at properties formerly used for methamphetamine manufacture and those where meth has simply been used is deeply misleading.

Ironically, I hadn't seen that opinion when I scripted a video for this week's show, but I came to the same conclusion: at best this stuff is confused, at worst it's simply bullshit. And it's bullshit very frequently driven by companies with a direct interest in generating public alarm. (Also: by government ministers, with much the same motivation). News stories end up full of wild and contradictory claims and property owners are relieved of yet more money.

NB: props to the person in digital at Newshub who actually reported on the expert opinion. Everyone else seem to have been in no mood to let the facts get in the way of a good story. Anyway, here's Richard Pamatatau from tonight's show:

Media Take: Meth Houses

On tonight's Media Take, Richard Pamatatau discusses the ethics of a methamphetamine clean up company being the expert source in an article on the prevalence of meth contaminated houses.

Posted by Media Take on Monday, March 28, 2016

You can watch the Media Take show here on demand.

And there's also an additional online-only Q&A session with all the panelists here. It's pretty interesting.


Friday Music: Making the scene with a time machine

Even before I went to London, I was envious of my elders; people who'd made the same journey as me a few years earlier and wound up being there for the explosion of punk rock and the energy and new sense of identity that brought.

A dozen years after punk, in 1988, that's what I thought of when I realised what was going on with acid house: it's a genuine British pop culture phenomenon, a big one, and I'm here for it. That really only lasted a year – one great summer, a dozen or two brilliant nights – before it turned into the era of the orbital raves, which was a different thing again. But I was so happy to be there.

I consider myself fairly blessed in this respect, because I'd been in the right time and place for the flowering of Flying Nun, where a community similarly formed and operated to an unspoken imperative. I didn't know much about anywhere else back then, but there were certainly times I thought there was nowhere else I'd rather be.

Does anyone think about this stuff? Is there a time and place you'd have loved to be? Not just a particular concert, but a scene. In one sense, the obvious candidate would be the chaos of late-1970s New York, where the three streams of modern popular music – punk, dance music and hip hop – all appeared at once in an evolutionary flurry. But did anyone experience all of those, or was each largely inaccessible to the other?

I thought about Swinging Sixties London and the early Chicago house parties ... but I settled on The Loft. David Mancuso's invitation-only club nights, which began in 1970, are the headwaters of contemporary dance music. They signalled a different understanding of what the whole thing was for and they directly inspired both the glorious bullshit of Studio 54 and the new sonic adventures of Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles, who found their feet on The Loft's dancefloor. (I wish Auckland would follow the current London trend of audiophile listening and dancing nights, which often employ the same Klipschorn speakers as Mancuso did 35 years ago.)

There are also, of course, scenes I know nothing about, perhaps in countries I don't pay attention to, but in all the ones I have described about there is, I think the element of marginalisation. Whethere it be the gay, black outcasts or New York or white kids like me forming bands on what seemed like the very far side of the world from everything else. I think that's what makes it work.


Last week, various papers carried the news that Chris Knox was to be wed to his sometime carer, Raewyn Alexander. The stories previewed an essay written by Alexander and published in the new Metro magazine, telling the couple's story in personal detail.

Unfortunately, the story is not what it seems. There was an intention to marry last year, but that has not been the case for some time, and as Chris emphasised yesterday on Facebook (with the assistance of his carer Stefan), he has no relationship with Alexander.

Last Friday, he sent an email to Metro saying much the same thing. He typed that one himself, which says something.

The piece seems to have been published without checking with Chris's friends and family (although their near-absence from its narrative perhaps ought to have been a red flag) and is understandably causing distress.

I contacted Metro's editor, Susannah Walker, for comment and receved this today:

Thanks for your email about Raewyn’s story, which we were first approached about in December. We understood that Chris was supportive of this story being written when it was pitched, and throughout the writing process. The story had been planned and written over the course of several months, and we have been assured that it was true and correct at the time of writing. At the time of publication, Raewyn believed that Chris wanted publication of the story to go ahead.

As far as Metro was aware at the time of publication, Chris and Raewyn had been together for some time as an established couple, and were engaged. In her story, Raewyn indicated that she and Chris had been having difficulties, however it appears that even Raewyn was not aware of the extent of those difficulties until very recently. Metro had no reason to believe that this article was anything other than true and correct in all respects.

I should say that my dealings with Susannah as editor have been very good and I don't envy her position. But not checking with friends and family was a failure.

I've also received a message from Alexander saying, among other things: "What I wrote in Metro was true at the time, as far as I knew." That's strongly debated, and does not explain why she talked up the piece last week and continued to do so even after the red flag was raised. Other parts of the message are, I think, somewhat defamatory.

To put it mildly, this is a very unfortunate situation. But Chris's friends and family, who I have known for many years, wish it to be known that the essay is inaccurate.


The current interesting weather will have cleared by Saturday and if you're in Auckland, you'll really want to get yourself along to Silo Park's Five Year Celebration, a six-hour silo session special celebration featuring Shayne P. Carter and band, The Conjurors, a DJ set from Coco Solid, Race Banyon and Murray Cammick on DJ duties. That's a bloody dream lineup!

I can't see set times anywhere yet, but the Facebook event page might be the place to look.


A group of people associated with Auckland's dance music scene have launched a Facebook page called Dance Till Dawn to put club culture's case in debates over the Local Alcohol Plan – which has become especially acute in light of the destruction of Sydney's nightlife with harsh, often arbitrary licensing laws.

It's a good and sensible initative. These aren't people who just want to sell more booze, they're part of a night-time culture. And they don't think banishing people from the city is the right solution.


You might have heard about Iggy Pop's endorsement of The Chills on his BBC 6 Music radio show. Here's the actual audio:

And two great reads from The Guardian:

An 80th-birthday interview with Lee Scratch Perry.

And the sad, wonderful story of Bristol music legend DJ Derek.


If you're looking for something to watch over the holiday weekend, allow me to recommend the 2002 BBC three-parter The Story of Jamaican Music. Written by journalist Lloyd Bradley, it traces an arc from the earliest days of ska to the breakthrough dancehall of Shabba Ranks and the pop styles of Shaggy.

It not only gets the story and the context right, it features some of the best use of music I've ever heard in any documentary. In true Jamaican style, the continuinty is the riddims: individual themes in the story are each underlaid with a well-known rhythm that binds them together. Graham Reid interviewed director Mike Connolly in 2005, when a two-part version screened on BBC World.

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:


By general acclaim, Auckland City Limits last weekend was a highly successful debut for this new kind of city festival. There were probably a little over 20,000 punters – likely not enough for the promoters to turn a first-year product, but certainly enough to encourage a return next year. Although it must be said that with another 10,000 or 20,000 on site, it's not going to be a breeze to get around like it was last weekend. And god knows what they'd do about bar service.

The festival will have been most people's first encounter with AWOP cash bands, used for all onsite spending, and the Globelet reusable cups. If you've been to Splore you'll be familiar with both. But there was one Splore-like feature that did more than any other to set the tone for the day: the presence of children.

Having kids around is a useful moderating influence on adult behaviour, and we saw kids – including a six year-old who was a fabulously funky dancer – who were clearly having a fine time. Pass-outs meant that parents could come early and do the Kiddie Limits thing with their small ones, then pop home and drop them off to the babysitter – I saw Damian Christie doing just that.

A couple of things didn't work out: the sound in the stadium was uneven (although Kendrick was plenty loud). The public bar queues were ludicrous at times. And having to pay an arbitrary $3 for the first cash top-up on the wrisbands seemed a bit gougey.

But mostly, welcome to the calendar Auckland City Limits!

PS: If you haven't seen Jackson Perry's excellent pictures of the day, go and feast your eyes.



As you may know, Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest died this week, aged only 45. Here's a funky litle remix to download and dance to in his memory:

A Skillz reworks another classic – this time Candi Staon's 'You Got the Love'. Much bass, many filters:

And finally, I was at the Thirsty Dog for a while last Friday night and heard the DJ drop what I immediately recognised as a funky reggae version of Aretha Franklin's unbeatable 'Rock Steady'. I had one of those "I have to ask" moments and it turned out to be by The Marvels:

What it is, what it is. Have a good Easter break, everyone.


The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant