It is heartening to see Labour's Steve Chadwick, the chair of the health select committee, making positive noises about authorising medical use of marijuana - and depressing to hear United Future's Peter Dunne describing it as the "thin end of the wedge" towards softer drug laws.
If the debate proceeds any further, we will doubtless endure liberal use of that other empty cliche in the war on drugs: that allowing medical use of marijuana would "send the wrong message" to young people.
Right. Just like the administration of morphine and pethidine for acute pain relief sends the "wrong message" about heroin abuse. Perhaps Peter Dunne should be invited to expand on his stupidity by blaming sufferers of narcolepsy - who are prescribed amphetamines - for the P epidemic. It would make about as much sense.
Listen up: the case for medical marijuana to ease some forms of chronic pain and disablement, including that experienced in multiple sclerosis, and to curb nausea associated with chemotherapy and HIV drugs, is beyond doubt. Those using it say it works better and produces fewer side-effects than legal medicines. It lets them live their lives. To continue to make those people criminals is simply inhumane. And not, one might add, very Christian.
Ironically, the debate has arisen again just as British research suggests an interesting future for the active ingredients in cannabis in protecting the brain against the effects of ageing. Will Dunne and God's other little helpers stand in the way of its use to treat Alzheimer's too?
Recreational use, of course, will continue whatever the law is. As the University of Auckland Alcohol and Public Health Research Unit drug use surveys have shown ever since they were first conducted, the law barely registers in New Zealanders' decision to use, or not use, pot.
Certainly a couple of thousand New Zealanders weren't too concerned about Mr Plod at Sly & Robbie's Auckland concert on Saturday night. The atmosphere at the rhythm twins' show was distinctly irie. The show itself was a mixture of the sublime and the frustrating. The band followed its booming rhythm section into mad, headlong jams - occasionally they'd get it wrong and just start into something else, or mess up the vocalists by coming back on the wrong beat. Freaky. Michael Rose sang beautifully, but spent way too much time getting the crowd to sing back to him. Didn't he realise New Zealanders aren't really very good at that sort of thing? Best moment: after they'd blown up the PA system, then spent 20 minutes jamming around while the amps were replaced, Robbie Shakespeare's bass came thundering back through the front-of-house like a hundred tons of niceness. Everybody threw their hands in the air and screamed. Well, I did anyway.
Mindful of the demands of several hours' standing up and dancing, I purchased and consumed a legal drug. Euphoria is a locally-made "dance pill" that, according to the label, contains the synthetic equivalent of black pepper extract. This presumably means the active ingredient is some form of piperine, which is found naturally in members of the pepper family in quite high concentrations. It is related to the active compounds in kava and betel nuts, and has found some popularity in dietary supplements to improve absorption of nutrients and combat the effects of ageing. It is also, more distantly, related to the piperazines, a group of chemicals including BZP, the main ingredient in the Exodus dance pills.
Unlike Exodus, Euphoria doesn't appear to produce stomach upsets (BZP is caustic), hangovers or headaches. Indeed, it seems to generate a mild, agreeable facsimile of the clubbing vibe - wakefulness, elevated mood, small rushes - without much in the way of adverse effects. [UPDATE: Apparently, the Euphoria helpline says Euphoria does contain BZP, but not the other piperazine found in Exodus, TFMPP. If so, (a) it would appear to be a better formulation, and (b) it's stretching it quite a bit calling it an "equivalent" to black pepper extract - piperazines don't occur naturally.]
I can't personally say I'd take it all the time, but the authorities would be well advised not to overreact to the growing legal high market. Assuming that it is highly unlikely that the whole nature of contemporary urban nightlife can be changed by official edict, it would be sensible to allow punters to purchase relatively safe stimulants from legitimate retail outlets and thus stay away from the genuine criminal, chemical and psychological menace of methamphetamine. (A similar argument might usefully be applied to cannabis, but let's leave that for the moment …)
Anyway, more American bullying of international institutions over another addictive substance - sugar. The sugar industry in the US is trying to blackmail the World Health Organisation by demanding that the US Congress end its funding contribution unless the WHO scraps its new guidelines on healthy eating. The industry wants the WHO to declare that up to a quarter of a healthy diet can consist of sugar. Yes, really. And the bought-and-paid-for dullards who crowd America's democracy will probably go for it.
Dangerous Christian cult alert: six members of the US Congress live in a million-dollar Capitol Hill townhouse that is subsidised by the secretive religious organisation known as The Fellowship.
Jeffrey Sharlett's amazing inside story on The Fellowship - which gains the trust and support of senior politicians and businesspeople by pandering to their vanity, much as the Scientologists do with Hollywood stars - originally printed in the March issue of Harper's magazine, is now available online. This is absolutely required reading.