Hard News by Russell Brown


Friday Music: Non-conforming New Zealanders

The New Zealand International Film Festival programme this year includes two very different New Zealand music films: Simon Ogston's picture of Bill Direen, A Memory of Others, and Julian Boshier's Head Like a Hole story, Swagger of Thieves.

I've been fortunate enough to see the former, and I loved it. To be clear, I've known Bill Direen for 35 years and I'm a signed-up member of his cult following. But I think even someone with no background in his music or writing will find something in the way A Memory of Others captures this non-conforming New Zealander.

Ogston's two other music films, the Skeptics story Sheen of Gold and Phil Dadson: Sonics from Scratch are relatively conventional retrospective documentaries. A Memory of Others is, befitting its subject, another kind of film altogether.

It opens with Bill alone in the present, preparing for the three-week national tour that gives the film its structure. And although it periodically delves into history to explain who this guy is, it never attempts to be the full biography and its real joy is in its present moments: Bill giving a reading from Janet Frame at the Frame house in Oamaru, reuniting with Stephen Cogle to perform 'Son of Cronos', playing music with kids at Clyde Quay School.

It's a lovely, lyrical, organic film about a cultural life, one that does much of of its telling through tone and pacing, image and silence. It captures its subject's sometime awkwardness with the world, but also the musicality of his writing and the writerliness of his playing. It does however leave us a little short of the  actual performances. I'd love to see more of the final show in Auckland, with the twin-drummer lineup. The minute or so we get of the final song, 'The Utopians', sounds as good as I remember it. Perhaps there's a DVD extra, or a post-credits treat there?

Anyway, the dates:

Swagger of Thieves I haven't yet seen, but there's been a buzz about this this film for a while. Boshier spent 10 years working on its story of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, even spurning funding applications because he didn't want to be told what to do or how to do it.

The trailer gives a pretty good idea of the kind of ride we're in for.


One of the nicest men in music passed away this week.

Terry King was the founder of Progressive Studios on Anzac Ave in Auckland, the place where the Verlaines' 10 O'Clock in the Afternoon, the Builders' Beatin Hearts, the Great Unwashed Singles and all of Bird Nest Roys' records were made, and where the Chills' 'Pink Frost' was completed.

As Chris Matthews noted on Facebook, Children's Hour were "discovered" there by Chris Knox in 1982 "when Chris was in the studio with The Stones from Dunedin and heard us making an almighty racket in the rehearsal room down the hall, poked his head in the door and invited us to support The Stones at the Rhumba Bar a few weeks later."

Children's Hour recorded their debut EP Flesh at Progressive the following year and, says Chris, Terry "was always incredibly accommodating and patient with us and everyone else who recorded there even though we probably spent the whole time drunk and being generally obnoxious."

Terry's approach to this boisterousness was a great illustration of who he was. He pointed the band at a wall he needed knocking down and let them rip.

"And of course we took to it with gusto," Chris writes. "It was always give and take with Terry and so many of the early NZ bands would never have committed any of their music to tape without his profound belief in and charitable approach to what so many of us were doing."

The studio was never a big earner and Terry eventually went into TV sound. I hadn't seen him for years, but we were neighbours for a while in the 1980s, after I moved into the flat in the barely-converted office space upstairs. (One of the advantages of living above a recording studio was that it was easy to get bands to play at your parties.) I have very fond memories of the man, and I know I'm not the only one.

Andrew Schmidt's recently-published Audioculture article Terry King: The Progressive Years has many more memories of Terry and the things he did.


The 2017 Silver Scroll longlist has been announced and over at The Spinoff, Calum Henderson has a good interview with this year's musical director, Shayne Carter – who is himself on a list that doesn't lack for diversity.


The denials have been emphatic, but but there seems little doubt now that whatever the technical details,  Spotify is juking its playlists with music its effectively owns royalty-free, by "bands" and artists who don't technically exist.

It's not unheard-of for someone selling a service involving music to commission their own works – the music at that Les Mills pump class you go to (well, okay, maybe not you, but people) was likely created for Les Mills. You could certainly also argue that writers and producers working under pseudonyms aren't really "fake". But Spotify's apparent strategy of using its control over playlists to save money by cutting out royalty-earning artists is, frankly, questionable.

The Guardian's Alex Petridis spent hours exploring the "fake" artists on Spotify and listening to "the most bizarrely nondescript music I’ve ever heard". He concludes by noting that Spotify recently hired an AI expert who has already released music composed entirely by computers running algorithims. It's coming. You know it.


95bFM's free bStreet party on July 29 looks worth getting out for. It sees the DJs behind the station's specialist shows each curating their own mini-parties at different K Road venues. The lineups for Friendly Potential's shindig at Whammy and Dirtbag Radio's grimy business next door at the Wine Cellar were announced this week

If you're in Wellington, tomorrow night is Reactivate, a fundraiser for Radio Active featuring Trinity Roots, the Upbeats, Jon Toogood and more. Get along.


Australia's hhhappy blog has an interview with Indira Force, aka Indi, the Doprah singer who has her debut solo album Precipice out next month. You can download the spooky, shimmering title track from her website and hear more on her Soundcloud, including the new single, 'Tablelands'.


Ethan's Moore's project Dirty Pixels took the slightly odd path of having a bFM hit with their swoony pop song 'Spacesuit' without playing an actual gig. But last night they finally got around to a live debut at Golden Dawn. I went along figuring that they could use the numbers on such a crappy night – but it turned out all the cool kids were there too.


Racing have a new song 'The Bass', out today. It's ... very big.

It's ony available on the streaming services at the moment, which is why you're seeing that shitty Spotify embed.



Aucklanders Chaos in the CBD continue to make high-quality dance music from their base in London. This remix is a delight.

Auckland's A Label Called Success had this jazzy little house number premiered by the French label and "music provider" Délicieuse Musique this week:

A wicked little remix that whips up some afro-house fire around a Tony Allen track. Free download:

And finally, thanks to Pete Darlington for the tip on this fab – and typically eclectic – recent set for the Kelburn Garden Party by Mr Scruff. That's four hours you dont need to be out in the weather, right here ...


The Friday Music Post is sponsored by:


Representing New Zealand music


Our own fake news

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key was forced to resign after being caught giving $13.7m in taxpayer money to the Clinton Foundation. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), John Key was forced to step down after he colluded with the National Party to funnel millions of taxpayer funds to the Clinton’s. He is now under investigation.

Nah, not really. But that is the top of a YourNewsWire story shared on Facebook by a friend with an unfortunate habit of sharing such things. That story, dated July 9, in turn credits one on something called AccMag – which, perplexingly, leaves out the obvious lead about John Key being forced to resign and being investigated.

When I first wrote about this bullshit in January, I ventured that that the authors of the bullshit at the Taxpayers' Union "know quite well they’re constructing fake news". Did they get a result?

Although the story my friend shared was dated Sunday, it's been rattling around since October last year, shortly after the Clinton Health Access Initiative published its updated donor list and MFAT subsequently confirmed to NBR that $7.7 million had been allocated to joint venture CHAI projects to reduce child malnutrition in Rwanda and Ethiopia.

After that, the Taxpayers Union made an OIA request for the information, which duly published with all the weird, sweaty spin and disinfo you'd expect. (Ironically, it wasn't really news. The project was already listed on MFAT’s African aid page and the New Zealand-based international aid consultancy FCG ANZDEC announced back in 2013 that it would be working with the New Zealand Aid Programe and CHAI on the project.)

It's NBR's original November story, with its David Seymour quote, which was swiftly excerpted for a yarn headed $13.7m NZ taxpayer funds pledged to shady Clinton charity on the website Wake Up NZ. It's this text that went viral and which has since been republished more times that I cared to count on similar websites and forums.

So it's not, as I initially supposed, that our very own Clinton conspiracy was provided to left-wing conspiracy loons by a cynical right-wing lobby group – more that the conspiracy loons and the right-wing lobby group discovered it at the same time and both doubled down on the stupid.

But back to John Key resigning. That mutation has actually been around for a few months, too. The first instance I could see was in December on this blog on the America wingnut hub The Free Republic, citing this post on a thing called Investment Watch Blog. Typically, the text of the cited story – which is the same as the original Wake Up NZ post – doesn't actually support the claim that New Zealand's Prime Minister was forced to resign. It's simply added in the headline absent any support in the text.

This is exactly how fake news is made.

Like I said, you can see endless iterations of this story on the swathes of the internet where the far left, the far right and those people simply looking to game the programmatic advertising market convene over an obsession with the misdeeds of the Clintons. It will literally never go away now. The market for this stuff is bottomless and and remonstrating with people who believe it usually isn't worth the bother.

This was a quick scour and I may have missed a link in the chain, so feel free to pass some time digging through it yourself. Read the comments, if you dare. Meanwhile, I think I'll be using this one the next time I talk to students about how fake news gets made.


Drug Symposium day two: Māori women in the room

ACLU lawyer Alison Holcomb, a woman with a long history of looking the system square in the eye, was struggling to hold back tears.

She had taken the stage as respondent at last week's Parliamentary Drug Law Symposium, immediately after Tracey McIntosh, whose specialist area of research is Māori women in prison – and she hadn't had time to process what she felt.

McIntosh, an Associate Professor at the University of Auckland, had also struggled to speak – because she had a cold and had lost her voice. It came though clearly not long after she stood, as if a microphone had suddenly been switched on (she thanked her tipuna for the intervention), then wavered in and out. It had the effect of making everyone in the room lean forward and listen, attentive and a little worried.

Ironically, it was what McIntosh didn't say that had wrecked Holcomb: slide after silent slide of the art and poems of Māori women in prison. It was a very humanising way of picturing a research cohort.

The images above are from the Twitter account of Anne Fordham, executive director of the International Drug Policy Consortium. A conference notable for the fact that all its featured speakers were women became a platform for Māori women on its second morning, and it was clear that their first encounter with Māori history, identity and ways of being was what the visitors would take away.

As it should be. There is no group in New Zealand who need to be heard more in the drug policy debate than Māori. Māori had no use for intoxicants before European contact, but are now more likely to to use drugs, to use them younger, and to suffer the harms of drugs. Prison included.

There isn't a monolithic voice here. After announcing that her only dependence issues were Facebook and being a Warriors fan, Khylee Quince  went on to frame judicial reform in light of Treaty principles. As she wrote in the Wireless column published that morning, there could be nothing about Māori without Māori. She favours legalisation of cannabis with that firm proviso. Interestingly, while the column emphatically rejects the idea Māori communities becoming producers, her speech allowed that, per the Treaty, it would be a decision for individual hapu.

But I can't accept "he was speaking to his own people" as an excuse for Hone Harawira's call for a racially-targeted death penalty and brutal Singapore-style penal practices. There's just no right way to frame those things.

It was McIntosh, speaking next, who really brought it home, in that teetering voice.

"All the women I meet in prison had previously been excluded from school by age of 13," she said. "We criminalise children and by criminalising them completely stifle their opportunities for the future."

Many of them had drug problems: "My love for these women hopes they can be drug free, but if not, then let them buy drugs in safe places."

And, most resonantly, the system had to change: "Māori are often asked to create cultural solutions to structural problems. It's time for structural solutions."

Holcomb responded by talking about the problem of mass incarceration in America: the same structural imbalance that plagues Māori. And then it was time for the youth panel.

Julia Whaipooti, chair of the youth justice organisation JustSpeak, struck the same notes as the women before her. "We are not inherently criminal people," she said, and noted the need for action as well as words – calling for a cross-party pact on drug law reform and a more responsible approach from media, and endorsing the Drug Foundation's model drug policy. There was no time left, she said, for "all hui and no do-ey".

Green candidate Chloe Swarbrick also talked about the system.

"It's important that as we talk about drug reform we realise it's just one part of a broader system ... Let's just not rethink drug law, let's not just rethink prisons, let's rethink politics as a whole."

That last line echoed what Alison Ritter had said the day before about the ineradicable connection between good drug policy and a better idea of democracy. It also triggered a good 12 hours of bitching and sneering on Twitter by right-wing male bores. Such is the life of a young woman in politics.

Swarbrick was followed by her Labour counterpart, East Coast candidate Kiri Allen, who talked very frankly about her own whanau's experience with drugs and the system, noting that they were "so disconnected from this system that makes decisions for us ... Laws made in Wellington have a massive impact on whanau on the East Coast."

She offered a tautoko to Alison Ritter for her presentation on the making of good drug policy the day before ("it answered a few questions for me") and was powerfully blunt on the underfunding of frontline drug and alcohol workers. It was far, far more impressive than the blathering of Labour MP David Clark the day before.

Nicola Willis, National's Wellington Central candidate, did her share of blathering, insisting that "we are making progress" on Māori incarceration and calling for more (unspecified) research before any action on drug law reform.

Roimata Smail, who is taking Tom Hemopo's Treaty claim against the Department of Corrections, expressed the view that progress had to be fought for. She said that there are currently 10,000 Māori children with a parent in prison.

There was an interesting word from the floor by senior Mongrel Mob member Dennis Makalio. Dennis and his wife Liz are filling the gap in public resources for people trying to get off meth in Porirua, pretty much off their own backs. They're amazing. But it is a fact that other Mob members, even in Dennis's own chapter, are continuing to profit from that misery. When the involvement of local gangs in the meth trade came up, he rose, acknowledged that and said: "You've got to realise that everyone's involved in methamphetamine."

In other words, yes, there's retail dealing and even manufacture in every town, but there's big-city money there too. (I was put in mind of the claim in David Herkt's High Times: The New Zealand Drug Experience that the crucial repackaging of meth as a glass pipe drug in the late 90s was the initiative of an Auckland businessman who sensed more profit.)

Swarbrick and Allen were still talking after the panel ended, and were inseparable for most of the day. I don't know how you could be in that room and not feel good about young women in politics.


During the break for lunch, quite a few symposium delegates had business out front of the Parliament, at the rally calling for an inquiry into systemic historical abuse of people in state care. Later that afternoon, Paula Bennett reiterated the goverment's position that a public inquiry would be unhelpful. Yeah, but unhelpful to whom?

It's the same story. Most of the state's victims were brown.

I'm also aware that had my two autistic sons been born when I was, one of them could well have been taken into this hell.


And so into the final afternoon. If you're feeling the need to pause and process, think of how it was being in the room.

It opened with a replay of Tuari Potiki's UNGASS 2016 speech. Crafted with the assistance of David Slack and delivered with Tuari's presence and authenticity, it never gets old.

Next up was Marianne Jauncey, medical director at the Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre. The centre opened in 2001, off the back of a series of reports and debates about the terrible toll of IV drug deaths in King's Cross though the 1990s. The Uniting Church stepped in to run the facility after the Vatican (via George Pell) forbade the Sisters of Charity health service from being involved. Jauncey herself is an atheist.

The centre has survived multiple reviews which have failed to find any reason to close it, but Jauncey admitted she would not be confident if getting its enabling legislation through today's Australian Parliaments. Even though the research had demonstrated that supervised injecting facilities reduce mortality and morbidity, encourage IV drug users to engage with treatment – and save the public money.

She used a phrase repeatedly: "non-judgemental". In a sphere where the underlying noise of moral judgement can be deafening, the real and best care is always provided by those who do not judge.

"I'm also someone who's used lots of drugs and at times lots and lots of drugs," declared her respondent, New Zealand Needle Exchange director Kathryn Leafe.

She said there was work going on here on establishing injecting rooms and other forms of harm reduction service. As I've noted here before, the way that needle exchanges are becoming a way to engage a population with significant health needs who largely steer clear of hospitals (judgement, again) is hugely important.

Things moved on to another form of harm reduction with Fiona Measham, who is both a member of Britain's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and the co-director of The Loop, which does drug-checking at UK festivals. The major driver of a sharp rise in ecstasy-related deaths there was, she said, a trend of uncontrolled and unpredictable doses in retail pills. The Loop had found MDMA doses in a single pill varying by a factor of ten.

She also noted that the traditionally awful media reporting of party drug deaths is now being curbed by the influence of grieving parents who want things to change, in particular the Anyone's Child group. But, she lamented, Theresa May's commitment to "the Prohibition agenda" and the trend towards abstinence-only interventions was not good news for harm-reduction approaches.

She was followed by New Zealander Wendy Allison, whose drug-checking work I've written about in detail. In New Zealand the "ecstasy" problem is mostly that it ain't.

She talked about how many people insisted that their brown crystal must be MDMA whatever the test said because it was, well, brown crystal. "We found 15 different things that looked like that." This was her face when she said that.

In part through Drug Foundation strategising, Wendy's mission has become acceptable and could well become actually legal in the next couple of years. And she had something to say about that.

"I am painfully aware that this has been easy because we [dance party people] are a white middle-class community."


Next up was Professor Nicole Lee, Adjunct Professor at Australia's National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University. Her presentation included this eminently shareable slide from an old PanAm inflight menu, which offered, among other things, benzedrine inhalers.

"Drinks cost money but the amphetamines were free," she observed.

She also gave the most useful explanation of how and why people who become dependent on methamphetamine find to so hard to get off and stay off – they've literally lost the ability to make good choices.

Like various other drugs (and activities such as playing pokies and using Twitter), meth triggers the release of dopamine in the brain. Unlike most other drugs, it also blocks reuptake of dopamine at the receptor. With prolonged use of meth, she said, the brain's overtaxed dopamine system "says bugger that" and just shuts down.

The things that dopamine governs – key things in staying off drugs –  emotional stability, the ability to perceive and move towards rewards and the making of simple decisions become extremely difficult. Recovery of the dopamine system can take up to a year.

She also shared this breakdown of where Australia's drug-related public spending goes.

The final featured speaker was Vanessa Caldwell, director of Matua Raki, the national centre for the development of the addiction workforce. She made the point that simply shifting drug addiction problems to a health paradigm "is not a panacea".

Again, we heard, the system has to change.


I confess, I was beyond note-taking by the time Ritter, McLellan and Holcomb were invited up to reflect on the two days of symposium, save to record Professor Ritter's observation about the widely varying goals of whose who'd come along.

Peter Dunne (who had, creditably, been sitting in the audience listening) got up to gave a concluding speech, followed by Tuari Potiki, who commented on the all-woman lineup.

"Ross didn't come to us and say 'let's have a lady-conference'," he smiled. "He said 'Let's get the best people in the world'."

At this point, the symposium's moderator, Alison Mau, deserves congratulations. She was superb in a taxing role – and she even found time to write a column about what she'd learned.

And with a karakia, it was done.

It did feel a little strange walking away away from these two days, with their purpose, rigour, evidence and authentic experience. Away into a world where editorial writers can be as slapdash as they like about this stuff.

I'm mindful of Ross Bell's words about how it can't all stop here. I really hope it doesn't.

This report was funded by readers who made donations via Public Address’s Press Patron account and their support (which just covered my conference fee and accommodation) is deeply appreciated.


One big day at the drug symposium

About the time I got on the train at Paraparaumu, in the pre-dawn darkness, the Armed Offenders Squad was assembling in our street back home in Point Chevalier. No cause for alarm, one of them told my neighbour.

It turned out they were there as a contingency, in case the raid on a house around the corner got tricky. In the event, the arrests of five people (three of them over 60) on charges related to the supply of synthetic cannabis and  possession of methamphetamine, seems to have taken place without violence.

It was an intriguing piece of synchronicity, because I was bound that morning for the 2017 Parliamentary Drug Law Symposium, which would be opened by Peter Dunne, who is popularly and incorrectly blamed by the public for the introduction of synthetic cannabinoids to the retail market. (He did preside over an amendment to the Psychoactive Substances Act which removed those products from the high street – if not, evidently, from the black market.)

When I arrived at the symposium I was struck immediately by how many people I knew, either because I'd interacted with them on social media or because I'd interviewed them for stories. They were – as Professor Alison Ritter would later point out in summing up the symposium – there for a variety of reasons. Medical professionals, academic researchers, politicians, cannabis activists, community workers, journalists. The whole gang was there, including the gang members.

The symposium was the work of the New Zealand Drug Foundation, with Dunne as its Parliamentary host, and it was being carefully and consciously staged. Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell is a very strategic actor, occasionally to a fault, and I had been part of the strategy. A story I wrote two months ago about festival drug-checking was posted early on the foundation's website on the Sunday before the show, to provide context for a Q+A report in which a young Wellington professional discovered that his MDMA crystal included some odd and unexpected ingredients.

Dunne's speech of welcome cycled through his familiar points – our enlightened National Drug Policy, his grief about being misunderstood and abused by activists – but there were a couple of new ones. Most notably, his comments on workplace drug testing: "Let us not lose sight of the health and safety reasons for it and start using it as a punitive measure." Good for him.

Dunne's problem is that the achievements he likes to list are around the margins. They're laudable (the National Drug Policy in particular), but they rarely grasp the attention of people who don't study this stuff the way grand gestures might.

He was followed by Professor Alison Ritter President of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy, who gave a clear-eyed and – for some of us – rather thrilling presentation on the principles of good drug law. Drug policy is, she noted "multi-dimensional" for governments who approach it, encompassing health, education, criminal justice and families. That's what makes it so interesting.

In observing the 25 countries that have decriminalised drugs (most of them cannabis alone), she said, we have learned that decriminalisation does not increase drug use, but does reliably improve the social prospects of people who use drugs. She provided a handy list of policy settings currently in use.

Making good drug law, said Ritter, speaks to the principles of democracy. "We need to move beyond raw public opinion" in engaging the public, talk with the affected community (offering input on drug law to the people who actually use drugs) and not let let experts dominate the conversation. It was precise and thoughtful and I liked it a lot.

Next up was former Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan, who chairs Canada's cannabis legalisation taskforce. In a field long-dominated by activists and academics, here was someone actually engaged in the business of enacting real change. Slowly and carefully.

"When did you last take something out of prohibition? It was alcohol, nearly 100 years ago," she said, explaining what she saw as the need to be "cautious out of the box" on legalising cannabis. You can always loosen up later.

The big fear of anyone sensible looking at cannabis legalisation is avoiding the creation of Big Marijuana – and it was in this context that she talked about her country's "hundreds or thousands of – let’s call them artisan growers”, observing that it made no sense to conflate them with "people who grow for the Hell's Angels". It was intriguing to hear people conventionally regarded as a problem being spoken of like they might be part of a solution.

The three big takeaways were firstly that Canada is embarking on legalisation because it is has a real problem with rates of youth cannabis use under the black market (penalties in the Cannabis Act for supplying to minors are severe). Secondly, that cannabis legalisation is complex and has a lot of moving parts. Thirdly, it's clear that Canada's policymakers are acutely aware they're being watched ("we welcome that," she said). More so than the US states or Uruguay, Canada is making a model for other liberal democracies.

The process was quite different in the US state of Washington, where the next speaker, Alison Holcomb, helped draft the cannabis legalisation law that a majority of voters backed in 2012. She has a background with the ACLU and for her, legalisation was firstly about keeping people out of courts and jails, where they invariably come to harm.

Washington's post-legalisation numbers are encouraging, she said: no rise in youth use or drug driving, arrests down 98% – and 78% public support in recent polls. She also noted that a proportion of the new tax revenue from legal weed was dedicated to evaluation of the change, "and not just one evaluation".

Next up was the MPs' panel, representing all the Parliamentary parties bar New Zealand First, whose MP Ria Bond dropped out for unspecified reasons. Again, the sequencing was a matter of strategy: they'd heard the good stuff, what was their response?

National's Chris Bishop gamely denied his party was anti-reform and confirmed that the decision on whether its caucus will be allowed a conscience vote on Julie Anne Genter's medicinal cannabis bill is yet to be made. He did, creditably, say that the forthcoming review of the Misuse of Drugs Act should be the forum for this debate.

"Well done, you're a very good politician," the Māori Party's Marama Fox congratulated him. She repeated the party's stance of favouring cannabis decriminalisation and being "open to the conversation" about legalising. "We don't want prisons full of our young people who are locked up on drug charges."

 "Decriminalisation is the worst of all worlds, probably worse than what we have now," said Labour's David Clark and I thought, wow, that's unusually clear for a Labour position.

But (the sightlines were poor) it was the other David, David Seymour of Act, who said that. Clark just kept blathering that Labour supported the recommendations of the Law Commission review of the MoDA, without ever saying which recommendations. The 2011 review is much less a policy than a list of ideas a committee might consider, some of which looks pretty dated now. Labour really needs to get a line on this stuff, as I'm sure some of its MPs are painfully aware.

Metiria Turei outlined her party's fairly detailed policy and, echoing Ritter, emphasised the importance of talking to the people "least engaged by policy-makers" – the people who actually take drugs.

Peter Dunne announced that he would support the first reading of Genter's bill to allow it to go through to select committee. He then declared that "I need a mandate" for real change, in the form of votes for his party.

When moderator Alison Mau asked the MPs if they believed prohibition had been a failure, they all raised their hands.


After lunch, the morning's three guest speakers returned for a Q&A with the audience. Some interesting things came up. Ritter noted that Australia and New Zealand are at a disavantage in general reform through having no history with medical cannabis. On a question about leadership, Holcomb observed that the government of Uruguay was actually on the wrong side of public opinion when it decided to legalise cannabis, but did it anyway. McLellan defended the choice of 18 as the age for legal weed in Canada as a matter of practical necessity (you could be very cautious and say that 25 would be safest, but then you'd marginalise the very group of young users you're trying to engage and educate).

Ritter went through some more of what-we-know-so-far from the US states: adult use has risen (possibly representing novelty use by former smokers), but youth use has not. There's some evidence of fewer opioid overdoses in those states, but more ED presentations. She also said she's not a big fan of Johan Hari's frequently-quoted Chasing the Scream.

The talk turned to process with the presentation from Anne Fordham, executive director of the International Drug Policy Consortium, an umbrella group for NGOs engaged in drug policy (as chair of the IDPC's board, Bell is effectively her boss). She reviewed last year's UNGASS and defended a focus on international drug law, noting the "normative pressure" of the UN conventions on local laws and the way that repressive states use the conventions as a shield for what they do.

She explained how the International Narcotics Control Board, which interprets what the conventions say, has progressively found more and more "flexibility" in the conventions themselves, each time backing further away from its hard line on drug harm reduction. Most recently, it had brought itself to accept supervised injecting rooms, cannabis social clubs and drug-checking as within the scope of the treaties.

But legalising and regulating cannabis is, everyone agrees, not within the scope of the conventions.

What Fordham didn't say – and presumably didn't know – was that UN agencies as a group were hours away from calling for decriminalisation of all drugs. Even the policeman of the conventions, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, signed up to a joint statement with the World Health Organisation in which the call was buried but explicit. It describes a duty for member states in:

Reviewing and repealing punitive laws that have been proven to have negative health outcomes and that counter established public health evidence. These include laws that criminalize or otherwise prohibit gender expression, same sex conduct, adultery and other sexual behaviours between consenting adults; adult consensual sex work; drug use or possession of drugs for personal use; sexual and reproductive health care services, including information; and overly broad criminalization of HIV non-disclosure, exposure or transmission.

Member states include, of course, New Zealand. So it was unfortunate, to say the least, that the following day Prime Minister Bill English, in an interview with Leighton Smith, declared that drugs should be illegal because they're illegal.

"The fact that these drugs are still regarded as illegal tells you that as a society we have considered the harm to be great enough to make them illegal."

English was secure in the knowledge that he was with an interviewer who was not likely to challenge his logical fallacies. But it was notable that not only was even Leighton aware of the symposium, but that the deeply foreign issue of drug-checking at music festivals had come to his attention. The media strategy was working.


The day's big strategic flourish was up next.

I knew that the issue of the Drug Foundation magazine Matters of Substance containing my drug-checking story was to be timed for the symposium, but there weren't any copies around. There was a reason for that.

The new issue contains the New Zealand Drug Foundation's model drug policy. As the foundation's policy and advocacy lead Kali Mercier was explaining the policy, The Spinoff published a sponsored post by Ross Bell about its aims and contents, under the title Our politicians won’t do it, so the Drug Foundation did: A model drug law for New Zealand.

The policy calls for the decriminalisation of all drugs, with a nod to Portugal and the Law Commission. Key passage from the Spinoff post:

Even though we convict thousands of people each year for using drugs, we still have some of the highest use rates in the world. Our laws prevent people accessing help when they need it, and they leave thousands every year with a criminal record that damages their future.

It’s a simple fix. We need to repeal the Misuse of Drugs Act and replace it with a new Act that treats drug use as a health issue, not a criminal issue. We need to invest in the potential of our young people instead of burdening their future. We need to equip police to better prevent crime. We need to empower our communities to look after those with drug use disorders.

Under our proposal, commercial supply and trafficking of drugs would still be punished, but people who are caught with drugs for their own use would not face criminal penalties. Why? Because the vast majority of people who use drugs do so without causing harm to themselves or others. Prosecuting them can have a far-reaching negative impact on their lives but has limited or no effect on their drug use.

The minority who do struggle with their drug use need support, compassion and access to treatment. Fear of criminal punishment does not stop people using drugs. In fact, it can make them use more heavily. Offering treatment instead is not only more humane, it actually works.

Changing our drug law is the next step we should take to free ourselves from the harm of conviction, of shame, of discrimination, of stigmatisation. And we want to get this done by 2020. People are ready for this. They want solutions.

 As Mercier concluded, printed copies of both the policy itself and the new issue of Matters of Substance were handed out.

The policy is bold and thoughtful – and also not immune to a critique itself.   The highlight of series of somewhat rushed previews of day two that concluded the day was a caution from Marianne Jauncey, medical director of Sydney's Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre, about the health referral model.

"Do we really want to refer everyone with an E or a joint to someone like me?" she asked.

This is a very important point. Treating all drug use as something that must have a health intervention is a waste of resources. The foundation has a reasonable response, which is that the policy would require either one, two or three formal police cautions (the number depends on the deemed harmfulness of the drug) a drug user would be referrred to an intervention session in which further assessment and treatment may be recommended. Users of the less harmful drugs would be extremely unlikely (or unlucky) to to receive three cautions.


At the "cocktail function" after the day's proceedings (actually, whatever mid-shelf wine and beer Parliament's contracted caterers care to provide) I took the chance to get around and talk to a few people.

That included these wahine from the "Don't Meth Around" crew assembled by Liz and Dennis Makalio, in Porirua, where the community is providing the support and resources for meth users in trouble that the state is not.


It turns out that they've already been networking with the amazing Tricia Walsh, who transcended her own life of abuse, drugs and crime, got a social work degree and now works with East Coast gang whanau. (If you want to know more about Tricia, my interview with her is in this Saturday's Herald Weekend magazine, ahead of Eugene Carnachan's moving documentary Ngārara - Addiction Recovery on Māori Television next Monday.)

I bumped into Drug Foundation chair Tuari Potiki and observed to him that the symposium seemed to be taking place at a special time.

"It feels like it," he agreed. "There's been a lot of noise, a lot of media coverage. Optimistically, I think we've reached that tipping point and people are talking about how and when."

Hearing from McLellan and Holcomb was significant, he said.

"They both have track records in accomplishing significant things that you can look at and see. It's not about a theory, it's not 'wouldn't it be nice', they’ve done the hard yards and worked through the difficult issues and come out the other side."

McLellan herself was nearby talking to some young women.

"There'll be bumps along the road," she said of the legalisation process. "And as we move to full legalisation, where I can walk down the main street in Edmonton Aberta and buy my wine going home on a Friday night, and a block away buy my cannabis if I'm so inclined, that's going to come as a shock to a lot of people. We're going to have to work through that as a society. We're going to have to deal with the mistakes and the surprises. But I think we can do that.

"We have to be thoughtful, intelligent, nimble people. Which I think Canadians – and New Zealanders – are."

And those artisanal growers?

 "A lot of the activist community, who have been breaking the law for years and are passionate about cannabis – they are very concerned about Big Marijuana. My position on this – I've been quoted extensively in the business pages of national newspapers – is that I do not believe a criminal conviction for possession should exclude someone from being able to come in to the system as a legal grower.

"I do not think that kind of conviction should exclude what we call in our report artisanal or craft growers who have an expertise that the system will actually need.

"A number of indigenous communities in Canada see growing as licensed producers as a sustainable economic opportunity. And you don't want people in those communities automatically excluded because they've run afoul of the law."

Ross Bell himself was gliding around the room, strategic as ever.

"Everything we do is deliberate," he said. "The timing [of the symposium] is deliberate – we're close to the election. Getting the right people here at the time, all those things.

"Right now, we're all feeling very buzzed. We've launched the model drug law, we've heard how countries overseas are doing it, there's great media coverage … But what's going to happen next week? What's going to be the thing that buzzes the country next week or the week after?

"The momentum we feel we've got could be lost very quickly. Not just for the Drug Foundation but everyone who wants reform. We have to keep our foot down on this."


I'd discovered earlier in the day that I'd be able to attend my first proper Wellington Back Benches, along with a few other people from the symposium. I messaged Charlotte Ryan to say she could vox pop me if she liked.

Now I'm wondering if that was a good idea. The Backbencher is bedlam and as the recording starts a drunk young guy next to me is bawling back every word Charlotte and Wallace say. (I later discover that he has a running grudge about being vox popped in Cuba Street two weeks ago. He needs an intervention, frankly.)

I consider seeing if I can squeeze on to the front table Bell has arranged for the symposium speakers, but it's way too bright up there. I find my friends Helen and Chelfyn Baxter, who haven't been at the symposium but have been working with Odyssey House on educational material about alcohol and drugs under the Did You Know? banner.

Suddenly there's a commotion. Charlotte has come looking for me with a camera in tow – and I'm quite fervently thinking that perhaps I shouldn't have tarried to exchange pleasantries with the cannabis activists on the way over to the pub. Or at least, tarried a bit less. I feel like I'm babbling into the mic but apparently it's okay.

But the fun's not over. Shortly after the recording, Sean Plunket, the new comms chief for The Opportunities Party, hoves into view and proceeds to deliver me an eloquent and impassioned briefing. The story is that that a policy agreement with the Māori Party is on the cards. There have been meetings with Tuku Morgan and it's looking promising.

So the Māori Party, which has limited resources for policy development, would take a look at TOP's policies and choose which ones it wants to campaign on. Including, presumably, TOP's cannabis policy.

"If we get over five per cent and they get three or four, you know what that means?" Sean raves. "No one has to deal with Winston any more!"

I introduce Sean to Helen and Chelfyn, who he doesn't know, but who have been doing animation work for TOP. I'd say it's like three years ago when half my friends in Auckland seemed to be working for the Internet Party but that would be a bit harsh. Let's just say TOP has a much higher profile in Wellington than Auckland.

As the crowd drifts away, I sit down at the speakers' table. They're impressed by the noisy democracy they've witnessed, not least by the fact that every MP on the panel has owned up to having used cannabis. Ross Bell is sitting with Kathryn Leafe of the NZ Needle Exchange Programme and we talk for a bit about what's happening in Auckland with the delivery of new Hep C anti-virals.

Gary Chiles of Norml is sitting nearby. I like Gary, so I sit down for a yarn. He comes along every week – much as he used to come along to Media7 every week when he lived in Auckland. He likes the public square, basically. It's admirable. But I'm tiring and, after raiding the platter Shane Le Brun has bought for the table, I'm off to rest up for a new day. One that presumably won't start with a wake-up from the Armed Offenders Squad.


This report was funded by readers who made donations via Public Address's Press Patron account and their support (which just covered my conference fee and accommodation) is deeply appreciated. There will be a report on day two of the symposium presently. Hopefully it won't be quite so long.


Drug Law Symposium Day One: This is actually real

Kia ora koutou! This the post for the first day of the 2017 Parliamentary Drug Law Symposium, which takes place in Wellington at a time when drug law is actually changing. 

To wit: Hon. Anne McLellan, chair of Canada's Chair, Task Force on Cannabis Legalisation and Regulation, and Alison Holcomb, whose work (from drafting Washington State's cannabis law to sentencing reforms in several US states) is all about material change, share case studies this morning. And then a panel of MPs representing every Parliamentary party responds.

Meanwhile, those same parties have material decisions before them. Henry Cooke reported yesterday on Stuff that at first reading Julie Anne Genter's medicinal cannabis bill has the support of the Greens, Labour, the Maori Party and Act, with Peter Dunne undecided, NZ First likely opposed – and National left with the pivotal decision of whether to allow the conscience vote that would almost certainly deliver the 12 votes needed to allow the bill through to select committee.

This is actually real. Genter herself acknowledges that the bill is not perfect or complete, but if it goes to select committee MPs will be obliged to listen to submissions and discuss and decide on what they do want. Some of them have spent a lot of energy avoiding doing that, but it's here now.

There are a few other things happening. As part of its week-long cannabis series What if it was legal?, Stuff will be streaming the McLellan-Holcomb case studies and the political responses on its Facebook page.

The Drug Foundation, whose symposium this is, will be providing live updates via Storify here on its website.

You can follow the event on Twitter via the hashtag #drugmaze17.

And of course, you can follow it here. I thought about liveblogging, but we don't have a template for that at present, so I'll post thoughts and updates in the comments for this post. I'm trying some new things. (You can, as ever, still read me on Twitter.)

The first thing, as you may have noticed, was the decision to see if people would be interested in in helping crowdfund this specific coverage via our PressPatron page. I'm happy to say that I've covered most of my costs in attending the symposium (ie: the fee and accommodation), which is great. Thanks so much to everyone who chipped in.