Hard News by Russell Brown


The new medical cannabis law is quite a bit more than nothing

It doesn't really match Jacinda Ardern's campaign promise to "legalise medical cannabis", but her government’s new medical cannabis law does a couple of significant things straight off the bat: the introduction of a statutory defence for possession (only for the terminally ill) and removal of CBD as a controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

It’s disappointing the defence isn’t broader, but this is presumably what there were sufficient votes for – and I suspect the resistance to any more would have come not only from the New Zealand First caucus and Cabinet members, but from Parliamentary Labour's own conservative wing. Yet it will have an impact in and of itself on policing and sentencing.

Details of the “medical cannabis scheme” are apparently to be determined, but if it includes a list of readily-approvable products and a straightforward means of obtaining them, that’s good. The Ministry of Health should be encouraged to reconsider its onerous view on what constitutes “advertising” (which currently includes simply putting the products on a website).

CBD presumably remains a prescription medicine – it’s unclear whether it can now also be an over-the-counter product, but my understanding is that the government is open to that eventually if not immediately.


It turns out that it's possible after all ...


Public Address Word of the Year 2017

Look lively lovely logophiles! It's that time of the year when Public Address readers convene to debate and then vote on the word or phrase that sums up the year that's been and gone. 

Will it be a year of hope and change? Or will it simply be the weirdest year since 2016, when in a controversial press release he later denied writing, Public Address founder Russell Brown "refuted" reports that "post-truth" had come in top in a Top 10 that, for the first time, included no New Zealand-derived words?

In 2015, Auckland councillor Theodorus Jacobus Leonardus "Dick" Quax was immortalised when Public Address readers went for "quaxing" as Word of the Year.

2014’s champ #dirtypolitics was the first hashtag to top the poll, beating out the wistful “at the end of the day”.

In 2013, “metadata” beat out the Oxford Dictionaries word of the year, “selfie”, in a final Top 10 that also included “Lorde and “berm”. (Disappointingly, Lorde did not then go on to record a hit single called ‘Berm’.)

In 2012, “brainfade", “Marmageddon” and “Planet Key” were the key words (and the the case of the winner, the John Key Word). To be honest, it wasn’t a great year for words. 

In 2011, the word “munted” found its its destiny – beating out popular memes “nek minnit” and “ghost chips” for the top slot.

In 2010, of course, Public Address readers bypassed the news and opted for a neologism – the great ungendered insult that was “twatcock”. In 2009, the list was dominated by words involving Michael Laws and an “h” and  in 2008, “credit crunch” came in ahead of “rofflenui”. In 2007, another coinage, “Te Qaeda” topped the poll and in 2006, the big word was “unbundled”.

How will 2017 shape up? Well, that’s up to you.

To recap, the process is this:

- Words are nominated in the discussion for this post. If you want to join in the discussion, you’ll need to register to comment, which will only take a minute. You can make more than one suggestion, but not just reel off all likely contenders in one comment, because that's not really fair. So you can only propose two words or phrases per comment. Try to make a brief argument for your proposed WOTY.

- Eventually, I’ll compile a list of finalists for voting.

- Everyone votes.

- We have a winner!

Did I mention prizes? There are prizes.

Both the first person to propose the winning word and one lucky voter drawn at random will win double passes to Auckland City Limits in Auckland on March 3, 2018, to enjoy Grace Jones, Beck, Justice, the Libertines, Young Thug, Thundercat and many more fine musical acts. That's $360 worth of musical joy. If you can't make it to Auckland, you hate crowds or you're still gonna be partying somewhere on the road back from Splore, then, yes, the passes are transferrable – and wouldn't that be a cracking Christmas present to give?

BONUS: There's also a $100 voucher for Rockefeller Oyster Bar, to be awarded at the judges' discretion. And a delicious pack of organic cultured nut cheeses from Savour.


The hard road to a cycle-friendly city

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will be aware that there is something of a controversy about new cycleways in central Auckland suburbs. I've sat down a couple of times to try and write a proper post about it, but there's been just too much noise, too many documents to link to, too much palaver to parse.

But let's have a go. I've noted here before the privileged position of Auckland's central suburbs with respect to new cycle infrastructure. We're getting the lot, while the south still waits for a single safe route into town. But it's become clear in recent weeks that that also means we get to see how difficult creeping into the cycle age can be.

The current controversy centres on two separate projects a kilometre apart.  The first, Route 2, is the upgrade to Richmond Road, which runs through West Lynn shops, a beloved destination of modern Grey Lynn's relatively wealthy, ostensibly liberal population.

Route 2 wasn't a cycleway-first project. Cycle lanes were incorporated as part of a project to calm traffic through the West Lynn shopping centre and  deal with a couple of dangerous intersections – both things that residents wanted.

It's been painful. Work near the shops started in July and it's not quite finished yet. Retailers there have experienced a fairly sharp drop in business, which isn't surprising, and Auckland Transport didn't seem to do a lot to ease the pain. It might all have been worth it had the result been stellar. But ... it wasn't.

Simon Wilson at The Spinoff wrote a lacerating assessment of the project (or rather, just the part of the project that runs through the shopping centre). While reasonable people might disagree on some of his criticisms of the traffic design, I think it's evident that AT's failure to employ an urban designer to guide the placemaking elements – this was supposed to create a village, remember – has been critical.

But here's the thing. The West Lynn business owners have been talking to AT. Like grown-ups, they've agreed a way forward, which includes the construction of off-road spaces that better meet the project's aspirations to make more of a village of a strip that's too much of a thoroughfare. AT will also fund a promotion for the shopping centre, to be called Lemonade. (You can take your own guess as to what the name signifies.)

Moreover, other parts of the project – especially the new roundabout at the Peel Street bend on Richmond – have been widely welcomed. The new cycle path up the hill from that bend to the shops, running across existing wide berms, looks great.

But you possibly haven't heard about those things. And that's largely because of what's been going on a kilometre away over on Route 1, which runs along Surrey Crescent and Old Mill and Garnet Roads. A group of people have "occupied" a traffic island on the route, demanding that the whole, partly-constructed cycleway be torn up. A recent lawyer's letter to AT on behalf of the same people further demands that the Richmond Road works also be destroyed and that all cycle infrastructure construction in Auckland be halted until their not-at-all clear demands are met. The West Lynn business owners I've spoken to really want these people to go away and stop purporting to speak for them.

I won't go into the detail of the occupiers' objections, because they're often contradictory and generally rely on misleading statements in the first place (for example, the claim that most trees will be cut down, when in fact 18 trees of the 164 on the route will be removed or replaced – three of them are actually dead – and AT will plant 36 more, for a net gain of 18 trees). And sometimes they're flat-out bizarre. I've been accused to being secretly in the pay of the cycling lobby and, more spectacularly, of being party to a United Nations-led conspiracy to impose world government in the name of environmentalism.

But I am assured that there are rational residents with genuine concerns about the Westmere route, who would like a constructive solution that works for everyone. The first thing they could do is stand well clear of the occupiers.

The chief concern seems to be that much of the northbound cycleway runs across the very wide grass berms along those roads. Some people feel that's unsafe. It's not straightforward – some local submitters during AT's consultations last year favoured that approached, because it so clearly separates riders from cars.

But let's say the berm paths aren't right for Garnet Road. There is a pretty good fix for that. As a former tram route, it's very wide. So wide, in fact, that if the flush median (the wide, painted central strip) was removed, there would be room for separated cycleways running inside the parked cars in both directions.

So why wasn't that offered as an option in the first place? Well, primarily because in addition to saying they wanted to keep parking, residents said they also wanted to keep the flush median. So when options were offered by AT during the last five-week consultation, there were but two: Option A (berm cycleways on one side, only 40 parks lost on the whole route) and Option B (fully protected cycleways, 120 parks lost). And the median was taken as a given.

I think there's a lesson there for AT. You can't say AT didn't consult on this project. There have been three rounds of consultation, the second of which included public open days. But the final choice became less a matter of compromise than simply compromised. It ended up being about car parking, rather than amenity.

If some residents (it's important to note that others residents have been enthusiastic about the prospect of a safe cycleway which runs past the local primary school) have been very exercised about it all, there's a reason why biking advocates are exercised too. This isn't just a pin stuck in a map, it's a key link in a cycleway that will run from K Road to Point Chevalier – where it will then connect to the Waterview paths (and on to the Manukau Harbour) and the northwestern cycleway. It's a gamebreaker. The principal of Point Chevalier primary school is very keen to see an offshoot to his school, where 200 kids ride every day.

The halt in construction on Garnet Road – and the ignition of a certain viral rhetoric – threatens the whole thing. It's critical.

It's critical also because getting things right on these first paths will help enormously as a citywide network expands.

The next place where these issues play out is Karangahape Road. In contrast to West Lynn, where AT forgot about amenity, K Road is almost a matter of too much amenity. It's a fully-designed upgrade to the strip, with widened footpaths, excellent integrated cycle paths and a general invitation  for people on the strip to get out and enjoy it.

But that will entail a huge construction job, one that will take at least nine months and, at worst, 18 months. That's a really hard thing for the small businesses along the road. Some may not survive. I've seen some dismissive comments from cycle advocates about that, but it can't be dismissed.

Somehow, AT has to learn as it goes and develop practices that minimise the impact on local business as the city's rollout expands. There is plenty of evidence that cycle infrastructure brings people to retail centres. As Bruce Morris writes in a nuanced post I think everyone should read, the nearly-complete cycle-friendly upgrade in Mt Albert is the culmination of a long and painful trek to a better future for a strip that was dying a degrading death. He points out that the new centre, with its upgraded train station, will now be an attractive place to live, and for residential development. Many more people will be within walking distance of those shops in years to come. But it's been tough getting there for those same businesses.

Also worth a read: this account of the redvelopment of Edgeware Village in Christchurch. It saw all the usual controversies and objections, but they're out the other side now and walkers and cyclists are safer, traffic is slower – and retail businesses are beginning to reap the benefits.

It's hard not to get upset by the sheer incoherence of some of the anti-cycle activism in Auckland's inner western suburbs. The personal attacks and allegations are quite poisonous at times. But it is a learning experience: and surely things can't get any worse than this.

And no, there's no going back on cycle infrastructure. Not when the number of cyclists killed on New Zealand roads has tripled this year. When the number of kids riding to school has plummeted 80% in the last 25 years. When a good man died in Te Atatu last week, on a stretch of road residents have begged AT to make safer. And when we have no choice but to cut our carbon emissions if we want a viable world for our grandchildren. But we should make sure every painful lesson getting there is not wasted.


Friday Music: Not Dead Yet

The New Zealand Herald's website recently published Joanna Hunkin's fascinating well-researched, if a little nostalgic, look at the profound changes in the commercial environment for New Zealand music artists in the past 15 years.

She correctly identifies the early and mid-2000s as a remarkable period for  New Zealand music sales, and sums up what happened then and what's happened since:

Between 2000 and 2010, a staggering 324 New Zealand singles entered the top 40. By comparison, the seven years since have seen just 141 Kiwi tracks reach that same milestone. This year to date, only seven local songs have made it into the charts – and six of those were by Lorde.

So what changed? The answer is long and convoluted. It involves changing music tastes, consumer behaviour, funding and, most significantly, the rise of streaming.

I think that although funding – via the Clark government's Cultural Recovery Package – was a significant factor in the boom era, changes in that funding are probably the least important reason for what's happened since. Basically, by 2010, nearly everyone thought NZ On Air's $50,000 Phase Four co-funding for albums was past its use-by date.

The grants were delivering an increasingly narrow range of music and one determined too much by the needs of commercial radio programmers. They had become, if you like, a system for the perpetuation of Autozamm albums. And moreover, while only five years before Nesian Mystik had multi-platinum sales, albums weren't selling any more. Record companies couldn't justify the matching investment and the chances of NZ On Air's half being recouped slid towards nil.

Since then, music streaming revenue has exapnded quickly enough to reverse a long donward trend in industry revenue. But that has created another problem: it has made the charts all but irrelevant for New Zealand artists. Sales charts that used to reflect active consumer behaviour – fandom – now reflect passive listening. It makes money, but it's not very interesting and important to anyone but the major record labels collecting most of that money.

Ironically, the worst take on Hunkin's story came from someone who worked with her on it, Herald entertainment writer Karl Puschman, whose column about it begins with the words: "Our cultural identity is pretty much dead."

Puschman not only ignores his colleague's careful explanation of why we don't have many local singles chart hits any more, he brandishes that fact as evidence of cultural demise.

A decade from now who will be remembered in the wider context? Lorde, deservedly, and... um. Genre pockets will remember genre artists. Perhaps that's just a sign of the times.

But wasn't it great that you didn't have to be into dub to know Fat Freddy's Drop, or into rap to know Scribe, or into guitars to know Elemeno P? It truly felt like the genre was "New Zealand music" and further clarification was just nitpicking.

To be honest, I think that the fate of Kiwi FM demonstrated pretty well that "New Zealand music" is not a genre. And Fat Freddy's Drop only ever had one hit single ('Wandering Eye', which peaked at #6). No, Bays didn't sell as many copies as the nine-times-platinum Based on a True Story. But no one, anywhere in the world, sells as many albums as they used to. On the other hand, the launch gig for Bays was at a sold-out Auckland Town Hall, last January they sold 10,000 tickets for their gig at Villa Maria winery, and they'll sell another 10,000 next month. It's not like we've forgotten them. 

When we look for cultural resonance in the 1980s, we often as not alight on the Flying Nun catalogue. Those artists had some chart success, but in the history of the label and its hundreds of releases you'll find but one #1 single. And it's simply not the measure we talk about when we talk about why that music matters.

My guess is that when we look back on the present era, we'll see it as the time when Nadia Reid and Aldous Harding and Anthonie Tonnon made deep, amazing records. This is the year that Nadia and Aldous both played live on BBC TV. The year that the finalists for Best Album in the New Zealand Music Awards were Aldous Harding, David Dallas, Fazerdaze, Leisure and SWIDT. That's a strong and diverse lineup, and one that reflects the rise of Māori and Pasifika artists.

Look at this year's People's Choice award. Yes, Lorde won, but the other finalists were Kings, Maala, SWIDT and Theia, who are all making songs that fit contemporary radio formats.

In the long view, the boom of the 2000s looks like a happy anomaly, during which a few artists made good money. I think that its enduring legacy will probably be the opportunity those commercial returns created for the development of an industry infrastructure.

The economics are different now and in response we've seen the rise of the solo artist as an economically viable unit. There has been a decline in the past decade in the number of people getting out to see music played and the shrinking (both in size and number) of venues doesn't help. But as Ladi6 said in her wonderful acceptance speech at last month's Music Awards, "this life we've chosen" in music involves sacrifices, "but we wouldn't have it any other way."

So no, I don't think our cultural identity is "pretty much dead". In some ways, it's richer now than it was in the good times.


Speaking of the changes, Digital Music News has published an up-to-date report on which streaming service pays what. Somewhat confusingly, Napster is the best per-play payer – and YouTube is by a long stretch the worst. But, in practical terms, it can be complicated: Napster is small and YouTube is huge. And while everyone in music would like YouTube to lift its payments, Lil' Chief Records and Jonathan Bree made more in the past three months from the 1.3 million YouTube plays for this video (which Jonathan directed himself) than from sales of his album:

NPR has a nice and pleasingly correct (they use macrons!) interview with Northland's Māori metallers Alien Weaponry.

Since I Left You blog interviews Nadia Reid on the eve of her US tour.

The gentlemen of Unitone Hi-Fi did a RNZ Music Mixtape.


Heed the Call co-compiler Alan Perrott has written an Audioculture backgrounder to the music and the era in which it was made and had a yarn with Graham Reid at Elsewhere.

And if you're up for hearing our heritage soul, funk and disco spun, you're in luck. Alan and John Baker are playing songs from the record and related treasures from from 8pm to 2am tomorrow at Golden Dawn. See you there.


Also on Audioculture: the story of "psychedelic pranksters" ?Fog, Renee Jones covers the determinedly non-conformist Powertool Records, and, in a running series on album sleeves, Chris Mousdale appreciates Pacific-themed covers like this:


And finally, if you've ever liked Neil Young, you'll want to spend some time – like a weekend, maybe – with the Neil Young Archives.

Young hasn't just put a few tracks online, he's put everything there. And, true to his feelings about digital compression, there's there not only as 320k MP3s, but as full-quality masters that stream for me at 4Mbit/s. You'll need a decent internet connection to get the best of it, but good on him.

The only odd thing – especially after what Neil says in his first-time-visitor message – is that if you click "Buy" on any track you're bumped over to Amazon to buy an MP3 file. I presume that's because free access is for a limited time only, before a subscription model is introduced. Anyway, I'll be experimenting with AirPlaying those maximum-quality streams to the big stereo on the deck this evening. I'll let you know.



Just the one this week, because it deserves to stand alone. I've noted the Auckland DJ crew DiCE for their kiwiana remixes in the past, but now they've taken on one of today's key voices – and remixed Aldous Harding's 'Horizon'. It's very, very good – and it's a free download.


This is your government on drugs

Yesterday evening on Checkpoint, Michelle Cooke told the story of Robert Erueti – a story of the most abject failure of practice and policy. And more than that, of simple moral sense.

As the report tells it:

Mr Erueti was evicted from his state house, where he lived for more than 15 years, in February last year after traces of methamphetamine were found in his home. Both Ministry of Social Development and Housing New Zealand say there is no evidence he was responsible for the methamphetamine, but as the tenant on the lease, he was evicted as a result.

He has been homeless ever since, living rough, and has spent 58 weeks in a motel, at a total cost to tax-payers of at least $44,000.

He has serious health issues, including diabetes and essential hypertension, which his doctor has raised in letters to the Ministry of Social Development, stressing he needs suitable, stable accommodation.

Robert's life has been ruined. He is currently, with his multiple health issues, sleeping in a tent on his daughter's driveway. He's concerned that if he sleeps inside the terms of his daughter's own Housing NZ tenancy would be breached.

Traces of methamphetamine found inside his house may have been left by his son, to whom he gave shelter when the son was released from prison. Or not. There's no real way of knowing because no baseline test was ever done. Everyone agrees there was no manufacture, which means there was no actual health risk. And literally no one believes Robert himself is responsible for the traces. But Housing NZ's policy, backed up by the Tenancy Tribunal, was for termination in all cases.

It's immensely depressing on a human level and has imposed needless costs on the taxpayer. But I was happy when I heard the report, because of what the new Housing minister, Phil Twyford, said:

Housing Minister Phil Twyford said Mr Erueti should have never been placed in this position.

He said Mr Erueti's situation was a “text-book” case on how the previous government’s policy has had a huge detrimental social and economic impact.

“It’s just untenable that Robert’s been put through that kind of experience.

"One of the problems with the old policy was there was no baseline testing of methamphetamine contamination, putting aside the question of whether the standard was correct or not, people were being evicted because there was some, often infinitesimal contamination found, but there was no proof in most of these cases who was responsible for that.

"We have to find a better approach.”

If you've been following what I've written about these issues over the past three years you'll understand what a breakthrough this is. It remains to be seen whether Twyford has the nerve to walk away from the whole of the "meth contamination" boondoggle that ministers in the last government were happy to underwrite, but it seems, at least, that things will get better and Housing NZ will look more like the social housing provider it's spent the past few years trying not to be.

Now, this is a housing policy issue, but that's the thing about drug policy: it touches many points. I think there's another area where we'll see things get a bit better: the conundrum of medical cannabis.

The Speech from the Throne recently confirfmed that in the first 100 days of Jacinda Ardern's government: "Medicinal cannabis will be made available for people with terminal illnesses or in chronic pain."

I've been able to glean something of what that statement will actually mean in practice, and I can tell you now that many advocates will be disappointed. But will it be better than it was before? Yes, and there are a couple of areas where change may be quite significant.

I've written that up as a news story for tomorrow's Weekend Herald – and the news story itself will point to a longer feature including interviews with the Nelson medical cannabis triumvirate: Rose Renton, Shane Le Brun and Sue Grey. So youd best get the paper tomorrow.

Until then, here's that Checkpoint report ...