Speaker by Various Artists

47

Cannabis: make it legal but don’t let anyone make money from it

by Nic Beets

I don’t want big business marketing marijuana to my kids.  This is what will happen in Canada with the recent purchase of a market-leading marijuana business by a major tobacco company. In Aotearoa, right now, we have a chance to do something different.

I’m very much in favour of legalizing pot; like the majority of kiwis, I think the hypocrisy of criminalising people who use a drug that is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco must end.  The need is made more urgent by the fact that it is young people and Maori and Pasifika whose lives are blighted by this inequity.    

I want to challenge the assumption that legalisation is synonymous with commercialisation.  We have a unique opportunity to avoid the mistake that was made with alcohol and tobacco: we should not allow businesses, and the government through taxes, to profit from the sale of harmful substances and hence have every incentive to market them aggressively.

Using pot has risks, although significantly less than alcohol or tobacco, so the primary aim of any legislation should be to minimise harm.  For a government to pass legislation with any other aim is unacceptable.  The most effective way to minimise harm is to minimise consumption.  

Taking away the profit motive is key.  Without profit, there is no marketing.  The purpose of marketing is to increase profit by increasing sales.   In the case of drugs like alcohol or cannabis "increasing sales" equates to increasing harm.  

This is the opinion of Dr Benedikt Fischer, a professor of  addiction research at the University of Auckland. He was a scientific advisor to the Canadian Government in developing its cannabis legalisation framework.  In a recent Herald opinion piece he advised:

Keep the cannabis industry at bay… any commercial industry's overarching objective is to sell as much product as possible… Such dynamics have resulted in extensive public health harms with alcohol and tobacco – and should not be repeated for a newly legal cannabis industry.

The solution is simple: make it legal but don’t let anyone make money from it. 

Cannabis is an easy plant to grow.  It needs minimal soil and care.  You can grow enough to keep the average user supplied in a planter on a balcony.   There is already a strong culture of sharing amongst pot smokers.   All of this means that it is possible to legalise the growing and use of marijuana and yet keep it illegal to sell it for profit.  

Here is a proposal taken from a draft of a forthcoming paper to be presented at an international law conference:

That the law should be amended so that: (a) there is no law against the possession or consumption of cannabis; and (b) there is no law against cultivating cannabis, and no legal limit on the quantity that a person can cultivate; and (c) there is no law against giving cannabis away (except to children); but (d) selling cannabis is a criminal offence and there is no licensed industry (other than for medical purposes).

I’m putting this out there because the debate that will shape the referendum about the legal status of cannabis has started and it will take public pressure to prevent the government from going down the commercialisation route.  No-one seems to be considering this possibility (apart from my mate Simon who was the first one to suggest this solution to me).  Some organisations tasked with harm minimisation seem fixated on getting more funding for their education campaigns rather than coming up with proposals to minimise harm.  

The government is unlikely to take the lead on this. We know from the USA and Canadian experiences that governments find new sources of tax revenue irresistible. The public health benefits of preventing another recreational drug being added to the list of products being marketed to us are obvious. The state, always under fiscal pressure,  finds itself conflicted between minimising harm by discouraging usage and its appetite for potential revenue.   If it gives in to greed, then once again the state places itself in a hypocritical position regarding cannabis and undermines its own credibility – not a good outcome for any legislation.  

 A law that allows a commercial market creates spaces for a black market.  Established criminals with existing distribution networks will find ways to undercut legal suppliers. However if we legalise the growing but not the sale, we undercut everybody.  It’s a pretty safe bet that there isn’t going to be much profit if you can grow it yourself for free.   

The exception to the ban on commercial marijuana sale should be for medicines.  It is an outrageous anomaly that someone in pain can easily get a relatively dangerous opioid medication but not a significantly safer one derived from cannabis.  Cannabis based medicine should be dealt with like any medicine – it requires careful testing, quality control, standardised dosages etc.  Medicines should be taken under medical direction with care taken that the right kind of active ingredients are given to treat the right kinds of conditions, interactions with other drugs are monitored etc.

Coming back to the recreational drug – we are a nation that still has a strong DIY spirit.     It’s too late for alcohol and tobacco.  We have a chance to do something different with cannabis.   Let’s do it ourselves, grow our own, share it with our friends and keep the kinds of people who have no qualms about making money from doing harm (e.g. big tobacco or gangs) well away from this drug at least.

Nic Beets is a clinical psychologist in private practice specialising in couple therapy who has spent far too much of the last 25 years addressing the impact of drug abuse.

29

What almost everyone is missing about KiwiBuild

by Barnaby Bennett

Many people are ripping into KiwiBuild at the moment. A lot of these criticisms have a strong whiff of partisan heckling – this is politics after all – some of them are fair and others are just looking for trouble.

One complaint, largely coming from the left, is that the houses are not affordable in any meaningful sense (ie, they are too expensive) and a second is that the market should just be left to supply housing and government shouldn’t subsidise this (ie, they are too cheap). But almost all of them, so far, are missing the real and important medium and long-term value of the KiwiBuild programme.

I’ll discuss this below, but firstly to address three legitimate claims about KiwiBuild: 

1. KiwiBuild is not really about building affordable houses in the short-term. Labour’s framing of KiwiBuild is about building lots of affordable housing, and this makes a clear, easy-to-understand sell. This probably was the plan when KiwiBuild was first announced years ago under the leadership of David Shearer, but the programme has morphed a bit since then.

National made big changes to housing between the original development and now. The sale price is not especially affordable in any meaningful sense of the word in relation to incomes, but in the medium and long-term the programme will have a cumulative effect of making housing across the country more affordable.

Also, the alternative models led by the former government in Auckland (in which special housing areas made housing more expensive) and in Christchurch (which gave a development monopoly to a company which led to very slow development) did not work. But I guess criticism about the affordability of the houses is fair in this regard. The problem is that changing this in either direction would seriously endanger the viability of the whole programme. 

2. Kiwibuild isn’t state housing. Saying the government should build more state housing is fair, but this isn’t a criticism of KiwiBuild. They are separate programmes. The $2 billion being spent on creating 100,000 houses would only buy 3,500 state houses. Indeed, the current government is expanding the existing state housing stock, has organised large scale emergency housing for the homeless, and has reversed both National's appalling dividend and the large-scale sell-off of the housing to private and non-profit agencies.

Kiwibuild isn’t meant to be state housing, but is being integrated with state housing on lots of sites, as I’ll explain below. A parallel programme to build thousands of new state houses exists, but it is expensive, and the real value of KiwiBuild, as explained below, would not be addressed by transferring the money to state housing construction. KiwiBuild is not subsidised housing like state housing and is more similar to the original state housing, which was government-built housing for workers, not housing for the country's most vulnerable. 

Further, this is not the first government to get involved in land-use sub-divisions for the benefit of ballot winning young couples and families. 33,000 family farms were created by the state and allocated by ballot in the 19th and 20th century.

3. KiwiBuild is probably not going to add a huge extra supply to the total housing stock. The 100,000 houses can easily be misunderstood as being a total addition to what would have been built if it didn’t exist. Several people have argued, probably fairly, that it is instead largely replacing housing that would have otherwise happened anyway. Alternatively, the Reserve Bank recently announced that many of the buildings will add to the supply. New Zealand is building lots of houses, and regardless of the government would have built at close to our capacity anyway. Kiwibuild doesn’t change this much in terms of numbers. There is some debate about this. But in the long run this is less important than it might seem.

The real issue, in the medium and long term, is the location and size of the houses. The legacy of KiwiBuild will be to address these two major problems. There are three reasons KiwiBuild houses will have an important and valuable medium and long-term benefit for New Zealand. 

To explain this, some historical context is needed. There is a big gap between 1989 and 2008 in which national government stopped being involved in land use. Interestingly, this corresponds with the explosion of suburbia, infrastructure deficits, and the huge increases in house prices.

The last National government intervened into this with the huge motorways/RONS that pumped billions into roading and subsequent associated rural/outer suburban development. The new government is continuing an interventionist approach (which all infrastructure is, ultimately), but shifting the main modes to different forms of public transport.

KiwiBuild needs to be understood as a partner to this broader shift away from greenfield development and associated high cost (for both economic and environmental objectives) development and towards intensive development (infill and along growth corridors) Alongside the big state housing programme, and the 100,000 KiwiBuild houses is a new $4 billion rapid transit fund. This all means smaller houses and more efficient use of land.

So ...

1. KiwiBuild will add a big supply of smalller, better designed houses to the New Zealand stock. A lot of the land for the KiwiBuild programmes is either surplus land close to cities, or land that has been generated by the demolition of old state houses. In both cases newer, denser and higher-quality state housing is being produced alongside the KiwiBuild houses and new private sector housing. Some, such as Vanessa Cole, have argued this is a privatisation of public land, but I think this misunderstands the value of creating lots of smaller, better located and better designed housing.

The state housing supply is being increased by this government, and unlike developments in Australia (which often have as little as 5% of ‘affordable’ or public housing)  the New Zealand developments are being based on a ⅓, ⅓, ⅓ model, which means the state gets to positively influence the kinds of development, while also creating downward pressure and opportunities on the open market.

The main legacy of KiwiBuild is to create a ‘new’ type of housing stock of small, good quality houses. Early buyers might own these for 5 or 10 years, but these houses will provide access into the market for 50 or 100 years. The focus on the first buyer misses their bigger value over the long run. New Zealand has around 1,500,000 households, so KiwiBuild will add another 6-7%. If KiwiBuild lasts ten years and hits its targets it will add a significant new kind of housing type to the country's stock, possibly more if private developers follow suit. 

2. Kiwibuild is a key part of redesigning big parts of New Zealand cities to be better integrated into transport, and commercial development and other public institutions. The inner-city developments in Mangere, Mt. Albert and other locations in Queenstown, Porirua and Wellington are being integrated with new public transport lines, access to public amenity including schools and working alongside council long-term plans.

This is the first government in New Zealand history (or at least in 100 years)  to show any real awareness of how to influence the long-term growth of our cities, and while it's early days and it’s far from perfect, this is again a vastly different set of priorities to the building of large motorways and the associated construction of large and expensive houses on the outskirts of cities.

KiwiBuild gives the government the ability to use smaller and more compact houses to drive these larger urban moves that will make our cities more walkable, more affordable, more environmentally robust. If you disagree with these things, or the efficacy of this approach, then great, let's debate that, but the cost price at sale is a red herring. 

3. KiwiBuild is creating new delivery infrastructures for housing, and thus enabling new systems, for more sustainable, warm, safe, dry, and affordable housing that the broader market will be able to access. (ie, prefab housing made in factories out of New Zealand wood).

In June this year KiwiBuild put out public info on the building of large off-site factories to construct the houses. This is exactly the kind of large scale investment that is only possible with a surety of supply. Many attempts to get these kinds of processes going in New Zealand have failed in recent years because the market, by itself its too small and unpredictable. Creating a steady supply stream also raises exciting possibilities for larger-scale vertical integration with growing and harvesting of trees, milling in New Zealand, and transformation into high quality housing, possibly by the same or nested companies or iwi. 

It is perhaps the possibility of sustained, long-term economic and urban transformation of industry and our cities that most scares the opposition at the moment. The experiments of the last 30 years have failed and major policy shift is needed. It’s long overdue. 

With thanks to Brendon Harre for stats and critique of this. 

5

Russian Underground part 2

by Clinton Logan

"Photography is not allowed" barked a policeman. 

Da, foto v poryadke! I respond in clunky Russian.

"Nyet!"

Da! 

I'd spent three days in Moscow's metro system and this was the tenth time I'd been told off. Arguing with Russian officials isn't something I'd recommend but I'd researched the rules and was becoming increasingly belligerent about my rights as a photographer. When I get fixated on a goal I can get a bit freakish about it.

Capturing these images took a bit of perseverance as the Moscow police were fairly militant about the use of camera gear in the metro. Most were okay with it, but some maintained a stance based on an outdated holdover from the Soviet era. Back then photographing the metro (and other strategic installations) was considered an act of espionage. Not everyone got the memo, as photography is now completely legal. 

The use of a tripod was proving problematic as it transformed my activities into a "professional" shoot which still requires a permit. The low light mandated its use, so I developed a strategy where I'd frame the shot, dial in the camera settings, and then at the last minute open the tripod and snap the image. Typically I'd capture five or six frames before a policeman would wander over and shake his finger at me.

I don't want to paint a distorted picture about the authorities here. I've observed the way they treat drunks, unlicensed vendors, buskers, and annoying hyper-focused Kiwis, and in all cases they've been incredibly polite and tolerant. 

So with that, I want to thank the Moscow Metro Authority for allowing me to complete part two of my Russian metro series. I hope you enjoy these images. It's one of the most incredible urban spaces I've had the pleasure to explore.

7

Russian Underground part 1

by Clinton Logan

Sankt-Peterburg: opulent chandeliers, ornate ceilings, mosaics and artworks are everywhere. Sculptures of poets and revolutionaries flank marble lined corridors while deco stained glass provides subtle illumination to highly polished floors.

And that's just the subway. 

When you purchase your pass and descend the 90 metre long escalator into one of the deepest metros on the planet, a completely different world opens up. Spotlessly clean and efficient, it's no exaggeration to say the Sankt-Peterburg metro system rivals many five-star hotel lobbies.

That's not by accident. Primarily built in the Soviet era the metro was considered to be more just a transitionary space to catch a train but a "palace to the people" and was decorated as such. 

The Sankt-Peterburg metro is a living work of art that provides fascinating insight into the evolving aesthetics of postwar Russia. Intricate socialist-realist reliefs that pay tribute to the pillars of the old USSR: electrical, oil, mining, and metal embed into solid marble. Mosaics reflecting historical events, novelists, and philosophies of triumphalism transition to deco and then onto contemporary spaces inspired by early 20th-century aeronautics. These not only stunning symbols of beauty: the variation of design from station to station also provides useful navigation cues for travelling the system.

I shot these photos over a span of three days at times ranging from 10am to 1am. More than two million people travel each day on the St Petersburg metro so certain times and stations get very busy. Some images took me 30+ minutes to capture a shot free of people. Others were taken at less frequently used stations and were easier to get. Some were just a result of lucky timing.

Timing the trains for a motion blur that maximizes the internal blue light effect also took a bit of patience. 

I was especially pleased with the Маяко́вская station shot (girl reading book next to the Red Poet moasic) That location is one of the busiest interchanges with streams of people constantly passing. I just happened to get there when she was reading with no one else in the shot. That shot I was able to get in the first two minutes of arriving.

If – no, when – you find yourself in this amazing city be sure to spend time in the metro. There's nothing else like it in the world.

Next up: the Moscow metro.

Clinton Logan spends a part of each year exploring strange and interesting places on his motorcyle and posting images and observations about them to his Facebook account.

3

Belfast, where the walls stand yet

by Clinton Logan

What's your darkest secret?

She leaned toward me, locked her blue eyes with mine, and whispered in the most intoxicating Irish accent...

"Clinton, I ran guns for the IRA."

With those six words I was hooked. What followed has circulated in my head for years.

Like many, I'd followed the violence and unrest in Northern Ireland on TV. Locals refer to this period as "the troubles," an understated way of describing what amounted to a civil war that still simmers to this day. On one side, the predominately Catholic nationalists believe the North should join a united, independent Ireland. Opposing them are the mainly Protestant loyalists who want Northern Ireland to remain as part of the United Kingdom.

In 1969 British troops were deployed to Northern Ireland, at first to protect civilians, but soon got entangled in fighting paramilitary groups such as the IRA. The whole thing devolved into a very ugly situation which killed 3,500 and injured over 50,000 in the decades that followed. Groups on both sides claimed they were acting for the good of the people, but in the end caused nothing but misery.

I was compelled to retrace my friend's steps, to travel the streets and explore the neighbourhoods she talked about with such fire. I wanted to meet the people on both sides of the "peace walls" — the seven metre high fences that separate loyalist suburbs from nationalist — and hopefully gain a more tangible understanding of this conflict. 

At 6:00pm each night a guard swings a massive gate on its hinges to close off the throughway that connects the Falls and Shankill districts of Belfast. I turn to the man next to me and ask a rather naive question.

Why are they closing the street off?

"Ter stop dem killin' each other" 

Officially the troubles ended in 1996 but 22 years on parts of Northern Ireland remain fiercely territorial. In Belfast's Shankill neighbourhood Union Jack flags hang from houses and portraits of a young Queen Elizabeth are posted everywhere. 

On the other side of the security wall the imagery is in stark contrast. Not the Irish flag as one might expect, but murals of the Palestinian struggle, Nelson Mandela, and others. The nationalist community align their message with dispossessed people and stolen land as much as they do with the goal of a united Irish Republic. Just inches of steel and concrete separate communities with mindsets fixed miles apart.

The Irish woman and I shared an interest in alternative music. She was a Belfast punk in the '80s, I was a kiwi kid living a half world away. Although it would be decades before our paths would cross, we were unknowingly linked by a remarkable piece of vinyl. 

At the height of the troubles the Irish band Stiff Little Fingers formed and released a blistering, politically-barbed, howl of a punk record. Their Inflammable Material album exhibited a raw energy and integrity that still resonates to this day.

They take away our freedom
In the name of liberty

Their solutions are our problems
They put up the wall
On each side, time and prime us
Make sure we get fuck all

During the '70s and '80s Belfast was plagued with car bombings and after 6:00pm the central city would be virtually shut down. The only people that ventured downtown were the police, the military, and punks going to the Pound club where SLF would play. Protestant and Catholic kids alike would unite and listen to protest music. Northern Ireland punks mostly rejected the narratives of both sides of the conflict.

They say they're a part of you
And that's not true, you know

In Hopewell Crescent fourteen year old Callum wheelies his bike past the Summer of ‘69 mural which ironically applies the Bryan Adams song to the riots that launched the troubles. The gable art depicts an iconic image of two children, one Protestant and one Catholic, who were friends one day and woke up the next in a bomb-ravaged neighborhood being told they could no longer play together.

Whole generations have grown up knowing nothing but social division. The massive steel and razor wire fences that snake their way through Belfast are indicative of the mistrust that still permeates these neighborhoods. Sectarian walls, it turns out, are much easier to build than tear down.

"They wanted this street, and they didn't get it, and they wrecked it in the process. I love my country, I love my culture, and that wall is stayin' where it is. Amen!" states a defiant loyalist.

Another man provides a more reasoned response "The walls have attracted more trouble than they prevented, they don't really give you the protection you think." 

I'm driven to explore places with troubled histories, I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's their ultimate redemption that makes me feel positive about the world, how humanity can bootstrap back from very dark situations. 

Today, many Northern Ireland communities are attempting to pull themselves away from sectarian conflict. Mural artists are starting to focus on less inflammatory subjects and a few security walls have been dismantled. Although positive steps are being made, they've still got a long road ahead.

"We need to get to a situation where there's no more barriers being built, not only that, the idea of a barrier is considered to be unacceptable."

Visiting a country that's endured such violent partisan division has been an eye opener. Once again I've had the privilege of peering into lives very different to my own, however this time I leave with a sense of unease. The Northern Ireland experience has really underscored the signs currently emerging from my adopted country which appears to be heading full throttle into its own period of "troubles."

Thirty years on it's depressing to see how the rasping cry of a Belfast punk band born in the depths of a civil war has become so relevant to the present situation in the Divided States of America.

Don't believe them
Don't believe them
Question everything you're told

Just take a look around you
At the bitterness and spite
Why can't we take over 
and try to put it right?

Don't believe them
Don't believe them
Don't be bitten twice
You gotta suss, suss, suss, suss, suss, suss
Suss, suspect device