Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Cannabis: The Experiment is Real

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  • Jason Kemp,

    The irony here is that, if natural cannabis was available in New Zealand, there would be very little demand for the synthetic stuff.

    Yes and the “follow the money trail”

    There are obviously lots of questions but I’m betting Treasury will want to know how much tax growers might pay and the business side seems to be left out of this paper.

    I remember working on a project in Kaitaia many years ago and one of the measurements we looked at was cash / to charge ratios at various branches of a building supplies chain.

    In that town the cash ratio was higher because of the local dope farmers. I would think being able to put some kind of $numbers on the sector would be a useful element in any policy making.

    Footnote: The synthetic stuff might be useful as a proxy indicator for demand but while the market overlaps I don't think it is the same unless you don't mind testing dodgy chemicals on yourself.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 368 posts Report Reply

  • Jeremy Andrew,

    I'm dubious about legalisation as described in the article. I'm very much in favour of decriminalisation though. Making it no longer an offense to possess, use or grow limited amounts of marijuana, while keeping it illegal to sell it would remove much of the incentive for criminal activity around it.
    As soon as you let anyone start selling it, regardless of laws and regulations, whether it is private industry or a single state supplier, you risk all the temptations of increasing income at the expense of the vulnerable, either deliberately, or by omission.
    I think the Government would see more than enough money come in though savings in dope enforcement from decriminalisation to make it financially worthwhile, even if they (and they should) increase funding to education and health aid.

    Hamiltron - City of the F… • Since Nov 2006 • 900 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Jeremy Andrew,

    As soon as you let anyone start selling it, regardless of laws and regulations, whether it is private industry or a single state supplier, you risk all the temptations of increasing income at the expense of the vulnerable, either deliberately, or by omission.

    Temptations to which the people already selling it are not prey?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report Reply

  • bmk, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Temptations to which the people already selling it are not prey?

    Exactly. It's going to be sold no matter what. If it's legalised at least the sale can be regulated; who it's sold to, where etc.

    I'd rather it sold in a commercial zone to people with identification proving they're over 18 than at a tinny house next to my place selling it to anyone who has the cash.

    Since Jun 2010 • 327 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh,

    My ideal world would not have commercial sales.

    - Mark Kleiman quoted in Russell's article.

    I think I agree with that. Why not have either grow-your-own and licenced notn-profit co-ops or a state monopoly required to donate any profit to charity or research? Ok, the monopoly option won't fly, it'd have everybody in National and ACT and probably much of Labour frothing at the mouth about the sacrosanct free market. But with marijuana we have a blank slate and I don't see any reason why we need to give Big Booze and Big Tobacco another way to reap massive profits promoting drug dependancy and all the ills that brings.

    ETA: And to me the idea of banning a naturally-occurring living organism is utterly absurd. I understand the whole biosecurity thing, but making the existence of a plant or fungus already in the country illegal? Ridiculous.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd, in reply to Jeremy Andrew,

    you risk all the temptations of increasing income at the expense of the vulnerable, either deliberately, or by omission.

    But at the moment, the vulnerable are the best market. At an appropriate price point and with appropriate regulation, solid middle-aged punters like me become appealing customers and importantly, we are actually in the market. Right now I have much more to lose trying to hook up with a reputable supplier than a spotty youth with no career and no responsibilities.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd, in reply to Chris Waugh,

    Probably much of Labour frothing at the mouth

    The question came up at the Labour leadership forum in Christchurch. Jones was a very firm no, not at all, and Robertson and Cunliffe were slightly more open but said not a priority, too much of a policy distraction when there are more important things to do.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Stephen Judd,

    I was referring to the possibility of a state monopoly rather than legalisation, but thanks. Disappointing, though, especially considering Labour found time or at least support for other progressive law reforms when it was last in government. Maybe the Greens could introduce a private members bill and Labour could have the decency to support it...

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Stephen Judd,

    The question came up at the Labour leadership forum in Christchurch. Jones was a very firm no, not at all, and Robertson and Cunliffe were slightly more open but said not a priority, too much of a policy distraction when there are more important things to do.

    If it happens, it will happen quietly, and on a cross-party basis. I don't think there's necessary much to be gain by making a a partisan issue.

    And you might be surprised. Here is Peter Dunne, one week ago:

    31 October 2013

    A sure sign of looming danger is when a politician opines the eerie words, “I’ve been thinking.” It is usually a warning some new crackpot idea is about to be unleashed, or hobby horse indulged. In fact, politicians’ “thinking” lies at the heart of many of the problems we face today.

    Now, of course there are exceptions to every rule. There have been occasions when politicians’ thinking has led to profound positive social and economic change, or times when the lofty aspirations outlined by a politician have inspired a nation or a generation. (Nelson Mandela’s struggle against apartheid is the obvious contemporary example.) But generally speaking these occasions are the exception rather than the rule.

    So, against that background, and with a fair measure of trepidation, let me share some of my current thinking about a contentious issue.

    Just over a couple of months ago, the Psychoactive Substances Act of which I was the principal architect was implemented. It provides for the first time for a regulated market for the sale and supply of psychoactive substances, based on the level of risk they pose to the user. It is attracting interest from around the globe, as an innovative solution to an international problem, and, after a few not unanticipated teething problems, seems to be settling down quite well.
    Now, here is where I have been thinking. Although the Psychoactive Substances Act was intended to deal with that issue only, and not to have wider application, it does occur to me that, if after a period of time, it is shown to be working effectively, it could well become the model by which narcotic drugs, currently controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, are regulated for the future. The yardstick of level of risk – based on sound pharmacological and toxicological evidence – would become the determinant of availability, not public sentiment or prejudice.

    I am not suggesting a revolution, but simply observing that the regulatory regime introduced for psychoactive substances could well have wider application and that we should not be averse to that possibility. After all, most experts now concede the so-called “war” on drugs has failed, and new initiatives are required.

    So, is this another crackpot idea from a politician with time on his hands to be “thinking’? Or is an idea with merit worth considering further?

    You be the judge.

    Chris Fowlie has told me that a number of MPs he has spoken to share this view.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Now, here is where I have been thinking. Although the Psychoactive Substances Act was intended to deal with that issue only, and not to have wider application, it does occur to me that, if after a period of time, it is shown to be working effectively, it could well become the model by which narcotic drugs, currently controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, are regulated for the future. The yardstick of level of risk – based on sound pharmacological and toxicological evidence – would become the determinant of availability, not public sentiment or prejudice.

    I've been thinking along similar lines. And surely there's been a lot more research done on those Misuse of Drugs Act drugs? That drug harm index, for example.

    As for partisan vs. cross-party, it would seem natural to me that NZ First, the Conservatives if they really are more than just Colin Craig, and a hefty chunk of National would be implacably opposed to legalisation. And that's ok with me - the legalisation of prostitution and repeal of Section 59 also faced opposition, but I'd be very surprised if anybody seriously thought those laws could be rolled back (although, of course, viewing these things from 11,000km away... apply appropriately sized grain of salt). It may not be a priority for Labour, but surely somebody could put in a private members bill and get Labour and the Greens on board through a harm minimisation argument and ACT by playing the Libertarian card. Don't know how you'd persuade Mana, but there must be an angle that could appeal to them.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Russell Brown,

    And you might be surprised. Here is Peter Dunne, one week ago:

    I am surprised. Who knew he was a sleeper cell?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to BenWilson,

    I am surprised. Who knew he was a sleeper cell?

    They all get turned eventually. Evidence is powerful when you get close to it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Evidence is powerful when you get close to it.

    Do you think he smoked the evidence or baked it in a cake?

    Excellent article, BTW.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to Stephen Judd,

    At an appropriate price point and with appropriate regulation, solid middle-aged punters like me become appealing customers and importantly, we are actually in the market. Right now I have much more to lose trying to hook up with a reputable supplier than a spotty youth with no career and no responsibilities.

    This. While I may or may nor have indulged in my mis-spent youth (and, like Ollie North, I have no recollection of the event in question. Any of them), any desire I have now is far outweighed by the trouble I'd have to go to in order to hook up a connection (and I wouldn't know where to start these days), and what I potentially have to lose.

    When I drink now, it tends to be in moderation, and I almost always pay a premium for something I actually enjoy sloshing across my tongue rather than the cheapest rotgut I can find that'll get me legless (ah Mad Dog 20/20, I'll never forget the good times). I'd do the same (strictly in theory, you understand) for a decent, premium-quality smoke, and I'd feel a lot better about doing it knowing that I wasn't helping to fund organised crime.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • andin,

    Some people argue we should regulate cannabis because it’s safe – we think it should be regulated because it’s dangerous,

    Using the wrong language here. Harmful to health might be a better description. Alcohol is dangerous.
    An understanding of why people like to alter their consciousness might go some way helping them come to grips with their musings. Like that'll happen! while we still seem locked into some weird derivative of christian thinking.

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1891 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Young,

    There will need to be "assay tests" of cannabis purity and other steps taken in this context. Regulating cannabis is necessary to protect consumers, insure it doesn't get into the hand of younger users as well as those with pre-existing schizophrenia. I'm not sure how the latter would be enforced

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 573 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    For reference, the Labour Policy Platform states at 8.29 that Labour will

    Recognise that the problem of personal drug use is primarily a health issue and that the criminal justice system, especially prisons, only makes the problem worse. Labour will reform drug policy so it is evidence based and has harm reduction as its focus.

    So I think we can legitimately expect there to be a clear move towards an evidence based, harm reduction approach from Labour.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Rich Lock,

    I almost always pay a premium for something I actually enjoy sloshing across my tongue rather than the cheapest rotgut I can find that’ll get me legless (ah Mad Dog 20/20, I’ll never forget the good times). I’d do the same (strictly in theory, you understand) for a decent, premium-quality smoke

    I remember being pretty amused in a coffee shop in Amsterdam’s red light area when an excitable group of youths from the UK walked in. It was clearly the very first one they’d ever seen, from the shock, amazement, and excitement, of what a regulated cannabis trade looks like. They argued over the menu, particularly about the best way to spend their money, applying all of the ideas of drug use that apply in a prohibition culture like the UK (and here). They wanted to get as much as possible as cheaply as possible, and take it back to their room and get a wasted as possible. Then one guy raised the question of whether the premium quality stuff, at twice the price, might actually be much wickeder, and thus better value. The discussion went on. Eventually they bought some stuff and left. The woman serving had a laugh with me about it afterward, said: “always like that the first time. After a while they work out that you don’t have to buy the whole shop, you can have a smaller amount and have a better time, come back when you want some more, just like any product. And you can have it right here, not sneaking back to your nasty little room. And why not have the good stuff? When they go to the bar they’re going to spend 10 times as much as they spent here.”

    I also went to a couple of bars over there, which had a really different vibe. Lots of old guys who were pretty much there as sex tourists. Didn’t like them at all.

    Outside of that quite small district, though, the coffee shop and drinking culture seemed very different. The coffee shops were pretty much just like a cafe here, except some people smoked dope. At lunchtime, mostly people were drinking coffee and having cakes. After 5pm, there was a bit more smoking, but not really that much more. If you live in a non-prohibition culture, then you’re only going to have things when you really feel like them, rather than whenever you can get them. I don’t buy alcohol immediately that I see it and drink it in the middle of the day, because that’s not the way I want to spend my life. The bars were more like random suburban bars here – a few locals, some sport on TV, probably a pool table, and usually at least one old drunk who never left.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to BenWilson,

    I also went to a couple of bars over there, which had a really different vibe.

    There are (or used to be) a handful of bars that didn’t mind the smokers, so you could sit in and have the experience of drinking at a nice bar along with being able to freely skin up if you fancied it. But they were very much the exception – in general drinking and smoking are/were kept quite separate. I understand it’s changed quite a bit over there, too. The problem with being a country that is an island of regualtion in a sea of prohibition with porous land borders is that you inevitably end up attracting large numbers of a pretty unsavoury element, and there have been some changes made to crack down on things as I understand it. It’d be a bit different for somewhere like NZ, though. Sometimes geographical isolation is a positive.

    I don’t buy alcohol immediately that I see it and drink it in the middle of the day, because that’s not the way I want to spend my life.

    This was always my reply to fanatical stoners who insisted that there was no harm in it (less harm than booze blahblahblah). If I was getting out of bed and necking half a bottle of rotgut for breakfast, I’d have a problem. That’s not really any different from rolling out of bed and immediately rolling up. It becomes your life rather than an enhancement to your life.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Washington DC is poised to decriminalise.

    Meanwhile in Arizona, prosecutors aver that even the pot you smoked months ago will see you go down on a drug-driving charge,

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report Reply

  • Shulgin,

    Cannabis, our intelligence assessment---- is real.

    Prof David Nutt is talking in Auckland Dec 6 at the medical school Auckland University. Thant should also be interesting. He is talking about “evidence” based policy, actually being used for drug matters. Novel idea!

    I would like to make a pitch for one of the spots at the conference run by NZDF. I might glean some intelligence on cannabis matters.

    But also would like to share what I have been working on. I have been working, as it happens, on evidence based government policy….well sort of.

    The NDIB National Drug Intelligence Bureau is a joint operation run by the NZ Police, Customs, and Health. NDIB produced the Maxwell Report in 2007, called “New Cannabis: The Cornerstone of Illicit Drug Harm in New Zealand”. Amongst other things the report told citizenry that Cannabis was sending New Zealanders to hospital in record numbers, in even greater numbers than for amphetamines, cocaine and opiates combined. These thousands of hospital admissions were costing tax payers around $30 million a year and involved some 60,000 bed nights. Head of the NDIB was quoted in the Press saying he had found thousands of hospital admissions due solely to cannabis. He also said he now had a tool to show what “good” he was doing when undertaking big busts.

    Well it’s an intelligence unit…so it must be true! (But in all my life I never knew a person who was admitted to hospital as a direct result of cannabis use….I smelled a rat.)

    Remember Operation Lime…the assault on indoor gardening shops….Rob Pope from the NZ Police said the operation would “break the cornerstone of the cannabis industry”. The Police based all the funding they got for “operations” on the Maxwell harm report.

    So after several years investigating, letters, OIA, Ombudsman,…lost data etc. I sent a 60 page letter, plus attachments to the departments pointing out that the cannabis harm did not actually exist, it had been made up after manipulating public health data. I even obtained the actual spreedsheets they used to arrive at their numbers, so it’s not speculation on my part.

    Well I wrote a letter no one could reply to. I had to complain to the Ministers.

    And just a month ago, I was advised that the Maxwell report has been removed from the Police web site and removed from the Police intranet. You won’t find a retraction notice yet, still working on that one. However, I am hoping they will do what is required….before I do it on their behalf.

    Oh yes and not only did the Maxwell report manipulate data it plagiarized. Yes word for word copied and not a reference or quote mark in site! They even changed the footnote numbers they copied from the original so it looked like their referencing work…such attention to detail from the intelligence officers.

    So sadly for the New Zealand Police they once again bring the police (themselves) and the public service into disrepute. Health provided the data, is on the NDIB, but did not check the Maxwell report, so they must be part of the conspiracy.

    This situation oddly seems to give the appearance that the NZ Police are a self-serving gang, manipulating data, making up rules, and medical causation s to suit their operations and defending the indefensible as the nails scrape down the blackboard of the intelligence briefing room. Misleading the politicians, justice system and the public. If my NCEA Level child had delivered up the Maxwell report as an assignment, it would have failed to pass…strange that Maxwell is a document from an intelligence unit underpinning Police and Justice operational matters. I guess we are small country …ripe pickings for intelligence units…and evidence based policy!

    Hope that made some of you tokers smile…and some will be reaching for a stiff gin!

    But it’s not funny for the owners of SOG, who sit in jail as a result of Operation Lime and Bitters….they may well feel very cross and bitter now.

    NZ • Since May 2011 • 125 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Wood,

    A MODEST IDEA TO TAKE TO THE CANNABIS & HEALTH SYMPOSIUM

    If you want to change personal thru societal health outcomes, it's not because this or that legal/illegal substance is available to obtain that will cause people to change their behaviour, its how you incentive them.

    We have long been obsessed with sticks from fines to prison sentences, & are continuing to experiment with more carrots, such as restorative justice (which is great), however, what we really need is to actively & directly link positive personal/societal outcomes to positive behaviour whilst under the influence.

    "The goal of spiritual life is not altered states, but altered traits," said Huston Smith back in the 60's with regards to the use of drugs to 'enhance' spiritual practice & it has long been known that some drugs are particularly good at opening people to spiritual pursuits, especially cannabis (& the other classic psychedelics).

    It seems to me that a great way to encourage the spiritual life of the community, is to link approval & permission to use of 'a substance' with an actual record of how much each person gives directly back to the community.

    Whether it is a state monopoly of supply, or legalised for private profit, what we should do is not only plow a very sizable proportion of monetary profits, say 50%(?), back into harm minimisation on the back end, but on the front end we should only allow people to purchase substances who are actively recorded as participating in positive outcome community charitable activities, even giving them the option of say a website/blog to publicise their good works.

    For example...I want to buy a $50 baggie of herb.

    No problem, but in addition to forking out $50 for the drug, I have to FIRST give $50 equivalent of my time to a worthy cause from planting tree's, to clearing rubbish from beaches, to volunteering in soup kitchens, to assisting elderly people with manual labour, to cultivating community gardens, to assisting with a positive political campaign such as reducing harms from alcohol & gambling...the list is endless; you get the idea. Then AFTER volunteering, I get my $50 baggie of herb to relax with as reward to help with the afterglow of my good works.

    Likewise, poor behaviour means, progressively restricted access to chosen substance; simple.

    People often use substances to 'escape' from reality, & when they come down again, they are once again faced with what they wanted to escape from...more often than not the desire to 'escape' is at it's root an attempt to find ' healthy relationships' in a meaningful way with other individuals & community's in our modern fractured society where emotional & spiritual intelligence are in short supply, & oh so desperately needed.

    In this way Huston Smiths intention of a transition from 'altered states to altered traits' would be actively encouraged & supported with every use of the herbal medicine, so that it is truly, positively, medical marijuana in the widest sense of the meaning.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2013 • 8 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Young,

    Unfortunately, given the combination of neanderthal anti-drug populism and counterproductive cannabis lobby fragmentation here in New Zealand, cannabis law reform will remain strictly hypothetical in the intermediate future...

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 573 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Simon Wood,

    Likewise, poor behaviour means, progressively restricted access to chosen substance; simple.

    What you describe sounds both ghastly from a human rights perspective and unworkable on a practical level. How many lives would the state be directing? Who would decide which activities and causes were worthy? Who would keep this ledger of "behaviour"? How many officials would be employed making sure each citizen got only the quantity of drugs warranted by his behaviour?

    No.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Craig Young,

    Unfortunately, given the combination of neanderthal anti-drug populism

    Or to put it succinctly, superstition.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5443 posts Report Reply

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