Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Reassure Me: cannabis, polling and deliberative democracy

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  • Dennis Frank,

    Andrew's suggestion is an excellent idea. "A citizens jury is a randomly selected group of civilians who listen to expert perspectives for several days before forming a judgement on an issue."

    "Ireland's Citizens' Assembly was a randomly-chosen but demographically representative group of 99 people who gave up their weekends to listen to advocates and experts and, eventually, make recommendations on the shape of a draft reform bill." That seems a suitable model for us to copy. The larger the population sample the more representative of the community it becomes, so I wonder how difficult organising a larger sample would be in practice. For instance, use public meetings in our biggest cities (if sufficient advocates are available) plus Survey Monkey (or equivalent) for subsequent feedback to organisers from those attending.

    That could easily generate several hundred or more respondents. The obvious design flaw in such models is that only the non-apathetic participate, and they are out-numbered by the apathetic generally. Yet voters in referenda are similarly skewed so it may not really matter.

    New Zealand • Since Jun 2016 • 212 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Dennis Frank,

    The larger the population sample the more representative of the community it becomes

    That isn't entirely true you actually don't need that large a sample before you accurately model public opinion. More importantly what you describe is a large sample of uninformed opinion.

    The idea of Iceland's system is that because the public are usually uninformed or ill informed on any particular topic the assembly must spend time listening to expert opinion with the intention that they become informed.

    At that point they make a recommendation informed by expert input but modulated by societal input.

    The key feature is to get both informed opinion and a representation of society's needs/wants/feelings.

    It's an interesting approach.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4425 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Dennis Frank,

    use public meetings in our biggest cities

    That actively avoids the whole "representative sample" part of the process though. In multiple ways. But it does favour opinionated, older, whiter, richer people... who are already over-repersented in the political processes. It would be more reasonable to exclude them on the basis that their preferences are already amply present.

    I like the citizen's jury process because it involves a degree to conscription so it's much more likely to give a spectrum of responses. By the same token, though, it's more expensive and requires more organisation (you really need to pay the jurors rather than just compensating them for their costs).

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1111 posts Report Reply

  • linger,

    Note Bridges' cynical attempt to head off any chance of a wider-scope "reeferendum" by trying to limit the discussion to high-end medical extracts.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1802 posts Report Reply

  • simon g,

    The test of National's good faith is a simple one: what would now be happening if National had remained in government after the 2017 election? Imagine Prime Minister Bill English, with or without the support of NZ First, advocating for their new bill. Imagine Cabinet minister Simon Bridges insisting on it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1252 posts Report Reply

  • Rob S, in reply to simon g,

    Imagine being Simon Bridges, not quite getting that boost in the polls with nothing to show for his road show.
    Meanwhile the soft breathing of The Crusher susurrating in the background like something metastasizing in a Stephen King novel.
    tick tock tick tock, quick throw some half baked plan to the media and see if anything sticks.
    Te Atatu conservatism and a fool from Swanson aren't quite exciting Joe Public.
    Not really much feel about a new generation taking over is there.
    For God's sake politicians of all stripes just get with the program and come up with a workable legalization fudge and let the dust settle I'm getting bored with waiting.

    Since Apr 2010 • 123 posts Report Reply

  • Dennis Frank,

    That three-way split in the poll is likely to result in the government framing the referendum to test support for decriminalisation over the status quo, I suspect. As the basis for changing the law, that binary framing would provide the mandate: the third of voters preferring legalisation would vote for decriminalisation if the legalisation option isn't on the voting paper, so the two thirds would defeat the third voting for status quo.

    Labour are chronic conservatives, so this framing would give them the public majority for reform that would satisfy their natural caution. I can't see them being brave enough to test the public mood for legalisation yet. They could satisfy progressives via a more sophisticated design: insert a clause that establishes another referendum for legalisation in seven years time. Include text that signals this as a two-step process, to clarify intent. That way Andrew can create consensus on a sound basis.

    He should secure the mandate for usage of medical marijuana from the first referendum because polling support for that is already so high it will pass easily (as long as they don't allow the devil entry into the details).

    New Zealand • Since Jun 2016 • 212 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Here's my hot take for The Spinoff yesterday afternoon on the difference between the government bill and Shane Reti's.

    I do think National's is the better bill, not least because it makes for more meaningful change sooner. On the other hand, parts of it – the fit-and-proper-person stuff – are really odious.

    Was National playing politics here? Yes, sure, to some extent – and the chance to own Labour was probably a key reason Reti and Chris Bishop got it through the National caucus. But I'd feel more strongly about that if the government members hadn't blithely ignored all the patient and advocate submissions. Here's the committee report – the only changes to the bill are minor technical amendments at the behest of Ministry of Health officials.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22537 posts Report Reply

  • Eediot,

    Not sure that this editorial from the head of MAGS in the school newsletter today is helpful. Did i miss the part of the proposed legislation that allows schools kids to legally take marijuana?:

    The Great Brain Robbery
    Educators and parents will be closely following the debate around potentially decriminalising or legalising marijuana.

    That our political leaders and even one former Prime Minister are advocating for the ‘normalisation’ of drug use within our communities is concerning to say the least.

    I prefer to seek the opinions of researchers and medical experts in this area. A recent article, which you can read here, by Associate Professor Giles Newton-Howes, from the University of Otago’s Department of Psychological Medicine, reinforces the evidence associating marijuana use with “psychosis, anxiety disorders, cognitive problems and addiction”. He goes on to state: “The link between cannabis and anxiety disorders is most pronounced in teenagers.”

    It is almost unbelievable that adults in significant leadership roles in our country are prepared to advocate for a policy that will further damn New Zealanders, and young New Zealanders in particular, to a future that compromises their long-term mental health and their ability to lead full lives.

    While many adults who should know better are sending mixed messages to our young people about the safety of drug use, at Mount Albert Grammar School the message is clear: Drugs will never be an acceptable part of our school community! There is no such thing as a ‘legal high’. Learning and drugs will always be mutually exclusive.

    At MAGS we will take every step to ensure our school remains drug-free. The potential of our young people can only be realised when the mind and body are healthy and the learning environment is safe.

    It’s a good time to bring our sons and daughters into this discussion. They need the guidance of the right adults in their lives – those who really care about their future!

    Have a good week.
    Patrick Drumm

    Auckland • Since Mar 2011 • 49 posts Report Reply

  • andin, in reply to Eediot,

    ! There is no such thing as a ‘legal high’.

    Wonder if he was having a chardonnay while writing this polemic.
    I hear it lubricates the juices... with irrationality

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1709 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Eediot,

    At MAGS we will take every step to ensure our school remains drug-free. The potential of our young people can only be realised when the mind and body are healthy

    Guess he'll be banning junk food as well, then.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19518 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford,

    Andin and then Sacha. The man expressed some personal opinions. Don't you guys want people feeling comfortable about doing that here?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4011 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford, in reply to Eediot,

    I prefer to seek the opinions of researchers and medical experts in this area. A recent article, which you can read here, by Associate Professor Giles Newton-Howes, from the University of Otago’s Department of Psychological Medicine, reinforces the evidence associating marijuana use with “psychosis, anxiety disorders, cognitive problems and addiction”. He goes on to state: “The link between cannabis and anxiety disorders is most pronounced in teenagers.”

    That’s true, and it’s the reason I liked the Californian system which makes it look like the homeless persons drug of choice, rather than something that’s going to make you the popular kid. Thats because it was, mabe still is illegal to smoke it in public. But belligerent and waisted old people do that which makes them look a bid dicky.

    And a medical use permit there, meant your addicted to the shit. Sort of like methadone but not as hardcore.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4011 posts Report Reply

  • andin, in reply to steven crawford,

    they werent that poster's personal opinions.

    It was a polemic from a school principal who hasnt read the legislation and had a knee jerk reaction which he put into words and foisted on the school newsletter spreading misinformation further using emotional blackmail disguised as an alternative viewpoint.

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1709 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford, in reply to andin,

    Thanks, I get it now.

    I should have noticed the part where the word drugs is use to proxy ‘criminal’ instead of specifically talking about the biological effects* of the particular drug that the grown ups are talking about decriminalising. It’s not good for the kids to be bullshited to by school principles.

    *or affects? I'm a bit hazzy on that stuff.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4011 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to steven crawford,

    Thanks. I've marked up the quote now.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19518 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    There’s a lot that’s really positive about this. However much I would like the government to just short circuit it all, a long democratically engaged deliberative process seems likely to me to deliver a better outcome. It’s also a really good process to set up generally.

    The citizen jury concept is very interesting, essentially getting around the scale problem of participatory democracy (what works well in a small group doesn’t necessarily work well for a much larger one) by removing the numbers problem using fairly well understood methods for sampling. Nothing can solve all the problems, and it’s not the case that participatory methods are perfect in all respects even for small groups, but it’s damned well worth a go.

    The larger the population sample the more representative of the community it becomes

    There are diminishing returns from that, and the more serious issue of bias in the sample due to the method of selecting and contacting people, and differing rates of response, means that a stratification based approach makes more sense than massively increasing the sample size.

    There is also the increased cost and the fact that the larger the sample, the less engaged the individuals become. Part of the point of the jury process would seem to me that the people involved really get into it, because their opinion really will make a difference. Of course a lot of people will be stupid on there, not listen, bring their prejudices etc. But I think the problems are much less than if you did this with, say, 1000 people. People interact very differently on this scale, than they do on a village sized conference. Once the numbers get really big, it pretty much degenerates to representative democracy, people crowding around the loudest voices, or into cliques with delegates. This is essentially how our political process already works. If we were going to do that, it might as well be left to parliament.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10541 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I don't really want to explain in great detail what I mean by stratification based sampling here, btw. Suffice to say that if the aim in the selected jury is to get a sample that represents the population, then the methods by which to get such a sample are the work of experienced statisticians. Ideally the Ministry of Statistics would be involved in helping with this, making recommendations about the process to minimize all the kinds of errors that happen in sampling. That way efficiently sized juries that are essentially representative could probably be found.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10541 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to BenWilson,

    A stratified sample is one in which there are fixed quotas for certain defined subgroups. But we need to distinguish two possible types of stratification, used for different purposes.

    The first has the aim of ensuring those groups are all represented, usually in order to facilitate subsequent comparisons of those groups. For such a purpose, minorities should be over-represented to reduce the uncertainty in estimates based on subsamples. Such a stratified sample is “representative” in the sense of ensuring diverse representation, rather than in the sense of accurately reflecting overall population statistics.

    The second type of stratified sample design is to ensure statistically fair representation of some groups that would otherwise be underrepresented by normal sampling methods, because they are harder to contact or less likely to respond to requests. Here the quotas are based on the proportions of each group in the population, so the final sample should accurately reflect the wider population. (In this case, there may be no intention to compare the subgroups.)
    Presumably the second use is more what you have in mind?

    N.B. Whether the sample is random is a separate issue. It is possible to fill each subsample quota by random selection from its target subgroup population, though in practice a networking approach may be necessary for group classifications for which membership is less easily externally verifiable/ publicly available.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1802 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    My reason for being somewhat vague is because the overall thrust of the point was that sophisticated statistics should be brought to bear without us predetermining the details.

    I'd say that both the goals of stratification you mention are worth considering. Proportional representation of strata matters, but ensuring at least a voice for all groups does too. When it comes to them voting they could have weights that ensure proportionality.

    How you decide the strata might also depend on the question, and analysis of the population's attitude on the question beforehand. In the case of cannabis reform the strata that should be reasonably proportionally present might be different than if the question at hand were, say, abortion.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10541 posts Report Reply

  • william blake,

    How do people here envisage the New Zealand of the future with different legislation around the use of cannabis? Particularly if we arrive at legalisation, government controll and excise tax.

    Since Mar 2010 • 367 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to william blake,

    Are you asking what we’d like or what we think will happen?

    What I’d like is pretty straightforward. You can grow it for personal use, get a license to sell it, the sale would be basically covered by the same rules as alcohol, probably including venue. Preparations of it beyond the raw plant itself should have to pass their own testing, most likely with estimations of how strong it is, and recommended maximum dosages. Usage would be similar to alcohol albeit that smoking should be done outside and not in a public space, which, like alcohol, would have restrictions on the consumption of it. Medicinal uses should have their own rules again, with very clear measures and guidelines, and the requirement of a prescription.

    Essentially, where it’s for leisure, treat it like alcohol. Where it’s for medicinal purposes, treat it like painkiller/pyschoactive substance. We don’t have to reinvent everything. Consistency with the other main leisure psychoactive, alcohol, makes sense. Consistency with the other main prescription psychoactives for medicinal purposes makes sense. Consistency in use of a potentially unpleasant vapor/smoke to others around you (tobacco) makes sense.

    Regarding growing it, most people would not bother, they'd buy it, just as they do with beer, but I simply can't see any reason not to allow people to grow it, so long as the sale of it is prohibited, without a license.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10541 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to william blake,

    If you are asking about what I think will happen, I just don't know. There really is a chance that everything I outlined above could come to pass, with only minor changes. Or it could never get off the drawing board due to the cowardliness or prejudice of politicians, or greed and special interests could morph it into some hideous capitalist monopoly.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10541 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Bottom line is its pretty easy to grow - a lot simpler than making a good beer, at least in my experience. That's part of why it's so hard to control, and also likely to keep a ghastly corporate plastic-high from taking off - or at least taking over.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2076 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    Bottom line is its pretty easy to grow – a lot simpler than making a good beer, at least in my experience.

    That's been my experience of both beer brewing and growing plants. Plants just want to grow and and most of the trouble is in making sure you do actually harvest them when ready. You presume losses and compensate by just planting more plants. Of course, for this to work you have to be allowed to plant the plants, be able to access the seeds or seedlings, etc. As with tobacco, which is piss easy to grow, I doubt that most people would bother. But those who want to should be allowed, IMHO.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10541 posts Report Reply

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