Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Stop acting like the law is someone else's responsibility

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  • Russell Brown,

    Attachment

    Here’s the poll result graphic.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22584 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Meanwhile, Key used mostly the same lines in this morning's interviews with Paul Henry and Mike Hosking.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22584 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    The Drug Foundation's Ross Bell on the politics of the the poll.

    “It was an old political truth that any changes to drug law was a poisoned chalice, but this poll well and truly busts that myth. There’s a message here for politicians: they no longer need to fear talking about drug law reform.”

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22584 posts Report Reply

  • Nick Russell,

    Since National was first elected, the PM has been extremely good at tracking opinion in the electorate and making sure that the Government never gets too far behind or ahead of it. Informed, as you point out, by the formidable skills of Mr Farrar & co. On the rare occasion the Government gets that badly wrong, they can change track very quickly - as they did on the need for reform of the trusts regime after the Panama papers. So sooner or later it seems likely the PM will change his tune on this, if the polls remain solidly behind legalisation/decriminalisation. And if he doesn't, I guess it will probably be one more symptom of the dreaded third termitis manifesting itself.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 113 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood,

    I suppose it’s possible that in taking any action National could risk losing voters, but it’s hard to see where they’d go

    Maybe the Conservatives, whose only distinguishing feature from National (in my view) seems to be a focus on morality, but if they got over 5% that would not actually be a bad thing for National. A more real concern would be moving people to the "not voting" category, where two votes moving to non-vote is the same effect as one vote moving to an opposing party. Now, how many people might feel strongly enough about this issue not to vote is another question entirely.

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 1443 posts Report Reply

  • Moz,

    I'm amused by the very small difference between pain relief and pain relief with terminal illness - the shift is barely detectable and it's entirely between decriminalise and legalise.

    I think you're also seeing an issue that divides The Greens. Some supporters are old school anti-smokers who wouldn't smoke anything if their life depended on it, any more than they're use depleted uranium bullets to kill an invasion of Godzillas, or use asbestos brake linings in their trains. Those things are just wrong, the end.

    I'm kinda in that category, except that it's also something where the libertarians have enough of their anarchist roots showing to encompass my position: do what you like, but don't harm others. The usual consumer protections should apply, just as they do to alcohol and tobacco. But any harm reduction stuff should start with the drugs of most harm.

    I would quite cheerfully see people made bankrupt when they eventually get out of prison for crimes like planting marijuana in National Parks, and I think people who smoke around people who have not consented should be prosecuted. But what they smoke in private is entirely up to them, as is who they buy it from and how it's manufactured. I don't think it's reasonable to say "cigarettes grown and manufactured using slaves in grossly unsafe conditions are fine, but P made at home by drug addicts is unacceptable". Draw the line, consistently.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1120 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Moz,

    Some supporters are old school anti-smokers who wouldn’t smoke anything if their life depended on it

    I don't think anyone's suggesting compulsion (although maybe if the government thought that it could substitute weed for medical services, it'd legalise it in a flash).

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Moz,

    The usual consumer protections should apply, just as they do to alcohol and tobacco. But any harm reduction stuff should start with the drugs of most harm.

    Well, there are harms from cannabis – but they’re all easier to address when the law isn’t in the way. Māori aren’t only more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for cannabis possession, they’re also markedly less likely to get the help they need. From a Matters of Substance story I wrote last year:

    According to Te Rau Hinengaro: The 
New Zealand Mental Health Survey 2006, nearly a third of Māori will experience a substance use disorder in their lives. Even after adjusting for socio-economic factors, the burden of these disorders on the Māori population is twice the national average
 – this is true of no other ethnic group.

    The drug that caused the most harm, by far, was alcohol – a quarter of Māori subjects in the survey had experienced an alcohol disorder at the time of being interviewed, but nearly 15 percent had experienced a drug disorder, mainly involving cannabis. Māori men and rangatahi were at even greater risk.

    The 2012–2013 New Zealand Health Survey into cannabis use found that Māori men and women were more than twice as likely to use cannabis as non-Māori, Māori cannabis users were 50 percent more likely to report weekly use than non-Māori users and “Māori adults and adults living in the most deprived areas were more likely to report using cannabis in the last 12 months”.

    The same study found Māori were twice as likely to experience problems with work or study as a result of cannabis use, 25 percent more likely to experienced related mental health problems and nearly twice as likely to experience legal problems.

    The earlier New Zealand Alcohol and Drug Use Survey 2007–2008 found Māori were significantly more likely to have used methamphetamine in the past year than non-Māori. It also found Māori were “significantly more likely to have wanted help to reduce their level of drug use in their lifetime but not received it, compared with people in the total population”.

    So harm reduction strategies should definitely apply to cannabis. Smoking bad? Tell people that vaporisers are a better option. Someone in your family has a cannabis dependence problem? Tell where to get some help for that – and make sure the help is actually available.

    Someone on Twitter mentioned the current drug driving ad on NZ TV. It doesn't tell people not to smoke weed because it's against the law, it doesn't mention the law at all, it says "don't get wasted and drive". It's a really good example of the growing gulf between official policy and practice and the actual law:

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22584 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    I don't think anyone's suggesting compulsion

    My point is more that from a "we should ban smoking" perspective, making it legal to smoke something new doesn't make sense.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1120 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Russell Brown,

    they’re all easier to address when the law isn’t in the way. Māori aren’t only more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for cannabis possession, they’re also markedly less likely to get the help they need.

    No argument there. I'm not suggesting that cannabis is harmless, just that if you ranked drugs by harm it wouldn't be at the top. Although if you include the harm from making it illegal and policing it, that pushes it much higher (but somehow the legal side of this debate never does that).

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1120 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Moz,

    No argument there. I’m not suggesting that cannabis is harmless, just that if you ranked drugs by harm it wouldn’t be at the top.

    Ah, gotcha.

    Although if you include the harm from making it illegal and policing it, that pushes it much higher (but somehow the legal side of this debate never does that).

    When the police were allowed to devise the Drug Harm Index, that's exactly what they did: they counted the cost of policing in drug harms. So they more they policed, the more they could claim harm. It was absurd.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22584 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Russell Brown,

    the more they policed, the more they could claim harm. It was absurd.

    It seems apt to ask "what were they smoking"? That's actually very creative in a perverse sort of way.

    That would be useful as an example of perverse incentives in public policy.

    Albeit I originally meant "policing cost" in the sense of destroyed lives and so on, rather than counting the spending on criminalisation as part of the monetary cost of drug use. In economics I'm sure they call it "lost potential" or "diminished future earnings" or something, rather than using moral terms. In Australia we have some absolute world-best practitioners of "separate the economics from the morals", and that does extend to policing and the law, as you might be aware from the recent media coverage of the remarkably cost-efficient efforts in the NT "helping the youth obey the law" programs.

    (Sadly, a lot of Australian politics doesn't so much skirt Godwins Law as deliberately aim for it and drive right on out the other side)

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1120 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    I got the impression that Key was espousing his personal position, or that of the caucus coterie, which is a very small sample and not (as you point out) in line with the wishes of the people of the country, including a compelling number of National voters.
    Key doesn't get to govern based on his own wishes - has anyone explained that to him properly.

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7743 posts Report Reply

  • izogi,

    Well, firstly, he doesn't know that. Secondly, it's not true – a number of people convicted as a result of last summer's expensive but newsworthy cannabis recovery operation identified themselves as medical cannabis users. And thirdly, a leader who has just hailed the role of Parliament shouldn't be in the next breath handing over the content of the law to police.

    Also, even if it weren't true, and if Police could somehow be trusted, it's both unfair and rather disgusting for the PM to be condoning an approach whereby the quality of sick people's treatment is determined by the willingness that they, their family and friends have with breaking the law and risking prosecution... even if on paper.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1139 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen R,

    When there are laws that most people are breaking, but the police let slide unless they're upset with you for some other reason, then that gives the police an enormous amount of potential for influencing behaviour that isn't illegal.

    If you know the police disapprove of something legal, and if they look hard they'll be able to arrest you for something which, while illegal, is done by most people, then you'll tend to not do the thing that the police disapprove of, despite it being legal.

    Which is why, while in some ways I approve of police discretion, I look sideways at laws which are not uniformly enforced, especially with ones that have harsh punishments (and currently the consequences for international travel and some jobs for having a drug conviction are quite harsh).

    Wellington • Since Jul 2009 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • Jason Kemp,

    I recently watched the Ken Burns documentary miniseries on Prohibition. What was very interesting about it was all the unintended consequences of those laws and how that played out. Various commentators in that series may have overstated their views but the criminalisation of alcohol was said to have created many of the organised crime in the U.S at the time.

    Regardless of whether that might have happened in any case the criminalisation of alcohol resulted in widespread disrespect for the prohibition law. A word was even invented for that “scofflaw”.

    Institutions and governments don’t ever seem to learn from history. I don’t know what the answer is here but as a nation we have developed rules around alcohol use that generally work. The tax system is weighted towards the health costs however it doesn’t seem that we are prepared to look at the same legal structure for managing cannabis.

    The last time I checked 22 U.S States had legalised some form of use and are benefitting from tax revenues and the decriminalisation aspects.

    Surely there is something to be learned from that?

    As others have noted the present government is still socially conservative. Any actual law change will happen only when public opinion changes. The short term answer has to be better informed public debate but I’m afraid we have a news media running on auto pilot.

    Just today the PM has been reported as changing rules around GCSB snooping on NZers’. This is u-turn and exactly opposite what he said last year but it it is reported as a news item with no attempt at balance or any kind of argument.

    This is relevant because if we want public opinion to be informed and coherent we also have to have a media that is capable and willing. This is same media that are still publishing moral panic stories say regarding the cleaning up of P houses with no mention of the science at all.

    I am personally not a fan of smoking anything but I did read somewhere that Colorado was using at least some of the revenues from legalised cannabis use to fund education programmes.

    According to this graph NZ has the third highest score on Adult lifetime cannabis use by country after the U.S and Canada so perhaps public opinion changes are not far behind?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 358 posts Report Reply

  • bob daktari,

    The interesting thing about the poll is that it was commissioned by the Drug Foundation from Curia Research

    I read that as being quite clever - how better to get the govt looking at drug policy or at least the results of a poll like this than using their preferred means of knowing stuff

    I'm quite heartened by the poll and hope/expect National do their trademark about turn when they realise its good for them to do so... cause if anyone hoping for change can see Labour's stance of the past week only has one face palming and realising they aren't going to be anything but embarrassing over this issue for the time being

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 533 posts Report Reply

  • Cameron Price,

    This from Stats NZ: Last year, fewer than 0.13% of cannabis users were convicted for possession and/or use as their most serious offence.

    This from Ministry of Justice: Last year, 0.28% of cannabis users were convicted for possession and/or use as their most serious offence.

    If he's worried about sending a message, he probably shouldn't announce to the public that he's happy that police don't prosecute in the overwhelming majority of cases.

    The logical inconsistency of "I don't want decrim but don't worry it's basically what we've got" is breathtaking.

    Imagine hearing Key's comments and being one of the >1%. It's not only a stupid position to hold, it's just downright cruel.

    Wellington • Since Mar 2016 • 5 posts Report Reply

  • Cameron Price, in reply to Cameron Price,

    Also, what message does he think Parliament sends about alcohol?

    Wellington • Since Mar 2016 • 5 posts Report Reply

  • izogi, in reply to Cameron Price,

    Do you happen to know how Stats and MoJ measure or estimate the number of cannabis users to the point that such specific numbers can be derived to two decimal places of a percentage point?

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1139 posts Report Reply

  • Cameron Price, in reply to izogi,

    Data collection is incredibly poor in this area, so you're right that those two specific decimal points are not an exact representation of what is happening. Here's where I got those numbers:

    The Ministry of Health reports that 400,000 New Zealanders used cannabis in the past year. Stats NZ put the total figure of ALL illicit drug use/possession convictions as the most serious offence at 513, the Ministry of Justice puts the number of CANNABIS use/possession convictions as the most serious offence at 1,105.

    Unclear why the disparity given the Stats NZ data come from Ministry of Justice. No explanation was forthcoming from Stats NZ so I have reached out to the Ministry of Justice for an explanation.

    But it's important not to miss the forest for the trees: even if there were 10,000 convictions (which there almost certainly was not), it would still only equate to 2.5% of users being convicted.

    Wellington • Since Mar 2016 • 5 posts Report Reply

  • mark taslov, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Graeme Edgeler put it to me on Twitter this morning that Key was applauded for emphasising that the police would apply their discretion when the Section 59 “reasonable force” defence for child discipline was removed – so why scorn him for saying the same about drug law? And why is one “message” law, passed on the understanding that it would not lead to prosecution in every case, a good thing, when another is not? He wasn’t just trolling: it’s a reasonable philosphical question.

    More than anything else this affirms the adage that one person’s reasonable philisophical question is another’s feckless musing. Through the looking glass, It’s not unheard of to enter the centre of this admittedly small town and be greeted by a similar THC to air ratio as one would expect to enjoy at a Bob Marley concert.

    The probability that local police are unaware of this is highly unlikely given that the police station is within 20 metres of the shop from which the psychoactive smoke tends to emanate. Yes the local police force is ludicrously understaffed, but it’s hardly wanton conjecture to surmise that part of the reason our community centre occasionally doubles as a defacto hotbox is an outcome of this discretion that Mr Key et al are advocating i.e. the widespread understanding that the consequences of punishment far outweigh the harm generated – either that or the police are as blazed as anyone else game enough to venture into the mini-Woodstock our community hub becomes, especially on Fridays.

    Were our town centre age restricted it may be all well and good, but as the police station lies opposite the local park (itself equidistant from the smoke source) which is unsurprisingly frequented by children, (whom research reveals are most likely to be adversely affected by exposure to cannabis and its derivatives), the suggestion with regard to cannabis use – that there are no victims beyond the toker – tends to overlook that while it is incredibly difficult to either passively smack or be smacked, exposure (active or otherwise) to airborne substances is in some instances regarded as a serious issue, as evidenced by the numerous local laws around the country desginating smoke free areas.

    If police are unwilling to enforce smoke free legislation in instances where it would require also enforcing unattractive and outdated psychoactive substance legislation then what difference would implementing legislation to create a smoke free town centre make in this case?

    In terms of our elected representatives, limiting our criticisms to John Key seems parochially partisan given the cowardice and share ineptness shown by our would-be leaders across the spectrum – for a couple of days last week I was a prospective Labour voter.

    Yes we are only just a small town, but that needn’t be taken as any indication that we wouldn’t welcome coherent, considered and enforceable legislation designed for the benefit of New Zealand as a whole.

    Despite feeling as if I’d just emerged from a Cannabis Cup quarter final I was glad to later learn that I had successfully posted my parcel to the correct destination.

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2240 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to mark taslov,

    I believe the smoke free environments law is enforced by the Ministry of Health primarily, rather than police, and applies to smoking anything in a public premise.

    But maybe the elders of your town prefer the challenged to be nicely stoned inside the community centre than wandering the streets annoying people.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • mark taslov, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    I believe the smoke free environments law is enforced by the Ministry of Health primarily, rather than police, and applies to smoking anything in a public premise.

    It’s by the by, I presented the possibility of making our own centre smoke free in anticipation of any suggestion that doing so would make a difference to the way the cannabis legislation is currently not enforced by the police.

    But maybe the elders of your town prefer the challenged to be nicely stoned inside the community centre than wandering the streets annoying people.

    Sorry by elders I assume you’d be referring to the local council, and no, I’ve yet to observe any instances of them referring to members of the community so dickishly. Go troll your family.

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2240 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to bob daktari,

    Labour's stance of the past week only has one face palming

    I sometimes feel Little is the kind of guy who would call the bomb-squad to blow up his own birthday presents.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2083 posts Report Reply

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