Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: What we learned yesterday about the cannabis referendum

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  • Russell Brown,

    Hearing that final delegations of ministerial responsibilities have not been settled – and that as Associate Health minister Julie Anne Genter may not get drug policy as has been the case in governments stretching back to 1999.

    That would be a mistake – not least for Labour.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens,

    Interesting how devolved much of the overseas decision making is on pot. Perhaps we should explore regional options/control of at least some aspects of marijuana law reform in NZ?

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2213 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell,

    Someone on twitter dubbed it the "reeferendum" ...

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2606 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Paul Campbell,

    Someone on twitter dubbed it the “reeferendum” …

    Sofie Bribiesca used the term in these very pages 8 years ago
    https://publicaddress.net/system/cafe/hard-news-drugs-and-sex/?p=120006#post120006
    I hope she is well these days.

    ..and I repeated it last year https://publicaddress.net/system/cafe/hard-news-cannabis-reform-is-not-a-mission/?p=365554#post365554 - but it probably even had a life before both of us...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7889 posts Report Reply

  • Marcelo Rodriguez Ferrere,

    A thoughtful, informative post, Russell. Thanks. One note:

    but Ontario is going for 19 – and, in an unpopular move, a state government monopoly on sales.

    It's worth noting that this is likely because the both the same age and sale restrictions currently apply to alcohol. The province controls, quite successfully, the sale of alcohol (with some minor exceptions) through its own province-owned outlets. It works pretty well, actually, and I would think poses quite a fine model for cannabis sales.

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 33 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    It does seem odd to have a referendum. Shouldn't a decision on the best way to deal with drugs be evidence based, within a framework of political philosophy (such as whether people's bodies are their own, or chattels of the state? You could have a referendum on that.)

    We don't have referenda on the speed limit, or the base interest rate?

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

  • Luke Williamson, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    Absolutely agree Rich. Forget about a referendum and just get on with some effective, evidence-based policy, and then own it at the next election. I think the debate about whether to is over, it's about how to. Just get on with it and don't waste the time/money on a referendum. It will probably be impossible to frame a question that gives the answer required.

    Warkworth • Since Oct 2007 • 296 posts Report Reply

  • Nick Russell,

    Hmm. I'm not sure this is a positive development at all and I worry that it might be set up to fail just like Winston's retirement savings referendum back in the 90s. A lot of people seem to regard referendums as an imposition or even an insult. They certainly do not provoke rational political debates. Ask John Key. It wouldn't take much for this to backfire and put the cause of drug law reform back by years.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 122 posts Report Reply

  • william blake, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    We don’t have a referendum on the speed limit.

    No, because of engineering, physics and public safety but we should have a referendum on the $ value of the fine imposed relative to the drivers income or the value of the vehicle.

    Since Mar 2010 • 378 posts Report Reply

  • Zach Bagnall,

    Impairment while driving is in the news here in Colorado fairly regularly, usually whenever some new statistic is released. They're still figuring it out. There isn't a reliable roadside test and even a blood test doesn't necessarily indicate impairment since frequent users become highly tolerant of it.

    Random linkage: http://www.denverpost.com/2017/08/25/marijuana-impairment-testing/

    I'm more afraid of drivers staring down at their phones than those driving while high, but expect this will be made an issue if full legalization ever looks likely in NZ.

    Colorado • Since Nov 2006 • 120 posts Report Reply

  • Euan Mason, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    t does seem odd to have a referendum. Shouldn't a decision on the best way to deal with drugs be evidence based, within a framework of political philosophy (such as whether people's bodies are their own, or chattels of the state? You could have a referendum on that.)

    Politics is always as much about public opinions as it is about evidence. A referendum can promote information of the public.

    Canterbury • Since Jul 2008 • 258 posts Report Reply

  • linger,

    though it can also promote misinformation of the public
    (cf so-called "smacking" referendum)

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1889 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Bell,

    The referendum is an opportunity... Not a perfect one, but we should make the best of it.

    And it's not the last word. We have other reforms we could achieve before 2020.

    And whoever is minister (unlikely JAG) we can work with them... Peter Dunne is a study in how good evidence sold well can shift someone's position.

    Let's not relegate drug policy to an associate outside of cabinet in a junior party (a la Anderton and Dunne). Having the Health Minister retain responsibility is great. And don't stop there: involve other senior ministers in it... like the justice minister for example. Make drug policy mainstream.

    Wellington, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 168 posts Report Reply

  • Shane Le Brun, in reply to Ross Bell,

    That's quite a positive spin on it. My dealings with David usually resulted in being told to talk to Julie as Labour didn't want any flack in an election year on MedCan. Julie's bill had won her the hearts and minds of the MedCan Patient population.

    Since Mar 2015 • 46 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Nick Russell,

    A lot of people seem to regard referendums as an imposition or even an insult.

    Sign me up with those people -- because last time I looked, a few weeks ago we held a free, fair and credible general election to elect a legislature to legislate.

    So, yeah, I thought non-binding poorly-framed opinion polls were bullshit when it came to the flag or when our freshly minted Deputy Prime Minister wanted marriage equality ratified by a plebiscite. (Which is working so damn well for our Anzac cousins, ay?)

    If this Government actually believes it is time for drug law reform then they should sit the fuck down, thrash out legislation and put it on the order paper with a full debate at every stage and a robust select committee process with an extended public submission period and public hearings.

    Otherwise, I think it's perfectly fair to start asking the Prime Minister why "Let's do this" changed so quickly to "Let's outsource this."

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    Why bother asking that question when we know the answer: they had to go into coalition with a partner that wants as much as possible done through referenda. We can wish it were otherwise, but there it is. That nod to realpolitik (*hoik* *spit*) aside, I agree with you entirely.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1889 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Young,

    I oppose any use of referenda outside constitutional questions- they are too expensive and detract from service provision. When it comes to medicinal cannabis, what should happen is this (a) amendment of Category C of the Misuse of Drugs Act to exempt medicinal cannabis and related products from its recreational ambit (b) the establishment of a wide-ranging set of medical conditions that could benefit from the analgesic and palliative application of medicinal cannabis and its derivatives (c) the establishment of a national registry of medicinal cannabis users (d) and the issuing of 'green cards' akin to Community Service Cards to show to law enforcement and other personnel.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 566 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Young,

    And then we should legislate for recreational cannabis use as a seperate issue on its own merits and evidence-based substantive risks. Which might be met through a pragmatic shunting of risk attribution to P/crystal meth, which is demonstrably more dangerous.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 566 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Luke Williamson,

    Absolutely agree Rich. Forget about a referendum and just get on with some effective, evidence-based policy, and then own it at the next election. I think the debate about whether to is over, it’s about how to. Just get on with it and don’t waste the time/money on a referendum.

    I'd prefer that too. But if it were that simple it would have happened already. There's a reason it took ballot initiatives for things to start moving in Colorado et al. Here, we have a centre-right party that set its face against any change and a centre-left party where there is still some deep resistance. If it takes a popular vote to focus minds, so be it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to linger,

    Why bother asking that question when we know the answer: they had to go into coalition with a partner that wants as much as possible done through referenda.

    I think it's a little more nuanced than that. The proposal for a cannabis referendum struck a sweet spot because it had been (and possibly still is) NZ First policy. So it wasn't just "here's a referendum, you like those", it was "here's that cannabis referendum you've been calling for".

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Craig Young,

    And then we should legislate for recreational cannabis use as a seperate issue on its own merits and evidence-based substantive risks.

    To be fair, most of the complexity of medical cannabis regulation goes away if you have recreational sorted. You can focus on actual medical regulation without worrying whether you're doing de facto legalisation.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    If this Government actually believes it is time for drug law reform then they should sit the fuck down, thrash out legislation and put it on the order paper with a full debate at every stage and a robust select committee process with an extended public submission period and public hearings.

    In the event of a positive referendum result, all those things will happen. And you'll probably see more cross-party buy-in. I'm just mindful of of the fact that we've had two select committee inquiries and a Law Commission review that have all come to roughly the same conclusion: cannabis law needs reforming. And because of the politics of drug reform, it never bloody happens.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Zach Bagnall,

    Impairment while driving is in the news here in Colorado fairly regularly, usually whenever some new statistic is released. They’re still figuring it out. There isn’t a reliable roadside test and even a blood test doesn’t necessarily indicate impairment since frequent users become highly tolerant of it.

    It's really hard. I talked to Washington State's pot czar Mark Kleiman three years ago when they were gearing up for legalisation:

    “Nobody wants to say it out loud, but I think it probably needs a good leaving alone,” says Kleiman.

    “Here’s the problem: it’s clear that being stoned decreases your executive function and multi-tasking ability. It renders many people inattentive.

    “It’s also clear that knowing you’re stoned leads people to be cautious – the opposite of alcohol. The stereotypical stoned driver is driving 15 miles an hour in a 40 zone. He’s paranoid about how he’s driving.

    “So that sounds like good news. The other thing that sounds like good news is, when you let an experienced pot smoker get as stoned as they want and put them ona simulator, their degradation is at about the level of .08 BAC. That’s just about the threshold of what’s considered impaired driving for alcohol.

    “So all of that doesn’t sound like it adds up to extremely dangerous driving. Now the bad news – people are empirically impaired for several hours after they’re subjectively back to baseline. So the people who don’t think they’re stoned are the potentially dangerous drivers.

    “THC is fat soluble, and unless you do very fancy stuff with metabolite ratios, you can’t tell whether somebody smoked two hours ago or three days ago. And so if you have a strict nanogram per millilitre rule, which is what’s in the Washington statutes, anybody who’s a regular pot smoker can never drive. That’s not workable.

    “And the other bad news is that people don’t just use pot. So here’s a rule I would have. If you have cannabis on board, then your blood alcohol content limit is zero. You may not drive with both cannabis and alcohol in your system. And that’s an easy rule to observe. Your BAC will be zero n hours after your nth drink. So if you are going to be a smoker, you may not drive for as many hours as you’ve had drinks. Zero’s a good number.”

    The lack of a non-invasive roadside test is a significant factor, he says.

    “Unless there’s an accident and someone’s injured, I just don’t think anyone’s going to be caught for driving under the influence of cannabis.”

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Young,

    It just makes more strategic sense to me to fence medicinal cannabis off and then deal with recreational cannabis as a seperate issue. That appears to be what happened in the case of US state decriminalisation of first medicinal and then recreational cannabis. Note that I am not necessarily opposed to the latter, but a seperate recreational cannabis campaign could also focus attention on the lack of evidential backing for the categories within the current Misuse of Drugs Act and raise important questions about the current regulatory regime of controlled substances within it.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 566 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford, in reply to Craig Young,

    It just makes more strategic sense to me to fence medicinal cannabis off and then deal with recreational cannabis as a seperate issue.

    That's the case with opiates.

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4316 posts Report Reply

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