Labour violins getting ahead of writing the symphony

One repeat criticism of Labour in Government, with Jacinda Ardern leading, is that they are talking the talk far more walking the policies. I think this criticism is justified.

So does John Roughan:  Labour violins play but ovation must wait

Labour governments have one habit that annoys me intensely. They love to trumpet big liberal social advances without doing the hard work. The last Labour Government made an art-form of this and the present one is shaping up to be just the same.

This week its Health Minister, David Clark, moved the final reading of the bill legalising medicinal cannabis and hailed it as “compassionate and progressive” legislation that would make a difference to people living in pain and nearing the end of their lives. You could almost hear the violins playing in Labour minds and see the wistful look in their eyes as they imagined this moment in a movie made for audiences susceptible to simplified social history.

While the medicinal cannabis bill is progress (anything would be progress compared to what National stalled) but it is hardly a great progressive moment. And the compassion is limited to some and excludes many others, like those who suffer from chronic pain and prefer safer, less addictive but illegal relief.

You had to read the news reports carefully to notice that a great deal of work on the bill, now law, has still to be done. “Little” details such as, what cannabis products? How will people know they are effective? Who will be allowed to make them? How are you going to restrict them to people genuinely in pain or terminally ill?

All those questions, and more, have been passed to officials in the Ministry of Health. Until they can work them out the legislation does almost nothing, it’s just a statute of intention.

And a problem with this is that the Ministry of Health has proven to be far from progressive in dealing with medicinal cannabis. We won’t know how much real progress the current bill will make for up to a year.

It annoys me intensely because it is dishonest. Not just politically, but intellectually dishonest, which you would not expect Labour people to be. I don’t understand how they can take pride in acts of principle that leave so many practical difficulties demanding answers.

Fair call from Roughan.

To my mind, if a principle is not practical there is probably something wrong with it.

Ironically, the one thing this week’s legislation has done immediately is provide the terminally ill with a legal defence should they be prosecuted for using the drug while it remains illegal. Since they were never likely to be prosecuted that pretty much confirms the status quo.

While Labour play the violins of progress the tune is often much the same as National’s.

Labour seems divided on the subject. Police Minister Stuart Nash and Health Minister Clark this week announced a toughening of the laws against the manufacture and sales of synthetics, classifying them as class A drugs which I guess means the end of the attempt to provide a legal framework for them.

At the same time they announced a directive to the police would be written into the Misuse of Drugs Act to use their discretion not to prosecute for mere possession of all drugs (all?) where a therapeutic approach might be more beneficial. Again, the status quo, for lesser classes of drugs anyway. Discretion works well enough in practice but how do you define it in law? More hard work for somebody else.

Much of the work on regulations for the medical marijuana was in fact done by a new MP in National’s caucus, a physician, Dr Shane Reti.

Reti spent last summer in the US talking to officials in states that have legalised the drug for medicinal use. On return, he drafted a private members’ bill that appeared fairly practical and capable of controlling the standard and distribution of cannabis in medicinal forms.

He convinced the National caucus to support legalisation and for a while it seemed the Government might write his proposals into its bill. But though he was deputy chair of the select committee on the bill, it didn’t happen. It is hard to know why.

Labour could hardly claim to be the great progressive party but helped by National.

Maybe this Government is using medical legalisation to soften the electorate for general decriminalisation before we get a referendum on that issue. Is that the kind of dishonesty we are dealing with? I prefer to think not, and that Reti’s work will not be wasted when National returns.

There is a real possibility that Labour has used the medicinal cannabis bill to appear to be doing something (that they had promised to do with urgency) but in fact have used it to kick the cannabis can down the road.

The violins play while the opportunity to be progressive runs away. It’s almost as if Labour are running away from it.

I was resigned to National continuing to stall progress on drug law reform, but especially after Labour’s promises their hollow violin promises are even more disappointing.

3 Comments

  1. Blazer

     /  December 16, 2018

    Roughan was a cheerleader of the previous Govt who had a propensity for …’aspirational’ targets.
    And that band played…on..

  2. Duker

     /  December 16, 2018

    Its good that this fetish for legalising increased use for what is essentially a harmful substance is stopped in its tracks
    Amoung other problems:
    “The consistent finding of an association between cannabis use and psychosis makes chance an unlikely explanation of the association, and there are also now a number of prospective studies showing that cannabis use often precedes psychosis.”
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2424288/

    There is very minimal evidence it gives relief for many other illnesses, and none of those involve the loose leaf form which are smoked.

    We even had a poll last week that claimed to be along the lines of the usual random poll of Nzers, when in fact it was a self selecting online panel where they email panelists with
    come- ons. Once hooked they get to answer plenty of run of the mill questions about mobile plans and other consumer trivia along with the ‘catch about cannabis law changes. But the reality is hidden under the magic word of poll thinking its a real representative poll.

  3. Kitty Catkin

     /  December 16, 2018

    Dr Reti is a GP or a doctor, he’s not in the US.

    I dislike surveys and polls where it’s impossible to answer accurately; they are more or less the old ‘Yes or No, do you still beat your wife.?’