Family First mind altering cannabis poll

It’s easy to see what Family First were on when they commissioned a cannabis poll with Curia Market Research – publishing their results on a website called saynopetodope.org.nz/poll confirms a distinct bias.

Curia is a reputable polling company, but they do what clients want, and Family First got what they wanted. To get a different result to past polls showing clear majorities support cannabis law reform of some sort required some leading poll questions and misleading reporting to the poll.

Family First:  New poll suggests only 18% of Kiwis support recreational cannabis legalisation

A new poll commissioned by conservative Christian lobbyist group Family First has found that less than 20% of New Zealanders support legalisation of recreational marijuana, but there is strong support for its medicinal use.

The independent poll, carried out earlier this month by Curia Market Research, surveyed 1000 randomly selected people reflective of overall voters.

But the results contradict previous polls, conducted in New Zealand using similar sample sizes, which have found that Kiwis tend to be evenly divided on the issue. For instance, a 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton poll conducted in October suggested that 46% of Kiwis were in favour of legalisation of cannabis for personal use and 41% were against.

They are correct about the Colmar Brunton poll

“The Government will hold a referendum on legalising marijuana. Do you think the personal use of marijuana
should be legalised?”

  • Yes 46%
  • No 41%
  • Don’t know 12%

Interviewing took place from October 15 to October 19, with 1006 eligible voters contacted either by landline or mobile phone. The maximum sampling error was ±3.1 per cent.

…but that doesn’t ask what the Greens are proposing for the referendum – some legalisation, but with age and sale restrictions.

But they didn’t mention a NZ Herald/Horizon poll also taken in October: 60 per cent support for legal cannabis – new poll

A new poll shows that 60 per cent of New Zealanders would vote to legalise cannabis for personal use in a referendum.

It also reveals that over 300,000 Kiwi adults – mainly the youngest and the poorest – are using cannabis daily – in contrast with other research that show far lower daily use.

The poll is the first since the Government announced last month that the referendum on the issue will take place at the same time as the 2020 election and would be binding.

Though the question that will be put to voters has yet to be decided, the confidence and supply agreement between Labour and the Greens states that the referendum will be “on legalising the personal use of cannabis”.

That is the same question that was used in a new survey, by Horizon Research and commissioned by licensed medicinal cannabis company Helius Therapeutics.

  • Yes 60%
  • No 24%
  • No opinion 16%

Quite a different result. Why? It can depend on what questions are asked, and how they are asked.

The Horizon poll asked more detailed questions:

  • 63% wanted a regulated market for legal cannabis with licensed operators
  • 39% wanted the legal age to buy cannabis to be 18; 36% supported 21; 32% said if the legal age was set too high, it would lead to a black market
  • 58% said penalties for breaking the law in a legal cannabis market should be about the same for breaking the law on alcohol sales; 28% supported severe penalties
  • 18% supported the Government owning and controlling all production and sale of cannabis
  • 40% wanted a Government excise tax, and 68% said any tax revenue should go towards health services
  • 60% said they believed legal cannabis would result in lower levels of crime, or have no effect, while about a third said it would reduce harm and a quarter said it would increase harm.
  • 81% support medicinal cannabis

From a nationwide survey conducted in October of 995 adults 18 and over, and weighted to be representative of the population at the 2013 census. The margin of error is 3.1 per cent.

To understand the Family First poll result it’s worth looking at the questions they asked.

  1. If restrictions on the use of cannabis were reduced, do you think the use of cannabis would increase, decrease or remain the same?
  2. Do you believe tobacco companies are pushing for restrictions on cannabis to be lifted?
  3. Do you think cannabis use can damage the brains of young people under the age of 25?
  4. Do you think that drivers using cannabis are more likely or less likely to cause accidents?
  5. Do you think that young people under the age of 25 who regularly use cannabis are more likely or less likely to get a job?

So the poll starts by asking four questions about possible negative effects of cannabis use, plus a bizarre implication that tobacco companies could be involved.

Only then did they ask the question that they headline:

6. Which of the following statements comes closest to your opinion on cannabis?

  • Current restrictions remain 7%
  • Lift restrictions for medical but not recreational use 65%
  • Lift restrictions for recreational use 18%
  • Unsure/Refuse 10%

The Government is not proposing to “lift restrictions for recreational use” anywhere near completely. They make it clear they want significant restrictions to remain.

Asking leading questions like this is a technique that is specifically not recommended in polling. Curia is a member of the Research Association of NZ, which states in their political polling guidelines:

Question Order

It is recommended the principal voting behaviour question be asked before all other questions

The report must disclose the order of questions asked and any political questions asked before the principal voting behaviour question

The story should disclose any other questions which may have impacted the responses to the principal voting
behaviour question

The principal voting behaviour question was asked last, not first, and this was not disclosed in the Family First publicity releases. The story also did not disclose the wording of the questions and did not disclose all the questions.

The full poll report (not clearly linked) headed Curia Market Research did disclose the questions and order of questions. it states:

CODE COMPLIANCE: This poll was conducted in accordance with the New Zealand Political Polling Code, the Research Association New Zealand Code of Practice and the International Chamber of Commerce/European Society for Opinion and Market Research Code on Market and Social Research.

It also included the NZ Political Polling Code emblem as per “Compliant polls Polls following the code are entitled to use the emblem below to signal their compliance.”

I question whether the Family First cannabis poll complied with the Polling Code or Code of Practice.

It doesn’t help perceptions that Curia does National Party polling, and Simon Bridges and other National MPs have expressed their opposition to cannabis law reform.

Family First are trying to alter minds and opinions on the proposed cannabis referendum by pushing some fairly strong crap into the debate.

More on this at Stuff:  The great weed wars of 2020 could be defined by blue on green friendly fire

Is a referendum the best way to deal with cannabis law reform?

In theory letting the people decide on whether we liberalise our drug laws in relation to cannabis via a referendum sounds like a good democratic approach, but is it actually the best way to deal with it?

One problem is that our politicians do not have experience or a good history of letting the people decide. The flag debate and referendums were a shambles, in large part due to how our politicians stuffed things around.

Benedikt Fischer (Hugh Green Foundation Chair in Addiction Research and Professor, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, at the University of Auckland) looks at the cannabis issue –  NZ’s potential cannabis policy pitfalls

In New Zealand, the prospects of fundamental liberalising reform to cannabis prohibition are heading into an acute phase. In recent months, the Government has provided incremental clarification that the issues will be decided on through a public referendum to occur on general election day in 2020. Based on recent statements by the Prime Minister, this referendum will be based on a question on possible cannabis control reform to be drafted by Cabinet.

While a referendum is a legitimate means of decision-making on public policy, and has been applied in areas of drug control elsewhere, it is an approach that comes with distinct dynamics in terms of process – regardless of where one sits on the ‘opinion fence’.

Without question, dealing with cannabis control reform through a referendum is an unusual choice in the socio-political context of New Zealand, where few policy issues have been decided by direct democracy. Rather, New Zealand routinely develops or changes law or policy, including on many no-less fundamental or controversial topics, by relying on the standard procedures of its parliamentary democracy.

What makes cannabis control so unique or different that it requires such a special approach?

Our politicians have avoided addressing dysfunctional drug laws for decades. They have been sort of forced into doing something, but may see a referendum as a way of either sabotaging the process. CGT policy was dumped without going to an election with it as promised.

Yet irrespective of these general queries, and embracing the possible benefits of direct decision-making on cannabis legalisation ‘by the people’, there are various issues or possible pitfalls to consider.

First, in order for a referendum on cannabis reform to work and produce meaningful results, it needs to occur on the basis of a concise and clear question. This question, however, requires comprehensive foundational clarity regarding what overall cannabis reform plan the Government exactly intends to propose and implement. And this involves many devils hidden in many details.

For example, a legalisation model in which cannabis use, availability, production and product, advertising, etcetera, are only loosely regulated is very different from one where these essential parameters are tightly controlled and restricted.

One of several key challenges here will be to clearly convey the difference between ‘decriminalisation’ and ‘legalisation’ reforms for cannabis. Notwithstanding many – including leading politicians – viewing and using these concepts as if interchangeable, they are fundamentally different: While the former typically softens the punitive consequences for illegal drug use or sales, and commonly relies on ‘diversion’ measures like education or treatment programs, it retains their formal illegality. In contrast, ‘legalisation’ renders use and availability truly legal in principle, and relies mainly on regulatory measures for control and restrictions.

Public referenda, especially on controversial value issues with implications for society at large, like drug control, can be tricky undertakings.

But why are they tricky? Politicians have a habit of making things seem tricky when they don’;t want to take responsibility and do anything. I hope they surprise me, but I fear that the public will end up being manipulated and let down.

A referendum gives our politicians scope for messing up the decision making and then handing the blame to voters.

75% Māori support for legalising cannabis

According to a poll a significant majority of Māori – 75% – say they would vote for legalising cannabis for personal use. This is in line with general population polls, but it shows that Māori views are similar to overall views.

Support legalising cannabis for personal use:

  • Yes 75%
  • No 14%
  • Unsure 11%

78% favour seeing legislation before the referendum (so that the referendum approves or rejects the legislation).

RNZ: Poll shows 75 percent of Māori support cannabis legalisation

A Horizon Research poll for Three’s The Hui programme found 75 percent of 620 Māori surveyed would vote for legalising cannabis, if a referendum was held tomorrow.

Drugs Foundation chair Tuari Potiki said today’s results puncture the belief this is solely a white, middle class issue.

Mr Potiki said cannabis was a totally unregulated market, harming whanau.

“We want to see the toughest regulation possible to add an element of control to a market that’s out of control,” he said.

“Three times more money and resourcing goes into police, customs and correction than providing treatment, so we want to see that resource shifted.”

Māori were being disproportionately harmed by current legislation and the survey results showed Māori want change, Mr Potiki said.

“Because there’s a a criminal justice approach to dealing with cannabis use, that means our whanau or more likely to end up being arrested, charged, convicted and sentenced than others, unfortunately the law isn’t applied equally,” he said.

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick:

“What I do know are the facts about the disproportionate impact of those negative stats around cannabis prohibition and also the fact that if we are to move toward that health base model, we do have a opportunity to right wrongs”.

“That’s demonstrative… of the maturity of discussion we’ve so far been having around cannabis reform and ensuring we have a system that minimises drug harm”.

RNZ:  Cannabis referendum to cost more than $2.2m

A referendum on legalising the personal use of cannabis will cost taxpayers more than $2.2 million.

A Cabinet paper shows the health and justice ministries will receive the bulk of the funding, $1.9m, to provide dedicated, expert resources.

The remaining $296,000 is billed for the Electoral Commission, to carry out the binding referendum in 2020.

Justice Minister Andrew Little said the referendum should not detract from the general election, which it is being held in conjuction with, and no preliminary vote count will be done.

Instead, the referendum votes will be counted after election day and released along with the official 2020 election results.

Mr Little also noted the need to inform people to avoid confusion between the cannabis legalisation referendum and ongoing work on medicinal cannabis.

The ongoing personal, community, policing and health costs of not reforming cannabis law would be far greater than $2 million.

Study finds cannabis linked to increased risks for teenagers

Research that combined the results of 11 studies has found an association (but not a causal link) between cannabis use and ‘low to moderate’ mental health issues and risks of suicide amongst teenagers.

It is still not certain whether cannabis use causes increased risks, or whether people at higher risk are more likely to use cannabis (as self medication or as an escape).

NZ Herald:  New study of 23,000 teen cannabis smokers confirms link to later mental health problems

Cannabis use during adolescence is linked to an increased risk of depression and suicidal behaviour in young adulthood, a new study has found.

But the level of increased risk of depression and suicidal thoughts and attempts found in United States study is only low to moderate. No link was found to anxiety.

The research combines the results of 11 separate studies published over the past 15 years that together included more than 23,000 adolescent cannabis smokers and assessed their mental health when aged 18 to 32. People with prior depression were excluded.

“This review both confirms and reinforces findings from the research literature on the adverse psychological effects of regular cannabis use by mid- to late adolescents,” said Dr Joe Boden, the deputy director of the University of Otago’s Christchurch long-term health and development study.

“The findings of this [US] study further reinforce our concerns about the public health implications of any changes we may choose to make to cannabis laws in New Zealand,” Boden told the Science Media Centre.

Boden has written previously that there is growing evidence that regular or heavy use of cannabis may increase risks of: mental health problems, other forms of illicit drug use, dropping out of school and educational underachievement, and car crashes and injuries.

The new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, does not state how much cannabis the research participants smoked, which is considered a significant omission.

And the study type could not show causal links. British experts have pointed out that as well as cannabis possibly affecting later mental health, it is plausible that people prone to mental health problems are more likely to smoke cannabis.

Dr Lindsey Hines, of the University of Bristol, said it was already known that using cannabis coincided with anxiety, depression and self-harm in teenagers.

While the US study suggested a link between early cannabis use and later issues, “we don’t know if cannabis use as a teenager is causing these adult mental health problems.

“It could be that these behaviours are all due to shared underlying risk factors, such as early adversity or genetics.”

Professor Sir Robin Murray, a psychiatry researcher at King’s College London, said that although the modest risk increase found in the US study was probably real, better-quality studies had found cannabis use increased the risk of schizophrenia-like psychosis more than the risk of depression or anxiety.

He also noted limitations in the US study, including that the researchers had not specified the quantity or type of cannabis smoked.

So this new super-study adds to the information available, but leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

Risks to teenagers of alcohol use is a reason that alcohol sales are restricted to those under 18.

It should also be noted that many teenagers are already using cannabis, so whether cannabis is decriminalised or not needs to consider whether that would increase (or decrease) cannabis use amongst teenagers.

And any drug is potentially harmful to people of any age – as well as being potentially beneficial ib some circumstances.

 

Bennett takes pot shots at cannabis debate

Paula Bennett has launched into her new role as National’s spokesperson on drug reform with a lot of gusto and questionable assertions – put another way, with bullshit bluster.

Claire Trevett (NZH): National’s Paula Bennett takes on Big Pot

Bennett’s job is to appease the conservative base in National while trying to look as if the party is being constructive about the issue of liberalising cannabis laws.

Bennett announced she was undecided on the matter and a realist rather than “a prude”.

She has not led a sheltered life and can not be dismissed as an arch-conservative on this issue, although her initial comments might look that way. There are political reasons for that.

The issue feeds in nicely to the law and order narrative National is pushing, and the hope voters will decide the Government is distracted by social reforms and punish Labour accordingly.

Judging from Bennett’s beginning, National is likely to continue to beat the drum against liberalisation.

It is ripe for a bit of scaremongering and Bennett was up for the job.

She said she had many questions and her own vote would depend on the regime wrapped around any reforms.

She had many answers too which indicated she may well not be undecided.

She warned of the downfall of decent society as we know it should marijuana be decriminalised. Not a crevice of New Zealand would be weed-free.

She predicted that in 30 years time, those who voted to decriminalise in 2020 would be apologising to their children.

Weed iceblocks would be there right in the supermarket chiller next to those delicious Kapiti plum ice creams. Children would be buying dollar mixes of electric puha lollies. Mr Whippy would become Mr Ganja.

Russell Brown, an authority on drug issues, took issue with Bennett.

I can’t help but note that both of the above claims are well-worn Bob McCoskrie talking points. Does National really want to go *there*?

Going by Bennett’s opening pot shots it appears that it is a deliberate strategy by her and National.

And finally for now: if you don’t want kiddy cannabis lollies, propose that we follow all the other jurisdictions that prohibit them. We’re not fucking helpless here. Parliament will define exactly how this works.

Chloe Swarbrick also takes issue with Bennett’s bullshit bluster. Stuff: Chloe Swarbrick accuses Paula Bennett of ‘cynical politics’ over drug debate

When asked by host Hayley Holt if the ‘War on Drugs’ was working, National’s deputy leader said it wasn’t.

“Oh goodness, it can’t be. We see too many people addicted, too many ruined lives, too much of it in our streets, from meth to synthetics and others.”

Bennett called herself “relatively open minded” to drug reform and potential marijuana legalisation, but said there were still many more questions to be answered.

If she is open minded it doesn’t show. It looks like she has a deliberate anti-reform agenda in mind.

“It scares me and it should. I’ve got kids I don’t want people dating people who are addicted.”

Bennett said she was concerned that legalisation would mean more companies marketing towards children in the same way that alcopops or RTDs appealed to younger drinkers.

“Where it has been legalised, there has been a huge increase in the number of people under the age of 18 who have taken marijuana and there is evidence that it can fry little brain cells when you’re younger. That is of concern to me.”

Swarbrick agreed that there were concerns that were being addressed, and they were being debated openly.

Swarbrick challenged Bennett, asking what evidence the National MP was referring to. Bennett said that the lack of evidence was part of the problem, because it had been on the market for such short time, but claimed that in Canada and the eight US states where cannabis has been legalised, there had been a six per cent increase in car crashes and “more young people showing up to emergency departments with drug issues.”

Swarbrick accused Bennett of relying on the “thoroughly debunked” Rocky Mountain report. She was referring to a 2017 report by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a US government funded drug prohibition enforcement program in Colorado.

The report was widely criticised for inaccuracies and bias. Forbes labelled the report “dishonest.” In one instance, the report included a column chart showing a dramatic increase in “marijuana-related emergency department visits” between 2012 and 2013 when the legislation took effect, even though the report’s own footnotes noted that “2011 and 2012 emergency department data reflects [sic] incomplete reporting statewide. Inferences concerning trends, including 2011 and 2012, should not be made.”

Swarbrick said the use of that report “seems a lot like a bit of a cynical political move that belittles and degrades the tone of the debate”.

More than a bit of cynical politics from Bennett.

Bennett said Swarbrick was being “passive aggressive and “trying to put me down,” but said she’s “been in politics for far too long to jump at that one”.

That’s a ridiculous and worrying retort from Bennett. She wasn’t being put down, her bullshit and unreliable sources were challenged with facts.

As I have already said, this is a very disappointing move by Bridges, National and Bennett. They have cynically decided to disrupt the drug debate for political purposes – but I think they will lose support with this approach. I for one am moving further from voting National than I have been for a decade.

Bridges and Bennett say they want ‘drug reform’ debate but would vote no anyway

National leader Simon Bridges has announced that Paula Bennett will take on a new role as National’s spokesperson on ‘drug reform’. This could end up being a positive move, but Bridges has tainted the announcement with political niggles that don’t set things off on a positive non-partisan footing.

Simon Bridges: National announces spokesperson for Drug Reform

National Leader Simon Bridges has appointed Paula Bennett to the new position of Spokesperson for Drug Reform as the Government pushes ahead with its agenda of drug decriminalisation, to signal National’s commitment to holding them to account.

This is disappointingly negative from Bridges. Re-evaluating New Zealand’s failed drug laws is long overdue, and there is a lot of public support for some sort of reform, but Bridges has chosen partisan niggling.

“New Zealanders expect their Government to be firm but fair. When it comes to drugs we need a well-thought through and evidence-based approach to drug reform that balances public safety with the need to help vulnerable people.

“This Government’s confused and dangerous commitment to decriminalisation and its soft approach to crime shows it’s not up to that task.

More petty swipes.

“Our work creating a comprehensive medicinal cannabis regime shows we are and that’s why I’ve created this new portfolio which will coordinate the work being done across our policy teams in health, education and law and order.

“It will build on our significant work in Government around the Meth Action Plan, cracking down on drug dealers and stopping trafficking at our borders, while ensuring those who need rehabilitation get access to the best services.

“There is no better person than former Police Minister Paula Bennett who has a thorough understanding of the issues to coordinate this work.

Paula Bennett also took a negative approach:  Coordinated approach to drug reform needed

A coordinated approach across health, education, law and order and border control is needed to counter the complex issues around drugs in New Zealand, National’s new spokesperson for Drug Reform Paula Bennett says.

“The Government’s confused, contradictory and ad hoc policy on drug reform is likely to cause more harm and shows that a measured, sensible and coordinated approach is needed.

“As we see changes coming in by stealth, along with the upcoming referendum there are many unanswered questions and no evidence that the Government is thinking them through.

If it is decided by public referendum, probably in about 20-22 months, with a lot of discussion and debate already, then it can hardly be ‘by stealth’.

In an interview yesterday Bennett conceded that the Police already took a very light handed approach to enforcing current drug laws regarding cannabis use – this was happening under the previous National government.

“When it comes to legalising marijuana, there are serious questions around drug driving, the effects of younger people accessing and using, youth mental health, and how this fits with our ambitions to be smoke free.

These things are already being widely discussed.

“What would a regulated industry look like? Will gangs be able to grow and sell marijuana? Will THC levels be regulated? Will drug testing be done on the roadside? What will the legal age be?

“There is evidence from other jurisdictions that have legalised marijuana that road deaths have increased, younger people have increased consumption and there are negative neuro-psychological issues for teenagers that use marijuana while their brains are still developing.

“National has shown that it understands the issues around drugs through our Members Bill around medicinal marijuana which was widely recognised as superior to the Government’s legislation.

This is partisan crap.

“We welcome a debate on legalising marijuana however I am concerned that the Government has gone into this half-heartedly and as a distraction. The debate needs to be informed and at this stage all we have seen is an announcement by the Prime Minister about a referendum without her even knowing what the question will be.

“I will be holding her and the Labour-led Government to account.”

Bennett and Bridges seem more intent on trying to score petty political points here than working together for the good of the country.

Bennett raises some valid issues, but her language is laden with negatives.

And it gets worse.

Stuff:  Paula Bennett appointed National’s drug reform spokesperson

Bridges, meanwhile, told reporters he’d never tried the drug.

The Opposition leader said the new portfolio was intended to hold the Government to account ahead of a binding referendum on personal cannabis use at the 2020 general election.

“Let’s learn from Brexit. Let’s not have a simple ‘Yes, no,’ thing, and then after that go through and answer all the complex, hard questions. Let’s have that debate beforehand.”

Bridges said he was likely to vote against legalisation, and that without major debate, the referendum risked being a “cute distraction” from more serious issues.

Bridges is insisting we “have that debate beforehand” (which is already happening), but seems to have already made up his mind to “likely to vote against legalisation”.

Bennett, too, said she was tempted to vote “no”.

“When it comes to legalising marijuana, there are serious questions around drug driving, the effects of younger people accessing and using, youth mental health, and how this fits with our ambitions to be smoke free,” she said.

“I’m one of the more liberal, and if the vote was tomorrow, based on all of these questions that we’ve got that haven’t even been answered, I would be voting against it.”

She says she would vote against something that is not defined yet. That’s a very poor position to take.

Bennett was worse in an interview where she scaremongered, suggesting the possibility of drug laced lollies. Newshub:  Paula Bennett gets new drugs portfolio in National Party shake-up

She issued a series of warnings over the legalisation of cannabis on Tuesday morning, saying cannabis-infused ice creams and lollies have been sold overseas.

This is a very disappointing start in her new role, and Bridges is just as bad.

This is a very poor start to the political year for National – not just on their drug reform stance (more like anti-reform), but also on their partisan approach. They look to be out of touch with wide public support for reforming our current failing drug laws.

Debate on cannabis law reform

Debate on cannabis law reform continues to crank up.

Bob McCoskrie (Family First) has been prominent in opposing liberalisation.

But that has been quickly addressed:

German Lopez (Vox): What Alex Berenson’s new book gets wrong about marijuana, psychosis, and violence

The result is the book in which that conversation is now being retold — a book that’s gotten widespread favorable coverage in CNBC, the New YorkerMother Jones, and the Marshall Project, and landed op-eds from Berenson about his findings in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

His central argument is best summarized in a few brief lines later in the book: “Marijuana causes psychosis. Psychosis causes violence. The obvious implication is that marijuana causes violence.”

I could have found this argument persuasive. I’ve become increasingly skeptical of drug legalization over the years, as I’ve reported on the opioid epidemic (caused by legal opioid painkillers), alcohol, and tobacco. I’ve written about how there are risks to marijuana that are worth taking seriously, even if one thinks that legalization is ultimately a better policy than prohibition. I’ve stopped using marijuana myself, in part because my husband had multiple experiences in which pot seemed to make his anxiety disorder flare up.

But as I read Berenson’s book, it was impossible to escape that, while a compelling read written by an experienced journalist, it is essentially an exercise in cherry-picking data and presenting correlation as causation. Observations and anecdotes, not rigorous scientific analysis, are at the core of the book’s claim that legal marijuana will cause — and, in fact, is causing — a huge rise in psychosis and violence in America.

Berenson leverages these anecdotes and limited data to argue that heavy marijuana use, spurred by the legalization of pot in several US states, is already leading to a “black tide of psychosis” and “red tide of violence.” He warns that things will only get worse as the legal pot industry grows bigger, with an incentive to stifle heavy regulations on cannabis.

In one example, he cites a recent, massive review of the evidence on marijuana’s benefits and harms from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, claiming the report, on the link between marijuana and psychosis, “declared the issue settled.”

But I read the report and wrote about it for Vox when it came out. Far from declaring this issue “settled,” the National Academies’ report was extremely careful, cautioning that marijuana’s — and marijuana addiction’s — link to psychosis “may be multidirectional and complex.” Marijuana may not cause psychosis; something else may cause both psychosis and pot use. Or the causation could go the other way: Psychotic disorders may lead to marijuana use, perhaps in an attempt to self-medicate.

Berenson’s book, with its sensationalist claims and shoddy analysis of the evidence, doesn’t genuinely address those concerns. Tell Your Childrenclaims to inform its readers of the “truth” about marijuana, but it instead repeatedly misleads them.

Russell Brown has posted Cannabis reform is a serious matter – so be serious about it

The Listener ushered in the new year with an editorial that seemed to lean heavily on Bob McCoskrie’s talking points. What factual claims the editorial makes are both ominous and vague  and it appears that the author has not made any attempt to read source research.

Part of the problem is that there’s so much epidemiological data that it’s easy to cherry-pick in service of a belief. We’re all guilty of motivated reasoning – and I don’t exclude myself. But I think anyone writing a major editorial has a duty to do more than simply copy someone else’s bullet points.

The next contribution doesn’t have that problem – because it doesn’t bother itself with facts at all. It’s by Karl du Fresne on Stuff and it is absolutely fucking execrable. Du Fresne isn’t really writing (let alone thinking) about cannabis reform so much as firing off another of his wearisome dispatches from the culture war.

He witters on, repeatedly confusing legalisation and decriminalisation and objecting to the recent medicinal cannabis bill which which “essentially legalises the use of cannabis by people with a terminal illness”, something he says a few lines later can be  ”justified on grounds of common sense or compassion”. Then:

But there should be no doubt that what we’re observing is decriminalisation by stealth, which was why the National Party withdrew its support for the medicinal cannabis bill.

It really isn’t, and it makes no more sense for du Fresne to say so than it did when Simon Bridges said it. As framed, the law offers a statutory defence for people in palliative care who possess cannabis without a prescription, as a transitional measure until the new regulations that give the bill meaning are written over the next year. It doesn’t protect anyone who sells the cannabis, or even acquires it for a dying relative. But it suits du Fresne’s conspiratorial mindset to declare otherwise.

There’s actually a straightforward and well-founded argument against handing the market to big companies (and especially publicly-held companies, which du Fresne asserts would to the best job): in order to generate profitable growth, such companies need to do two things: recruit new users, and sell hard to problem users. That’s what happens  in the liquor industry, where there’s a classic 80/20 rule and most profit comes from dependent users.

The Drug Foundation goes through this in the model drug policy it released last year, proposing regulation in favour of “small-scale community development” which would help “avoid developing a powerful industry lobby” that could influence future policy choices. I think the idea of having these enterprises distributed among, and bringing revenue into, local communities is worth looking at. It’s also likely to be important to Māori.

I did find one fan of du Fresne’s column. Former Act MP Stephen Franks declared it “sensible” and insisted that the slew of errors in the column were mere “technical” points that a columnist could hardly be expected to recognise.

A couple of days later, Franks was was back recommending a New Yorker article in which, he declared, ”Malcolm Gladwell deftly questions the woke consensus in fashionable support for cannabis legalisation”. Why, one must ask, do these guys have to turn everything into the culture war?

The short New Yorker piece consisted of Gladwell looking at a new book by former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson, Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence and saying “hey, maybe this guy’s got a point.” Similar promotional pieces have appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street JournalMother Jones and elsewhere. A sensible person could certainly be forgiven for thinking that perhaps Berenson’s dire warnings about cannabis should be taken seriously.

Unfortunately, as the headline over a frustrated piece on The Stranger put it, East Coast Media Is Grounded From Writing About Weed. The author, Lester Black, writes:

But almost as soon as journalists started jumping on Berenson’s bandwagon, the actual scientists behind the research Berenson cited distanced themselves from his book. Those scientists say he is distorting their research, mistaking correlation for causation, or he is just outright drawing incorrect conclusions.

Black also looks at the increase in homicide rates in Colorado and Washington State that Berenson repeatedly highlights. Here’s the thing. Those rates are below what pre-legalisation trends in both states suggested. Can we say that legal weed reduced the murder rate? Hell no. It’s way too complex an issue for that sort of claim. But we really can’t say that cannabis increased the number of murders.

Black isn’t the only one to take to the internet in frustration at the ready reception of Berenson’s arguments. Jesse Singal in The Intelligencernoted that Berenson’s claim that cannabis has led to higher murder rates in legal states is ”a case study in how to misleadingly use statistics to make oversimplified arguments about human behavior and public policy.”

The most detailed rebuttal I’ve seen comes from the excellent Maia Szalavitz. She cites a lot of data that don’t support various claims by Berenson, from his embrace of the “gateway hypothesis” to assumptions about cananbis potency and international trends in cannabis use and mental illness.

There are real things to focus and and talk about here. By its nature, legalisation is an experiment. But how many of the harms that can reasonably be attributed to cannabis are effectively addressed by criminalising people who use it? Is the world due a better, smarter form of legalisation than it currently has? I think we can do better. But we don’t get there via idle editorialising, blowhard culture wars or misleading use of evidence. If you’re going to declare cannabis reform a serious matter, then for god’s sake be serious about it.

More here:

No doubt this debate will continue through to the referendum (probably later next year alongside the general election).

 

Nash supports Clark on compassionate approach to addiction, but cannabis company collapses

Agreeing with Helen Clark, Police Minister Stuart Nash promotes “A more restorative, compassionate and health-focussed approach to addiction, rather than treating all addicts as criminals, is, in my view, the only way we are going to deal effectively with the problem.”

But the lure of cannabis as a money maker has already had a casualty as a cannabis company fails.

Ill-informed du Fresne attack on Drug Foundation’s Bell over cannabis referendum

Karl du Fresne (Stuff) has taken a swipe at Ross bell of the NZ Drug Foundation, claiming “Ross Bell is not worried about decriminalisation of cannabis but by the thought of the drugs trade being contaminated by the profit motive”: If corporates are best-placed to deliver a safe cannabis market, is that so wrong?

Oh, dear. Ross Bell of the New Zealand Drug Foundation, after years of agitating for relaxation of the drug laws, is fretting that liberalisation might open the way to corporate domination of the cannabis trade.

Hmmm. Perhaps he should heed the old saying about being careful what you wish for.

Bell has long advocated a permissive approach to so-called recreational drugs.

His argument is that drug use should be treated as a health issue rather than criminalised. So you’d expect him to be thrilled that the Government has promised a binding referendum on decriminalisation of cannabis.

You can take it as read that the activists’ ultimate goal is decriminalisation of the drug altogether, and perhaps other drugs too. That’s how advocates of “progressive” social change advance their agenda: incrementally.

That’s a big step from the cannabis referendum, and a major ‘assumption’ based on nothing.

It’s a strategy that relies on a gradual softening-up process. No single step along the way, taken in isolation, is radical enough to alarm the public. Change is often justified on grounds of common sense or compassion, as the legalisation of medicinal cannabis for terminally ill people can be.

But each victory serves as a platform for the next. Once change has bedded in and the public has accepted it as the new normal, the activists advance to the next stage. The full agenda is never laid out, because that might frighten the horses.

That sounds like nothing more than general scare mongering based on nothing.

Now, back to Bell’s misgivings about where the cannabis referendum might lead.

It’s not decriminalisation that worries him. Why would it, when for years he’s been using his taxpayer-subsidised job to lobby for exactly that outcome?

No, what upsets him is the thought of the drugs trade being contaminated by the profit motive. A liberal drugs regime is all very well, just as long as the trade doesn’t fall into the hands of wicked corporate capitalists.

A stupid way to put things. there are legitimate and I think fairly widely held concerns over the commercialisation of cannabis. Alcohol is a good example of how an intoxicating substance can be legally pushed for profit.

Bell’s vision, obviously, is of something much purer and more noble, although it’s not entirely clear what model he has in mind. A People’s Collective, perhaps.

Another baseless assertion.

The parallels with alcohol are obvious. Both can cause great harm to a minority of users, although activists like to play down the adverse consequences of drugs other than alcohol. We don’t hear much, for example, about the devastating effects cannabis can have on the young or the mentally unstable.

I’ve seen and heard quite a lot about that. It’s a primary reason for suggestions that there be an R18 on cannabis – similar to alcohol age restrictions, where even 18 has been controversial.

But if we’re going to have an honest national debate about cannabis, the important thing, surely, is that it should focus on social wellbeing rather than being distorted by covert ideological agendas.

No evidence of ‘covert ideological agendas’, just an assertion targeting someone who has been quite responsible in promoting drug law reform.

Stephen Franks responds:

Russell Brown, one of the best informed advocates of drug law reform in the media joins in.

Going by this (and other ill informed people with their own agendas like Bob McCoskrie (Families First), I think we can expect a fairly knarly debate on the cannabis referendum.

We should welcome robust arguments against too much liberalisation of drug laws, but I hope we get a lot better attempts than this by du Fresne.

Poll – 60% support for “legalising the personal use of cannabis”

An agreement between Labour and Greens guarantees a referendum on the personal use of cannabis before or with the 2020 general election (it is looking likely it will be alongside the election).

A Horizon Research poll (commissioned by licensed medicinal cannabis company Helius Therapeutics) conducted in October shows majority support “on legalising the personal use of cannabis”:

  • Yes 60%
  • No 24%
  • No opinion 16%

That only a quarter say they would vote No is probably more significant than the Yes percentage.

Of course this could change when we know what the referendum question will actually be, when the public is informed, and the issue is debated (and no doubt activist groups will do their best to persuade for or against),

Questions about a regulatory framework were also asked.

  • 63% want a regulated market for legal cannabis with licensed operators
  • 68% want any tax revenue should go towards health services
  • 58% said penalties for breaking the law in a legal cannabis market should be about the same for breaking the law on alcohol sales
    28% support severe penalties
  • 40% support a  Government excise tax
  • 39% want the legal age to buy cannabis to be 18
  • 18% supported the Government owning and controlling all production and sale of cannabis

Use of cannabis:

  • 10% use cannabis daily
  • 55% have used cannabis at some time

I think I would support for change (depending on what the referendum choice is. I have never used cannabis, I just think that the current situation is working poorly and the law needs to be reformed.

…of 995 adults 18 and over, and weighted to be representative of the population at the 2013 census. The margin of error is 3.1 per cent

Source – NZ Herald