Cross party crapping on cannabis bill

Despite a Curia poll that showed 78% support for medical use of cannabis not to be a criminal offence (and just 17% opposed), it looks like there may be a less than 50% vote in parliament tomorrow on the Swarbrick medical cannabis bill.

If the bill fails to pass it will be very poor representation by MPs in their first test of conscience this term.

All the Green MPs are said to be voting for the bill – good for them.

Very disappointingly Bill English says that National will bloc vote despite it being a conscience vote, giving reportedly just three MPs an exemption to vote for the bill. This is a very poor start to the political year for English and National.

RNZ: Most National MPs to vote against Green’s cannabis bill

“We’ve never treated drug issues in the National caucus as a conscience issue, but we are flexible in the sense that if people have a strong view in this, related to issues of chronic pain, then they have the freedom to vote for it if they wish,” National leader Bill English said.

The National Party will back the government legislation this afternoon.

National health spokesperson Jonathan Coleman said Labour has missed an opportunity to hit the right balance on medicinal cannabis.

And National are crapping on an opportunity to hit the right balance by bloc voting against one bill.

Ardern and Minister of Health David Clark have said they would support the bill at first vote, some compensation for putting up their own pathetic bill.

But some Labour MPs may vote against it.

Labour MP Peeni Henare is concerned about how far that bill goes, and has met with his fellow Māori MPs to discuss the issue.

“I’ve seen [cannabis] ravage small communities, families, households across the country …and of course those ones are Māori.

“I’ve seen [it] destroy families, destroy people. And that’s enough concern for me, let alone any research that suggests it’s a gateway drug to anything bigger or heavier,” he said.

Henare is on the wrong planet here. He’s talking about almost entirely different issues to the use of medical cannabis. This apparent level of ignorance is alarming.

NZ First MPs can vote as they please but it is being reported that most or all will vote against the bill. If that happens, again very disappointing. I hope Grey Power, who support the bill, give them all a bollocking overnight.

Winston Peters has said he will oppose the bill.

1 news:  ‘It’s random, it’s haphazard, it’s free-for-all’ – Peters fiercely against Chloe Swarbrick’s medicinal cannabis bill

“It goes far too far. There is no restriction at all, it’s random, it’s haphazard, it’s free-for-all now.”

That’s just ignorant nonsense. Any hope that Peters might rise to the responsibility of being deputy PM (and acting PM mid year when Ardern has her baby) has flown out the Window. He sounds like an ignorant, out of touch old twit. I hope voters remember and hammer for this.

I haven’t seen David Seymour’s view recently but he has previously been strongly in favour of cannabis law reform. However the vote is shaping up to be not close enough for his vote to make a difference.

From the Curia poll in support of making cannabis use for medical purpose legal:

  • National voters 78% (18% against)
  • Labour voters 78% (17% against)
  • NZ First 77% (23% against)
  • TOTAL 78% (17% against)

If over 50% of MPs vote against the preference of 4 out of 5 people it will be a travesty of democracy.


Two cannabis bills before Parliament

After a long time of Parliament avoiding dealing with the use of cannabis there are two bills that will be voted on in First Readings this week before Parliament. The Government bill is a cop out with limited and legally contradictory concessions. Chloe Swarbrick’s members’ bill addresses the medical cannabis issue far better and will be of most interest.

RNZ: MPs to vote on medicinal cannabis bills

MPs will vote this afternoon on the government’s plan to make medicinal cannabis more widely available.

The government’s bill lays the groundwork for a regulated medicinal cannabis industry and effectively allows terminally ill people to use illicit marijuana in the last year of their life. It will be considered by MPs today.

Green MP Chloe Sarbrick’s bill would allow patients to grow their own marijuana – with a doctor’s permission – to treat a terminal illness or debilitating condition. It will come before Parliament on Wednesday.

Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill

This Bill amends the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. The Bill will introduce an exception and a statutory defence for terminally ill people to possess and use illicit cannabis and to possess a cannabis utensil; provide a regulation-making power to enable the setting of standards that products manufactured, imported, and supplied under licence must meet; and amend Schedule 2 of the Act so that cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD products are no longer classed as controlled drugs.

This bill was introduced after a promise by Labour, but it has been widely criticised as being a cop out, and even the Minister who introduced it said that if people wanted more they should look to Swarbrick’s bill.

Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis and Other Matters) Amendment Bill

The purpose of this bill is to make it legal for New Zealanders who are suffering from terminal illness or any debilitating condition to use cannabis or cannabis products with the support of a registered medical practitioner.

This is the bill that campaigners for access to medical cannabis are interested in as it would allow people with chronic pain and debilitating illnesses to use, but there is also some strong opposition, with fears it opens the legal door to recreational use.

Bob McCoskrie, of Christian lobby group Family First NZ, said the government’s more “cautious and researched” legislation should go before a select committee.

But he said Ms Swarbrick’s bill should be “chucked in the bin”.

“There is no redeemable factor in it. It’s a grow-your-own-dope bill.”

That is a dopey claim devoid of compassion. There must be a redeemable factor in allowing people to legally alleviate pain and to try to reduce symptoms of awful illnesses, including terminal illnesses where death can’t be certified to be imminent.

1 News: Helen Clark backs Chloe Swarbrick’s medicinal cannabis bill ahead of Labour’s legislation

Former prime minister Helen Clark is backing Green MP Chloe Swarbrick’s bill to improve access to medicinal cannabis, ahead of the Labour-led Government’s own bill.

Ms Clark is now on a global drug policy commission which promotes the reduction of harm from drugs.

So Helen Clark has ignored David Clark’s bill and is promoting Swarbrick’s.

NZ Herald: Grey Power urges MPs to support Green’s medicinal cannabis bill

Grey Power is urging MPs to support the Green MP Chloe Swarbrick’s bill on medicinal cannabis, which is set to have its first reading on Wednesday and potentially pave the way for greater access.

Grey Power president Tom O’Connor said MPs should support Swarbrick’s bill at the first reading so it can be explored by a select committee.

“Those with chronic pain should also have access to medical cannabis, if it offers them some relief.”

He said health professionals, not politicians, should decide who should be allowed to use cannabis for medical purposes.

O’Connor said Grey Power supported cannabis-based pharmaceuticals, but not home-grown cannabis for self-medication.

“Self-medication is hazardous at best and, for as long as recreational home grown cannabis is illegal, we cannot support its use for self-medication as it would be too easy to abuse.”

It is widely abused already, it’s hard to see that getting any worse with more liberal laws.

Unlike David Clark’s bill the Swarbrick bill will be a conscience vote. It will be interesting to see who votes for and against it – especially NZ First MPs, given the Grey Power support.

The Clark bill is a bit of a waste of time so I don’t care much about what happens with that. It should pass it’s first vote, but with a more comprehensive bill also coming before Parliament it is hardly necessary.

I hope that Swarbrick’s bill at least passes it’s first vote and goes to select Committee, where the public will be able to make submissions on it.

All Green MPs will probably vote for Swarbrick’s bill, and most Labour MPs should too – both Clark and Jacinda Ardern have said they will support it.

NZ First MPs could be mixed on it.

There will be definite opposition from some National MPs, and some will support it. The bill may depend on enough enlightened and compassionate National MPs supporting it.

Recently from Medical Cannabis Awareness NZ: Medical cannabis: Terminal vs Severe and Debilitating?

David Farrar at Kiwiblog:

The sensible thing for MPs to do is vote for both the Government and the Swarbrick bill to go to select committee, so the select committee can hear evidence on both bills, and work out which regime would be best to provide relief to those suffering from chronic pain.

It is worth reflecting that there is overwhelming public support for cannabis to be available for pain relief. A poll Curia did for the Drug Foundation last year had 78% support for medicial use of cannabis not to be a criminal offence and only 17% opposed.

The net support for not having medical use of cannabis being a criminal offence by party vote is:

  • National voters +60% (78% to 18%)
  • Labour voters +61% (78% to 17%)
  • NZ First +54% (77% to 23%)
  • Greens +77% (88% to 11%)

Public help sought for cannabis bill

The Government promised legislation on medicinal cannabis but watered it down substantially, and have virtually said that the best real chance of real change is the Member’s Bill on Medicinal Cannabis being driven by new Green MP Chloe Swarbrick, who took the responsibility over from Julie Anne Genter when Genter became a Minister.

The bill is due for it’s first reading next month. It will be a conscience vote, so it is worth lobbying individual MPs.

Swarbrick is seeking public support for her bill.

1 News: ‘I could really use your help’ – Chloe Swarbrick pleads for public support on medicinal cannabis bill

First-term Green MP Chloe Swarbrick has taken to Facebook to ask for the public’s help in getting her party’s new medicinal cannabis bill passed.

Video of Ms Swarbrick explaining the ins and outs of the medicinal cannabis legislation proposed by her party was posted to Facebook today, where it has quickly sparked a flurry of comments, some of which the Green MP has taken the time to reply to.

At the end of the video Ms Swarbrick makes a plea to the public to try and help sway the opinion of MPs who may be undecided in which way they will vote on the matter.

“I could really use your help, contact your local MP, or any MP that you feel represents you by sending them an email, a Facebook message, dropping by their office or giving them a call.

“Ask them to support this bill at its first reading,” she says.

I hope she gets plenty of support. This bill should at least get past it’s first reading next month.


Good ways and bad ways to conduct referendums

Our binding referenda on constitutional issues like MMP have followed good process.

There were some valid questions about how the two referendums on the New Zealand flag were conducted, but the main problem with that process was political interference with attempts to discredit the process by some because they didn’t want flag change, and by others because while they supported flag change they opposed it being initiated by John Key – in other words, the process was trashed by petty politics.

The smacking referendum was a waste of time, it was non-binding so was toothless, and the question asked was vague and therefore futile.

We will have at least one referendum during or at the end of this term, could have two and may have more.

Graeme Edgeler has posted about good ways and bad ways to do referendums in How not to waste millions of taxpayer dollars

There is a good way to conduct government-initiated referendum, and there are bad ways to conduct them.

During the course of this Parliament, New Zealand will conduct one or perhaps two, referendums – one of the legalisation of cannabis use (a result of the Green Party’s confidence and supply agreement with the Labour Party), and perhaps another on euthanasia. Unfortunately, indications are not promising that the process for either these referendums will be good.

During September, October and November last year Australia conducted a referendum. We should learn from its mistake. Australia’s nationwide “plebiscite” on the legalisation of same sex marriage, in an exceedingly useful example of how not to conduct a public referendum.

How it went is no longer breaking news: a sizeable majority of the voting public indicated support, and then the Federal Parliament passed a law providing for it.

The marriage vote asked Australia voters to give a yes or no answer to the question:

“Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”

This is a perfectly reasonable question to ask to get a general sense of public feeling about a general issue, but is a stupid question to ask when wanting guidance on what a law should say.

So it’s better if a law change is defined then voted on.

How should you vote if you wanted politicians yet-to-consider a same-sex marriage bill to know that you would support changing the law to allow people of the same sex to marry, but would object to a law which might require churches to marry people in breach of church doctrine?

How should you vote if you wanted politicians to know that you thought people of the same sex should be able to marry, but would find offensive a system where a whole new law was created, setting up a separate same-sex marriage register, with separate same-sex marriage celebrants wholly separate from marriage celebrants?

You couldn’t. Holding a vote in advance of a bill being written makes that impossible.

This is a trap we should aim to avoid in both the cannabis referendum, and the potential referendum on euthanasia that New Zealand First is pushing for (and which David Seymour, the sponsor of the euthanasia bill, says he supports holding).

I hope the Government avoids these traps. They are fairly fundamental.

Will it be legal to sell cannabis, or just to possess and use it? Will people be able to grow their own, or will they have to buy it from specific government licenced dealers? Will you be able to smoke it outside in public places, like tobacco, or will that be prohibited, like the public consumption of alcohol often is? How will it be taxed? Will cannabis advertising and sponsorship be banned? Will councils have a role in regulating where it can be sold, or used? Will they be able to set up enforceable non-cannabis zones (like they can with alcohol), or only unenforced zones (like non-smoking areas)?

Will euthanasia be limited to the terminally ill? Will it need a judge to sign off a decision to offer aid in dying? What will a doctor who refuses to take part have to do, if anything? Will advance directives be able to be enforced, or will applications have to be made by people who are conscious?

Unfortunately, while the legislative process underway for the euthanasia legislation should work through the detail of the scheme, any referendum seems likely to be an afterthought.

I hope that Parliament (MPs) will have the fortitude to make a decision on medical cannabis without the need to then delay it by going to a referendum.

I think that in our system of representative democracy MPs can also decide on what is best for the minority that may want to consider euthanasia.

Fortunately, it’s not too late. The euthanasia law is still early in its early legislative process, and the cannabis referendum isn’t set up yet. Hopefully, we can avoid not only the mistakes Australia made, but also new ones of our own.

It may be a mistake to even have a referendum on euthanasia, but at least it won’t happen prior to legislation being debated and voted on in Parliament.

As Edgeler says, there are good ways and bad ways of having referenda – and there are also times when they aren’t appropriate, especially if used as a way for MPs to cop out of their responsibilities as representatives.

Attorney general interferes with State cannabis law

US states have been progressively liberalising cannabis laws, with decriminalisation coming into effect in California at the start of this year.

But the US Attorney General has rescinded policy that will now enable much stronger federal enforcement of drug laws.

States are not happy, and Republican politicians are amongst those with concerns about the potential effects.

Steve Kurtz at Fox News:  Should pot be legal? Let states decide that question, not the federal government

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rescinded an Obama administration policy that blocked U.S. attorneys from prosecuting marijuana cases in states where the drug is legal. He announced Thursday that he is instead leaving it up to federal prosecutors to use their discretion in determining whether to enforce the federal law banning the sale and use of the drug.

It’s not clear what the full effect of this new policy will be. But it suggests the Justice Department may be planning to strongly enforce federal drug laws against the budding marijuana industry.

Regardless of one’s views on marijuana, or drug use in general, this is an unfortunate move by the federal government. There are many issues which, by their nature, are federal issues. Punishment for drug use is not. In general, states should be allowed to police themselves.

For decades now there has been a movement to decriminalize marijuana. In recent years, it’s picked up steam, and there seems to be a general shift in public views on cannabis. Attorney General Sessions may not agree with this shift, but he should at least recognize it represents the beliefs of his fellow citizens.

Washington, D.C., and eight states – Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington – have legalized recreational marijuana. Another 29 states allow for its medical use. These numbers seem likely to increase.

The people have spoken. They should not be overruled by the Justice Department. As Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado put it, Sessions’ decision “has trampled on the will of the voters.”

Gardner went further, noting that President Trump has said legalization should be up to the states. Gardner also said that before he “voted to confirm Attorney General Sessions, he assured me that marijuana would not be a priority for this administration.”

So what is Sessions up to? Pushing a personal barrow over the top of state law? Is Trump behind it, or in support of it? It is contrary to state cannabis trends and also contrary to public opinion.

Bloomberg: Marijuana Crackdown by Sessions Leaves GOP Fearing 2018 Backlash

Marijuana legalization has grown in popularity: 64 percent of Americans favor it, according to an October 2017 Gallup poll.

Support was 57 percent to 37 percent in a Pew Research survey released a year earlier — including a remarkable 71 percent of millennials, currently the largest group of eligible voters in the country.

State Republicans are unhappy.

An early indication of the issue’s potency was the fierce reaction of Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, a state where voters legalized cultivation and possession in 2012. Gardner, who also is chairman of the GOP’s Senate campaign arm, slammed the decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions as “a trampling of Colorado’s rights, its voters.”

“Why is Donald Trump thinking differently than what he promised the people of Colorado in 2016?” Gardner said in a speech Thursday on the Senate floor, evoking Trump’s campaign promise to leave the issue of marijuana legalization to states. “Thousands of jobs at risk, millions of dollars in revenue, and certainly the question of constitutional states rights — very much at the core of this discussion.”

The issue looms large in Colorado, Nevada and California, which legalized marijuana and where several congressional Republicans already are facing tough re-election battles. Nevada Senator Dean Heller and Representative Mark Amodei are Democratic targets, as is Colorado Representative Mike Coffman. And some half-dozen GOP-held California House seats are in play, including three rated “toss up” that are represented by Steve Knight, Dana Rohrabacher and Darrell Issa.

“This is a freedom issue,” Rohrabacher said Thursday in a conference call with reporters, calling for a change in federal law to protect legal marijuana in states. “I think Jeff Sessions has forgotten about the Constitution and the 10th Amendment,” which gives powers to the states.

“By taking this benighted minority position, he actually places Republicans’ electoral fortunes in jeopardy,” Rohrabacher said in a statement later Thursday.

David Flaherty, a Colorado-based GOP consultant at Magellan Strategies, said the Justice Department’s decision could lead to a “major backlash and a spike in younger voters” if it disrupts the current system in Colorado. “Folks that are 44 and under here in Colorado are much more comfortable with the legalization of marijuana,” he said.

This is an odd move without popular or political support.

California cannabis chaos

In 2016 Californians voted to legalise the use of recreational cannabis.

California Proposition 64, the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative, was on the November 8, 2016, ballot in California as an initiated state statute. Supporters referred to the initiative as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. It was approved.

“yes” vote supported legalizing recreational marijuana for persons aged 21 years or older under state law and establishing certain sales and cultivation taxes.
“no” vote opposed this proposal to legalize recreational marijuana under state law and to establish certain sales and cultivation taxes.[1]

Effective dates:

  • November 9, 2016: Proposition 64 legalized using and growing marijuana for personal use.
  • January 1, 2018: Proposition 64 will allow for the sale and taxation of recreational marijuana.

So cannabis is now legal for recreational use in California, but it could be chaotic.

Stuff (Sacramento Bee): Making a hash of cannabis reform

California is far from ready, but the green rush is nonetheless upon us.

On New Year’s Day, commercial sales of recreational cannabis became legal for adults. No one knows exactly what will happen. There could be a mad dash to pot stores, not unlike the one to Walmart every Black Friday. Or, because medical marijuana has been legal in California for decades, people might take legalisation in stride.

But here’s what everyone should know: The rollout is going to be an absolute mess – a mess that will last longer than a day.

Last week, a few days before adults would be able to walk into a store and buy a drug that is still banned by the federal government, Sacramento’s pot czar Joe Devlin spent hours trying to understand the finer points of Proposition 64.

He wondered aloud, for example, how to enforce a new limit on how much pot a person can buy per day: “Does the dispensary have to create a customer account or do you just check ID? I don’t know how you prove you’re not exceeding the daily limit without creating a customer account.”

He also had unanswered questions about the newly required state permits for medical dispensaries. None had arrived yet. “If we don’t get an answer from the state, what does that mean? Shut them down?” he asked. Most dispensaries also had yet to meet the new labelling requirements for edibles already on their shelves. There were no stickers.

“What I hoped to see today were a bunch of people who are ready,” Devlin said. “What I see is a bunch of people who are getting ready.”

The binding referendum seems to have locked in a time frame that is difficult to work within.

Licensing of suppliers is fragmented and slow.

It’s enough to worry Lori Ajax, California’s top pot regulator. She told the Los Angeles Times she fears the state hasn’t “licensed enough people throughout the supply chain, and geographically across the state, so people can continue to do business.”

She knows that shortages and bottlenecks will only fuel the black market. That, in turn, will undermine the viability of the fledgling legal market.

Adverse effects are an issue.

There are also lingering public health questions. For the past few weeks, local and state officials have been rushing to release information to educate Californians about the risks of using pot. How much is too much? What should first-timers take? What happens if kids use it? But there isn’t enough research to effectively answer those questions, another consequence of rushing to legalise weed.

In the months to come, don’t be surprised if some pot delivery drivers and stores, with their wads of cash from customers, get robbed. Expect children to overdose on edibles left out by careless adults, and expect adults to overestimate their tolerance and get so high that they’ll end up having a panic attack or worse, scromiting, a syndrome in which regular weed users vomit uncontrollably.

In short, expect a mess.

Time will tell how much of a mess. And more time may (or may not) tell whether the adverse effects are less than or greater than prohibition and draconian laws.

New Zealand can learn from this as we head in this direction, hopefully with more care and enough time to do it properly.


Medicinal cannabis oil available in NZ

There is improved availability of medicinal cannabis oil in New Zealand, with it now being available for GPs to prescribe. It is a cheaper option but could still be prohibitively expensive.

RNZ: Medicinal cannabis oil arrives in NZ

The arrival of a new, cheaper medicinal cannabis product in New Zealand is good news for patients but will still be prohibitively expensive for many, advocates say.

The cannabis oil, produced by Canadian company Tilray, was first granted an export licence to New Zealand in February, but until now has only been shipped to Middlemore Hospital in Auckland.

However, the first shipment that will be made available for GPs to prescribe has now arrived in the country.

It contains cannabidiol (CBD) – a cannabinoid that has been shown to have therapeutic properties, but is considered a class B drug under New Zealand law so cannot be advertised or promoted by the company.

Medical Cannabis Awareness New Zealand coordinator Shane Le Brun said the product had arrived “in the last week or so”.

“It is now available for GPs to prescribe… [but] as an unregistered medicine they can’t make therapeutic claims and as a controlled drug they can’t advertise … so it’s kind of snuck in under the radar.”

Since September, doctors have been able to prescribe CBD products without needing approval from the Health Minister.

The often unfairly maligned ex-MP Peter Dunne deserves some credit for this.

Trials are underway to test Tilray products’ effectiveness for treating childhood epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder and nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients.

Paediatric doctors here did not want to over-sell the benefits of the oil, “but certainly it does play a role for some of the severe [epilepsy] patients”, Mr Le Brun said.

“Without there being substantial evidence, they still think it’s worth a shot.”

Because it’s one of the few options that offer hope of improvement. But it is still very expensive.

The wholesale cost of a single bottle of the oil was about $600 – about half the cost of the only other widely available medicinal cannabis product in New Zealand, Mr Le Brun said. However, he expected the retail mark-up would probably put the price to patients at between $900 and $1000 a bottle.

Because Tilray was not a registered medicine, it was ineligible for Pharmac funding.

“Depending on the weight of a child for epilepsy, that bottle might only last three or four days, so without a political solution on the cost it still doesn’t change anything for the patients who are most in need.”

Most parents will not be able to afford that.

A much larger evidence base would be needed to get the product registered as a medicine and seek Pharmac subsidies, he said.

Labour has made medicinal cannabis one of it’s first 100 days priorities:

  • Introduce legislation to make medicinal cannabis available for people with terminal illnesses or in chronic pain

As well as this commitment they have the legacy of Helen Kelly to honour – Kelly openly talked about using cannabis products to ease her suffering as she died of cancer.

The Greens should also support it. They have an agreement with Labour to take cannabis law further, but later – “and have a referendum on legalising the personal use of cannabis at, or by, the 2020 general election”.

However Parliament needs a majority. Labour are committed, as are the Greens, but either NZ First or National (unlikely given their past lack of fortitude on medicinal cannabis) to get it passed into law.

New Zealand remains reliant to a large extent on progress in research of medicinal cannabis internationally.

A major anomaly remains – it is legal to drown your sorrows and self medicate with alcohol, but puffing away your pains is policed and punishable.

Tracey Martin on referendums

In an interesting interview during the election campaign Tracey Martin gave an indication as to how she thought referenda should be used.

It gives a good insight into Martin’s and presumably NZ First’s preferences on the use of referendums.

Martin has been a member of the New Zealand First Party since 1993. She was on the party Board of Directors from 2008 until becoming an MP and the party’s deputy leader in 2011. She dropped to party #3 when Ron Mark challenged her and took over as deputy. She is expected to become a Cabinet Minister in the incoming government.

NZ First have promote referenda as a way of allowing the public to decide – from their Social Development policy:

Protect our social fabric and traditional family values from temporarily empowered politicians, by requiring so-called ‘conscience issues’ be put to comprehensive public debate and referenda.

The have proposed a number of referenda. Winston Peters promised a referendum on the Maori seats in the recent election campaign, although it looks like that has been lost in negotiations with Labour.

Family recently publicly reminded NZ First Promised Anti-Smacking Law Referendum:

(In 2014, NZ First said “NZ First policy is to repeal the anti-smacking law passed by the last parliament despite overwhelming public opposition. Accordingly, we will not enter any coalition or confidence and supply agreement with a party that wishes to ignore the public’s clearly stated view in a referendum on that issue.”)

That was for a previous election.

In a speech in March in Northland, leader Winston Peters said;

“We are going to repeal the anti-smacking law which doesn’t work and has in fact seen greater violence towards children.”

He then further clarified his position in an interview on Newstalk ZB saying that this matter should go to a referendum with New Zealand people who are “far more reliable and trustworthy on these matters, rather than a bunch of temporarily empowered parliamentarians.”

This position was backed up by senior MP Tracey Martin.

It would be surprising if Labour or Greens supported this. We may find out today if it’s another casualty of negotiations or not.

During the election campaign Martin explained how she saw referenda being used in an interview at the University of Otago, starting at about 20:15

Question: “One thing we’ve noticed is that New Zealand First seems to call for a lot of referendums on different issues, and you think that it should be the people deciding rather than a group of Parliamentarians. Why is that?”

Martin replied :

First of all there’s some things, they’re quite big social shifts, you know there’s some stuff that makes quite a big difference to society.

Lets take euthanasia as one that’s a biggie at the moment, and also legalising recreational marijuana. Split that off from medicinal marijuana, New Zealand First has already said we support medicinal marijuana through a prescription regime.

As an aside it’s not marijuana, it’s cannabis. It’s unusual to here it referred to as marijuana in New Zealand. The bill currently in Parliament is Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis and Other Matters) Amendment.

But if you take those two issues, they’re issues that we think New Zealanders have the right to discuss, and my vote shouldn’t be worth any more than your vote…and so you need to have the same information I have, and then the country needs to vote.

“Do you see that I have a vote, and I vote in a Parliament, surely that is my reflection of those people making decisions on my behalf?”

So we have a representative democracy, and I would say that if every single bill that went through that House was a conscience vote then you might be right.

Euthanasia was not a topic that was campaigned on at the last election, so how would you have been able to vote on the political party, if you had strong beliefs on that particular topic, how would you have been able to vote for a particular party on that issue, which is a big issue for a nation.

It’s not the tweaking of a, it’s not Uber. It’s a large piece of legislation that is going to make quite a substantial change to country.

NZ First proposals to radically change our economic system is far more substantial – should any policies changing our economic system go to a referendum?

“If parties were campaigning on it this election and setting out their values on the issue which I think a lot of parties have been, it is coming into the discussion a bit more and I chose to volte on that issue, would it then be a rule for Parliament to make that decision rather than putting it back to the people again who have just voted?”

Well I think again it would be fine if it was a representative democracy.

That’s what we have.

…that’s just what New Zealand First believe, there are particular issues that should be laid in front of the New Zealand people, and the New Zealand people as a whole should be able to have a discussion about them out in the open in a transparent way, and then a vote on it.

“Is this a call for more direct democracy in New Zealand?”

Well basically yes, that’s what, I think that’s principle number 15 of New Zealand First, is about direct democracy.

If we haven’t campaigned on it, if we haven’t had a position on it, on a big item, then it’s something we think we need to go back to the constituency which is the public.

15. The People’s Policies

All policies not contained in the party manifesto, where no national emergency clearly exists, will first be referred to the electorate for a mandate.

This is an oddly NZ First-centric principle. Why should it only apply to things NZ First has no policy or campaign position on? Why shouldn’t things of public importance that are NZ First policies not go to referenda?

My also hope is that it might actually make feel connected too.

Here’s a very interesting and important point.

So if I put a bill in front, and I don’t think a referendum should just be a question. I think that’s a really easy way to manipulate direct democracy is to have a single question that is worded in a way that well how could you say no to it, or how could you say less to it.

I believe that you have the same intelligence that anybody sitting in that House has, and so you should see the piece of legislation, you should get the regulatory impact statement, you should get the full Parliamentary blurb that we get, and then after twelve months you should vote on it.

I think that in principle this is a good idea. I have suggested this sort of process for legalising or decriminalising cannabis – a bill should be passed through the normal parliamentary processes, and then go to the public for ratification or rejection via a referendum.

There are some potential down sides, especially if one referendum is held to put a number of issues to the public. There could be a lot of material to distribute and to digest.

Instead of handing out the full legislation plus regulatory statement and any other blurb perhaps a fair summary should be written and distributed. Those who have the time or inclination could obtain all the material online or request it all to be posted out.

I don’t think giving everyone a big pile of legislation will encourage participation, it is more likely to deter engagement.

But generally I think that this is a promising approach to contentious issues of public importance, write the legislation and if it passes through Parliament put it too the people for ratification or rejection.

This would encourage our Parliamentarians to write and pass legislation that made sense to the public and addressed public concerns.

I think this would work well for both euthanasia and for recreational cannabis use.

I don’t think it would be a good way to decide on the Maori seats. That would enable a large majority to make a decision that really just affects a relatively small minority.

I also don’t think it would suit the smacking issue.

The use of referendums could be a significant issue in itself this term.

Last term the flag referendums were a democratic disaster, with political game playing and deliberate disruption making a mess of the process. Somehow that has to be avoided in the future.

I’m encouraged by what Martin said in this interview, albeit with a concern about their principle of only applying referendums to things NZ First hasn’t written policy on or campaigned on. They aren’t the only party in Parliament or soon to be in Government.

Something Peters campaigned on was ‘a change in the way this country is run both economically and socially’.

That suggests major change to me. Should any major change to the way we run the country economically or socially be ratified by the public via referenda?

Peters has been quite vague about what changes he wants. Once he clarifies and suggests specific changes should we the people get to decide on whether it should happen or not?

Cannabis referendum could disappoint

One of the policy wins for the Greens is a referendum on personal use of cannabis.

A referendum on legalising the personal use of cannabis by 2020. Funding for drug and alcohol addiction services will be increased.

The ‘referendum on legalising the personal use of cannabis by 2020’ is both good and bad news.

Cannabis laws and enforcement of them are hopeless, and long overdue for being radically reformed, so it is good to see tangible progress on this.

But I’m really quite disappointed by this.

Why do we need a referendum apart from appeasing NZ First? Polls have consistently shown public support for cannabis law reform.

A referendum in 2020 is likely to mean that legislation wouldn’t go through Parliament until 2021 at the earliest, and if National get back in they are unlikely to put any priority on it. This means any change could be four or five years away.

A simple referendum could be hobbled or watered down by actual legislation if it’s not specific enough.

Perhaps legislation could be done in advance of the referendum so we know what we are voting on. Then the referendum could be to approve of or reject the legislation. But that still means at least a 3 year wait.

I won’t get too annoyed yet, before details are available, but I have some concerns.

Note that this addresses personal use of cannabis as opposed to medicinal use – in Labour’s Taking action in our first 100 days:

  • Introduce legislation to make medicinal cannabis available for people with terminal illnesses or in chronic pain

Ardern has not been specific but has said that most of their ‘first 100 days’ pledges remain intact.

UPDATE – there could be even more disappointment

James Shaw just said in an interview on The Nation that it hasn’t been decided yet whether the referendum will be binding or not.

So it could be in 3 years, and toothless.


Fine only for growing cannabis for personal use

The Christchurch High Court has ruled that growing cannabis for personal use normally warrants just a fine, with a community sentence being quashed on appeal.

This reinforces court precedents of a fine being appropriate if the cannabis was being grown for personal use.

Note that growing cannabis for supply is dealt with much more severely.

Also note that an example of a case involving repeat offender found that, while the prison sentence imposed was inappropriate and was quashed, a community sentence was justified (see below).

Judgment of Nation J – Riches v Police [2017] NZHC 2035 – 24 August 2017

[1] Is a fine the normally appropriate penalty for cultivating a small number of cannabis plants for personal use using hydroponic facilities? That is the issue raised by this appeal.

[2] The summary of facts described how the Police visited the appellant, Mr Riches, at his home in Christchurch. He told the Police that someone they were asking about had come over to his place to smoke cannabis. A warrantless search power was invoked. The summary then recorded:

Located in the garage was a grow room fitted out with lamps, heat sources
and ventilation. The garage contained 6 mature Cannabis plants
approximately 1 metre in height with 2 smaller plants approximately 20
centimetres in height.

[3] Mr Riches pleaded guilty quite promptly on a third Court appearance. He was then remanded for a pre-sentence report and was sentenced on 12 July 2017.

[4] The District Court Judge referred to the number and description of the eight plants. He noted that Mr Riches had told the Police the cannabis was for his personal use and said “[t]his cultivation appears to have been accepted by the prosecution as being non-commercial”.

[5] The Judge noted Mr Riches was appearing before the Court at aged 29, for all intents and purposes as a first offender.

[6] The Judge also noted the submission for Mr Riches that the offending was a category 1 offence in terms of the guidelines in R v Terewi. He referred to the probation officer’s opinion that there was a minimal or low risk of reoffending but also the probation officer’s opinion that Mr Riches had issues with cannabis use.

[7] The Judge noted that community work was not recommended because Mr Riches’ employment could make completing that work difficult. He did not consider imprisonment was required and said he was therefore “prepared to accept the recommendation of the probation officer as appropriate”. He convicted Mr Riches and sentenced him to four months’ community detention, to be served by way of a curfew at his home from 7.00 pm to 6.00 am Monday to Sunday inclusive. He also sentenced Mr Riches to 12 months’ supervision with a special condition that he attend and complete any recommended intervention for drug use to the satisfaction of the probation officer. On his appeal, Mr Riches did not challenge that latter aspect of his sentence.


[38] I am satisfied that there was an error in the sentencing through the District Court Judge failing to adequately consider whether the offending could be dealt with by way of a fine, as is required by s 13 Sentencing Act 2002. Section 15 states that, when a court can consider imposing a community-based sentence, such as community detention, it may do so only if it does not regard a fine as the appropriate sentence or because of other specified circumstances, which do not apply in this case. In all the circumstances of this case, I consider the Court had to regard a fine, together with supervision, as the appropriate sentence.

[39] The appeal is accordingly allowed. The sentence of four months’ community detention is quashed. The appellant is fined $1,700 and sentenced to 12 months’ supervision with a special condition that he attend and complete any recommended intervention for drug use to the satisfaction of the probation officer

So a fine has been found appropriate for a first time offender growing cannabis for personal use who shows contrition.

Note though this example of an unrepentant repeat offender:

[34] In Hartley v Police, Mr Hartley was sentenced on one charge of possession of cannabis, which related to 736 grams of cannabis head found drying on a newspaper in a room inside his house. He was also sentenced for the associated cultivation of cannabis. Seven cannabis plants, ranging in height from 0.75 to 1.7 metres were found. When confronted by the Police with what they had found, Mr Hartley was unrepentant about both his use of cannabis and cultivation, and indicated he did not consider he had done anything wrong. He had previous convictions for cannabis offending. He was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment in the District Court.

[35] On appeal, Dobson J considered the issue was whether the Judge had erred in imposing a sentence of imprisonment rather than a sentence of home detention or community detention. His Honour held that the decision not to impose a community-based sentence or a sentence of home detention was plainly wrong. In reaching that conclusion, the Judge held that insufficient weight was placed on Mr Hartley’s personal circumstances “and the distinction between cultivation for personal use and cultivation for supply of others”. He also noted that “community detention combined with intensive supervision has been imposed on comparable occasions where the motivation for change is strong and the offender has secure employment and family support”. Dobson J also said:

I also consider that the need for denunciation and deterrence is lower in cases of cultivation than in cases of supply. The seriousness of cultivation for personal use should not be minimised, but the harm caused by such offending is more to the offender and his or her family, than to the community

[36] Dobson J concluded that a community-based sentence should have been imposed. Home detention was not appropriate because it would require Mr Hartley to forego employment. His Honour took into account the two months’ imprisonment already served, quashed the sentence of imprisonment and imposed a sentence of four months’ community detention, together with 18 months’ intensive supervision.

[37] There was no issue in Hartley as to whether a fine should have been imposed as distinct from a sentence of community detention. The appellant’s previous convictions distinguish it from Mr Riches’ situation.

A prison sentence was overturned (after the offender had served two months) but a community sentence deemed appropriate.