Dunne calls ‘sophistry and bollocks’ on party posturing on cannabis referendum

Peter Dunne has blasted the Government and the Opposition, calling their posturing on the proposed cannabis referendum sophistry and bollocks.

sohistry: The use of clever but false arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving.

bollocks: Nonsense; rubbish (used to express contempt or disagreement, or as an exclamation of annoyance)

So quite strong language from Dunne.

Newsroom:  Sophistry and bollocks on the referendum

Next year’s referendum on recreational cannabis will be the first Government-initiated referendum not to have an immediate definitive outcome. Despite being styled as a binding referendum, it will, in reality, be no more than an indicative vote whether or not people wish to change the legal status of cannabis used for recreational purposes along the lines to be set put in a proposed Bill to accompany the referendum.

But this Bill will not even be put before Parliament, let alone passed, until after the referendum has been held, so voters are being asked to take a great deal on trust.

The Justice Minister has given a commitment that the current three Government parties will treat the outcome of the referendum as binding, and that the Bill will come before the next Parliament. But he has given no assurances that the Bill will be the same as that to be released before the referendum, or that it will not be substantially strengthened or weakened by the select committee process to follow, or even when during the term it might be introduced and passed.

Meanwhile, the Leader of the Opposition says he cannot say what his party’s position will be until they see the proposed legislation. The Minister tries to justify his position by saying that no Parliament can bind its successor Parliaments.

This is, to put it politely, pure sophistic bollocks.

sophistic bollocks: deceitful nonsense

Every piece of legislation passed and regulation promulgated by every New Zealand Parliament since our first Parliament met in May 1854 has to some extent or another bound successor Parliaments. Indeed, if those successor Parliaments have not liked laws passed by their predecessors, they have either repealed or amended them.

That is the stuff of politics and political discourse is all about, and governments have always reserved the right to upend the legislation of an earlier government if they have not liked it, and to replace it with something more akin to their own way of thinking.

From the referendum on compulsory peacetime conscription in 1949, through to the 1967 and 1990 referenda on extending the Parliamentary term to four years, and those referred to earlier, governments of the day have used the process judiciously to allow the voters to determine controversial issues that either the politicians cannot decide upon, or, in the case of electoral law changes, should not decide upon.

And the prime example of the dangers of having a binding referendum with little defined, and then trusting politicians to follow the will of the majority, is Brexit. It is not just a mess on leaving the EU, it’s making a mess of the whole political system in the UK.

The notion of a government-initiated referendum that might or might not be binding, or implemented quite as people expect, has been completely foreign to all of those earlier examples. Yet that is precisely what New Zealand now faces with this Government’s, all things to all people, recreational cannabis referendum.

But it is actually worse than that, which could produce more uncertainty than it seeks to resolve.

On the assumption the referendum passes, the country faces a period of uncertainty while the legislation is considered and wends its way through the Parliamentary process, over at least most of 2021, and possibly the early part of 2022, assuming the Government decides to proceed with it as a priority, and that is by no means a given.

I can’t remember how many times I have heard the current Labour led Government say a promise or policy is ‘not a priority’, which is doublespeak for ‘get stuffed, we’re not doing it now’.

Trust politicians?

All this uncertainty creates a potentially extraordinarily confusing situation, which could have been avoided had the specific law been in place before the referendum, to be triggered by a positive vote.

Everyone would have known not only where things would stand once the law changed, but it will also occur immediately, removing instantly the uncertainty likely to accrue from the inevitable post referendum delay and confusion the government’s current approach will surely cause. However, without that, the current disgruntlement about the inconsistent way the current law on cannabis operates, is likely to give way to a new disgruntlement about its replacement.

The way this issue has turned out is another example of how this unwieldly administration seems at sixes and sevens when it comes to major policy development.

Nothing ever seems to be able to be implemented quite the way it was promoted two years ago when the Government took office. The compromises necessary to keep Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens may well be examples of MMP government in practice but they are increasingly looking like weak excuses for missed opportunities.

Is cannabis law reform therefore about to join welfare, tax reform, electoral reform and a raft of other things this Government says it would “love” to do properly, but, when the crunch comes, just cannot ever quite manage to bring together in a cohesive and comprehensive way?

The only think making the deceitful nonsense from the Government look so bad is the matching deceitful nonsense from the opposition.

 

 

 

Cannabis referendum announcement

Yesterday Jacinda Ardern advised the Cabinet had made a decision on how they will do the cannabis referendum that has to be held before or alongside next year’s general election.

She said that Minister of Justice Andrew Little will make an announcement on it today.

There’s been a lot of conjecture, lobbying, shonky polling, leaking, misleading claims and noise over cannabis law reform.

No one in Government denies there are health issues with cannabis use, especially for young people. The whole aim of law reform is to switch from a law and punishment approach (which has been unsuccessful if not disastrous), to a health and treatment approach.


UPDATE: the announcement:

New Zealanders to make the decision in cannabis referendum

The Government has announced details of how New Zealanders will choose whether or not to legalise and regulate cannabis, said Justice Minister Andrew Little.

The Coalition Government is committed to a health-based approach to drugs, to minimise harm and take control away from criminals. The referendum is a commitment in the Labour-Green Confidence and Supply Agreement, as well as a longstanding commitment from New Zealand First to hold a referendum on the issue.

“There will be a clear choice for New Zealanders in a referendum at the 2020 General Election. Cabinet has agreed there will be a simple Yes/No question on the basis of a draft piece of legislation.

“That draft legislation will include:

  • A minimum age of 20 to use and purchase recreational cannabis,
  • Regulations and commercial supply controls,
  • Limited home-growing options,
  • A public education programme,
  • Stakeholder engagement.

“Officials are now empowered to draft the legislation with stakeholder input, and the Electoral Commission will draft the referendum question to appear on the ballot.

“The voters’ choice will be binding because all of the parties that make up the current Government have committed to abide by the outcome.

“We hope and expect the National Party will also commit to respecting the voters’ decision.

“I have today released the actual paper considered by Cabinet,” said Andrew Little.

The Justice Minister also confirmed there will be no other government initiated referendums at the next election.


Initial reaction – Green quick off the mark.

Andrew Little guarantees binding referendum on cannabis law reform

Cabinet may be announcing how they will deal with the promised referendum on cannabis law reform today.

RNZ: Little guarantees binding cannabis referendum – but yet to define ‘binding’

Justice Minister Andrew Little has guaranteed that next year’s cannabis referendum will be binding, but says he will explain “what binding actually means” when the next details are announced.

Mr Little told RNZ the government stood by its commitment to hold a binding referendum alongside the 2020 election, but he suggested the word “binding” could have several interpretations.

“We made the decision at the end of last year for a binding referendum. That decision remains,” he said.

“[But] once Cabinet has made its decisions, and we’re in a position to announce the next phase … we’ll be able to explain what ‘binding’ actually means.”

Mr Little said the best time to offer that “clarity” would be after the final decision and announcement which he expected would be in “fairly short order”.

National MP Paula Bennett said anything less than the “full legislative process” would let down the public.

“We would like to see legislation that has gone through the House … through the scrutiny of a select committee, so experts can really be involved.

“I hear though there’s a lot of dissension amongst the Greens, New Zealand First and Labour … and I’m worried they’ll go with a watered-down version because it’s too difficult for them to agree.”

This looks quite different to what National were promoting with the leaked Cabinet paper yesterday.

Leaked Cabinet paper on cannabis referendum ‘out of date’

A Cabinet Paper detailing cannabis law reform referendum options has been leaked to the National Party (who insist on misnaming the drug) just before the issue will be considered by Cabinet, but Green MP Chloe Swarbrick says that it is out of date.

National: Cabinet Paper shows NZ not ready for (cannabis) referendum

A Cabinet Paper leaked to National which will be considered by the Government tomorrow shows New Zealand will head into the recreational marijuana referendum with many unanswered questions, National’s Drug Reform spokesperson Paula Bennett says.

“Cabinet will tomorrow consider four different options for the referendum but no matter which option it choses, there are huge holes.

“The Cabinet Paper is clear that smoking marijuana when you’re under the age of 25 is detrimental for development of the brain, and yet it recommends that the legal age should be 20. The legal age seems to have been plucked out of thin air.

“The paper acknowledges that regular marijuana use increases the risk of developing depression, psychosis and schizophrenia and is especially harmful to those under 25-years-old. It also acknowledges that there is a one in six chance of young people becoming dependent. This would result in further demand for mental health services.

“Only one of the options being considered will give New Zealanders some certainty about what they’re voting for – the other options will mean a huge lack of information.

“Every option takes us straight to legalisation instead of decriminalisation. Many other countries consider decriminalisation first before leaping straight to legalisation.

“National understands that as usual with this Government, the coalition has been unable to reach a consensus and the decision around which option they will choose has been holding up the process.

“The problem with that is there isn’t time for yet more coalition disagreements on an issue this important.”

The 2020 Cannabis Referendum proposals outline four options including;

  • A general question consistent with the undertaking in the Confidence and Supply agreement: “Do you support legalising the personal use of recreational cannabis?” This would not be accompanied by any legal framework or other policy decisions and it would be left to a subsequent Parliament to determine what to do in the event of a ‘yes’ vote.
  • A questions referring to a specific policy framework document setting out the basic principles of what legalisation for personal use of recreational cannabis in New Zealand would entail: “Do you support legalising recreational cannabis in accordance with [published policy document]?” A ‘yes’ vote would result in the duly elected government and Parliament having some moral imperative, but no obligation, to enact law changes consistent with that policy document;
  • A question referring to draft legislation that outlines the regulatory model for cannabis: ‘Do you support legalising the personal use of recreational cannabis in accordance with [published draft legislation]?” Similar to option 2, a ‘yes’ vote would result in the duly elected government and Parliament having some moral imperative, but no obligation, to enact the legislation.
  • A question referring to legislation already enacted but conditional on an affirmative vote on the referendum: “Do you support legalising recreational cannabis in accordance with the [Drug Reform] Act 20XX?” A ‘yes’ vote would trigger the legislation coming into effect.

A leak of a Cabinet paper is rare and serious, and national are playing it hard.

Paula Bennett has been invited a number of times to work together with Government parties on cannabis law reform, but National has chosen to try to spoil and disrupt the issue as much as possible, in this case aided by a leak.

It’s very disappointing if Cabinet are seriously considering any but the last of the above options.

It’s also disappointing to see National trying to make a mess of the issue. Paula Bennett has handled this appallingly, presumably with the approval of Simon Bridges.

Labour, NZ First and National are all at risk of letting the majority of New Zealanders who support cannabis law reform down by playing petty politics and possible trying to get out of fronting up properly on this issue.

If Labour yet again fails on a key policy due to not getting NZ First support, and if National mess things up by not working positively on this, then they will piss a lot of people off.

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.

 

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).