Flag change debate demonstrates partisan support shifts

The flag change debate and referendum became dominated by partisan shifts in support – one of the more significant being Labour’s shift from supporting flag change to opposing it, which appeared to be more an anti-John Key position shift.

Analysis shows that many voters shifted their preference for change based on their party support – the result was swayed by partisanship.

So it is imperative that future referendums, like the upcoming (some time) cannabis referendum, does not become a political shit fight. To avoid it being a partisan pissy contest the party leaders should make it clear it is a conscience type vote.

NZH: Follow the leader: What the flag debate revealed about our personal politics

When it comes to issues as seemingly apolitical as changing the flag, the party leaders we back can still change the way we sway.

That’s according to a study published this month by Kiwi researchers, who used the much-debated flag referendum to investigate how partisanship can shape our own attitudes and preferences.

“Our research shows that the positions taken by political leaders and political parties can have an important impact on peoples’ preferences, even on issues that are supposed to reflect personal preferences,” said study leader Nicole Satherley, of the University of Auckland.

The longitudinal New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS) happened to include questions measuring voters’ attitudes about changing the flag in 2013, before the referendum was introduced, and again in 2016, after it had been introduced.

Satherley and colleagues capitalised on these data, examining participants’ support for changing the flag (“yes,” “no,” or “unsure”) and the degree to which participants in the study also supported or opposed the National and Labour parties.

As the researchers hypothesised, the data showed that participants tended to shift their opinions to align with those of their preferred political party.

Overall, 30.5 per cent of National voters and 27.5 per cent of Labour voters moved away from the position they originally reported in 2013 to become closer to, or consistent with, the position endorsed by their party leader.

In other words, the researchers found that support for either National or Labour predicted whether individual voters remained stable in their views or changed over time.

Relative to remaining opposed to changing the existing flag design, strong National supporters were more than three times as likely to shift their opinion in favour of a flag change compared with those who expressed low support for National.

At the same time, staunch Labour supporters who originally backed the change were more likely to shift toward opposing the change, compared with participants who expressed low support for Labour.

And strong party supporters whose opinions were already in line with the party position were less likely to shift their attitudes over time compared with participants who expressed low levels of party support.

Can the party leaders promote a true non-partisan choice-of-the-people referendum on recreational use of cannabis when that eventually happens (it must be before or with the next general election in 2020)?

If we have a referendum on euthanasia can that be non-partisan?

The researchers said the findings raised some important questions for future research, such as what motivated party supporters to switch their votes, and whether they did so to align themselves with their party leaders, or just to combat the opposing party.

These are important tests, because when we get around to deciding things like constitutions and becoming a republic it will be critical that the debates and referendums are no hijacked by political parties for their own benefit.

Much will depend on how the party leaders deal with any referendum.

Peter Dunne on recreational cannabis regulation

On Q+A last night peter Dunne was asked where he now stands on cannabis use and law.

Corin Dann: You’ve been on top of this issue for many years, as a Minister, under a lot of pressure from both sides. Where do you sit now personally on the issue of cannabis?

Peter Dunne: I’ve set my view out probably pretty clearly over the last two or three years.

I think we can move to to treat cannabis for recreational purposes in a regulated market, where we determine the level of risk, where we determine how it’s to be sold, to whom it’s to be sold, and we can have a limited amount of personal cultivation and personal manufacture, pretty akin to the market we have now for tobacco actually.

It keeps it under tight control and the government…

Corin Dann: R18…

Peter Dunne: no advertising, price set by the state effectively…

Corin Dann: It’s interesting that you;ve reached that position. Were you there ten years ago?

Peter Dunne: probably not ten years ago but i think over the last five years I’ve moved to that.

But can I just say one thing. For the referendum to be effective you’ve got to have that model effectively set up to go once the referendum result occurs, a bit like we did when MMP came in. If the vote was yes, here’s what happens. If you just left it as an open ended question you’ll see more of what we saw this evening and no progress.

That’s what Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick is proposing. See Q+A: Should NZ legalise recreational cannabis?

Peter Dunne: …that brings you back to how this whole process is structured. I don’t think the Government’s got it’s head properly around this at the moment.

If you’re going to have a referendum which is going to be definitive in some way, then you need to have a proper considered period of education and information dealing with all of these issues beforehand.

Probably the best part of a year actually, which means if you’re going to have the referendum you’d probably want to have it at the latter part of next year clear of local body elections next October, and well before the general election.

I think they’re a way behind the 8 ball on that frankly.

That’s how it appears to me. Last week Minister of Police spoke of treating drugs as a health issue, Jacinda Ardern has said that in the past, but it appears to be all talk and little action apart from Swarbrick doing her best to push things along.

Full panel discussion:

Clark, Ardern shamefully lame not urgently addressing drug problems

Urgent action is required to address drug problems, like the prevalence of P (methamphetamine) and the growing problems with and deaths from synthetic drugs (not cannabis as some keep describing it as).

Instead the Minister of Health, David Clark, and the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, are shamefully lame.

RNZ:  Synthetic drug compounds may be reclassified as Class A

Two of the most commonly used synthetic drugs could be reclassified as Class A, bringing them in line with heroin and cocaine.

Health Minister David Clark said the aim was to give the police greater powers to stop makers and sellers of the drug.

He said he would be asking his Cabinet colleagues to support reclassification of two compounds known as AMB-Fubinaca and 5F-ABD.

bad batch of synthetic drugs in Christchurch is suspected to be behind one death. The batch has also put 19 people in hospital over the last two weeks.

“Any death as a result of drug use is a tragedy, and my sympathies go to friends and family,” Dr Clark said.

The government was taking the synthetic drug problem seriously and was talking to service providers and drug users to identify areas of need, he said.

Urgent and drastic action is required, like right now, and Clark is talking to people and might take a tweak to Cabinet some time in the future. I don’t have a problem with enabling tougher sentences for pushing some drugs, but that is unlikely to dent the ongoing catastrophe that requires urgency.

A decision on reclassification under the Misuse of Drugs Act would be made in coming weeks.

“It’s important to acknowledge that reclassification is not a silver bullet. We need to treat drug abuse, including synthetic cannabis, as a health issue,” Dr Clark said.

It’s not cannabis. And this is hardly going to make a difference.

Drug laws need a complete overhaul, not just a tweak, says The Drug Foundation.

It said drug suppliers and users needed to be treated differently under the law, as suggested by the Law Commission in 2011.

This would stop addicts being penalised for what should be health issue, Drug Foundation chief executive Ross Bell said.

“Unless the government reforms that law then its good intentions of going after the big guys doesn’t stop police from then also choosing to criminalise people who are using these drugs.”

Funding for drug addiction services also needed to double, he said.

Drug rehabilitation service provider What Ever It Takes Trust general manager Caroline Lampp said a reclassification of two synthetic drugs would help stop supply, but more help for addicts was crucial.

“There a big gap here in Hawke’s Bay and in other places around the before and after support,” she said.

Dr Clark agreed addiction services are underfunded, but said the government was waiting for the final report from the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry before increasing any funding.

Waiting. Waiting! While lives continue to be ruined, and people keep dying.

Last week in New York Ardern notably did not join Donald Trump’s continuation of the failed ‘war on drugs’.

Last night  saw Ardern spout some absolutely vague waffle on the drug problem last night on TV and now I can’t find it, such is it’s lack of importance in the news.

TVNZ has this online: Potent new batch of synthetic drugs turning users violent in Christchurch – ‘Every person is quite unpredictable’

Two more people have died from suspected synthetic drug overdoses in Christchurch in the last fortnight as the city grapples with a dangerous batch of the drugs.

Those on the front line say patients on synthetic cannabis are becoming more aggressive and turning on the people trying to help them.

St John’s Craig Downing told 1 NEWS about one of these violent incidents.

“Last Saturday night we were called to a case that the ambulance staff responded to.

“They attended to a person and whilst in the back of the ambulance that person, without provocation or warning, violently attacked one of my staff,” Mr Downing said.

“I’m extremely worried because we don’t know from one patient to the next what’s in this substance and as such every person is quite unpredictable.”

Others dealing with Christchurch’s less fortunate have also reported the new strain of synthetic cannabis causing issues.

“The latest batches are significantly more powerful than they’ve ever been, in fact up to 400 times the strength of THC which is really significant.

“From an addictive perspective one hit can get someone hooked on it,” Christchurch City Mission’s Matthew Mark says.

A paper is set to go to cabinet in the next few weeks with a plan on how to tackle the issue, including a possible law change.

‘Next few weeks’, ‘possible law change’. Hopeless.

Ardern appears in video of that item alongside Minister of Police Stuart Nash waffling a bit about what they might do.

I think that was the news item I heard Ardern speaking but it seems to have been expunged.

Clark, Ardern and the Government have been shamefully lame in their dealing with urgent drug abuse problems.

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick is putting them to shame (see next post) but is not making much impression on Ardern or her Government.

 

 

Dunne “more than extremely stunned” by National’s ‘war on drugs’ reversal

After Donald Trump promoted continuing the ‘war on drugs’ Simon Bridges said that a National-led government would sign up to it. Peter Dunne, a minister in the last National-led government, says that he is “more than extremely stunned” by this.

On Monday:  National would sign up to international drug effort

A National-led Government would sign up to the latest international push to tackle drugs, overturning the Labour-led Government’s decision not to, National Party Leader Simon Bridges says.

“Combatting the manufacture and supply of drugs requires governments and law enforcement agencies from right around the world to work together. And we must share ideas about how to tackle addiction and drug use.

“That’s why the Prime Minister’s decision not to sign New Zealand up to the Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem at the UN this week, distancing New Zealand from those international efforts, is concerning.

“More than 120 countries including some of our closest partners from Australia to the US, the UK and Canada have signalled their intention to do their part.

“The Prime Minister’s excuse for not signing up, that the Government is taking ‘a health approach’ isn’t good enough. The strategy calls for countries to do more to address addiction and provide more treatment as well as working more closely together to clamp down on manufacturing and supply.

“Taken together, that’s how we will deal with the drug problem.

“But by distancing New Zealand from that work the Prime Minister risks making New Zealand an easy target and sending the message that her Government is soft on crime and drug dealers.

“This is the latest example of this Government’s soft-on-crime approach. It’s failing to act quickly on synthetic cannabis which continues to become a bigger issue and it’s promising to make it harder for people to be sent to prison and easier for them to get out.

“National will sign up to the agreement, we will support those with drug and alcohol issues but we will also hold those who peddle these drugs to account. The Prime Minister needs to properly explain why she won’t.”

National, particularly Judith Collins but increasingly Bridges, have been running a ‘soft on crime’ campaign against the Government, and Bridges has run this line again here.

Peter Dunne’s response (The Spinoff): I am stunned by National’s somersault in backing Trump’s ‘war on drugs’

Just two years ago I had the privilege as then associate minister of health of addressing the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs. That was while the previous National-led government was in office.

In my address I made the following comments:

“Last year at CND 58, I spoke of the importance of three fundamental pillars of drug policy – Proportion, Compassion and Innovation. New Zealand has woven these principles throughout its approach to addressing drug issues, including them as central tenets in its recently launched 2015 National Drug Policy. But perhaps there is a fourth pillar that is missing – boldness. Incremental movement, if any, has been the norm for drug policy development for as long as I can remember – and the movement has not always been forward. As encouraging as the shift has been, the fact is that compared to the global narcotic industries, we are moving at a glacial pace, hamstrung by an outdated overly punitive approach.”

These comments, as noted above, were all consistent with New Zealand’s National Drug Policy adopted by the Cabinet after much debate in 2015. The policy and the speech, and others I gave at the annual UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs meetings through to 2017 made it clear New Zealand rejected the “war on drugs” rhetoric and approach that had dominated international drug policy for too long, in favour of the more compassionate, health centred approach set out in the National Drug Policy.

I am delighted that the prime minister has repeated these messages and confirmed in reality the direction of the National Drug Policy in her address to the UN General Assembly this week, and that she has rejected outright the backward focusing approach of the president of the United States to try to reignite the “war on drugs” when most countries have been looking to move on from that.

That refers to Jacinda Ardern’s address.

However, I am more than extremely stunned that the National Party, which could have claimed the high ground and pointed out she was just copying policy already in place, has instead done a complete somersault on its previous position and apparently now supports the Trump proposition.

It is hard to find – let alone justify – a credible reason for this about-face. Certainly the few public statements I have seen go little beyond the uninformed and the platitudinous. So it becomes difficult to believe that the driving principle behind this decision is anything but a perverse determination to take a different view from Labour, whatever that view might be, and no matter what your own government’s record on the matter. It is a very dark day for National’s ongoing credibility on this issue.

It all seems a far cry from when a New Zealand government minister could stand before the UN General Assembly just two short years ago, and say that our country believed that “responsible regulation is the key to reducing drug-related harm and achieving long-term success in drug control approaches.”

The bipartisan focus on drugs as a health issue seems to have been tossed aside as a political inconvenience, especially when knee jerk opposition for the sake of it is so much easier. That is to National’s ongoing shame.

When in Government National dragged the chain badly on addressing out of control drug problems, but this is a backward step even by their standards.

Hopefully decent change will happen before national get back into government, but Ardern and Labour have a lot of stepping up to do on this, and converting some of their rhetoric into real changes to how we deal with drug problems. So far they haven’t even had the guts to deal with cannabis apart from dabbling on medical cannabis use.

For someone who claims to lead a progressive government the progress on drug law reform is very disappointing so far. If Labour actually got something meaningful done they would put Bridges and national to shame.

Disgraceful lack of action from David Clark and Labour on drug crisis

The drug abuse crisis continues to hit the headlines,with ongoing and growing problems, more and more deaths, and the Labour-led Government continues to do bugger all if that.

The wellbeing and lives of many people are at risk, this should be getting urgent attention, but the Labour-led government looks as bad as National was in being to gutless to address the problems.

Yesterday from Stuff:  Warning issued over synthetic cannabis use after eight people hospitalised

At least three people have been admitted to intensive care and others treated within 24 hours in Christchurch after using synthetic cannabis.

The Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) issued a warning about the illegal drug after a rush of people suffering from potentially severe synthetic cannabis toxicity ended up in Christchurch Hospital.

Emergency medicine specialist Paul Gee said there had been a noticeable increase in people needing emergency help due to the side effects of synthetic cannabis use.

Eight people have been treated in Christchurch over the last 24 hours, with three having to be admitted to the intensive care unit.

Also Synthetic cannabis users gambling with their lives after a ‘bad batch’

Synthetic cannabis users are gambling with their lives, a health official warns following a spate of hospitalisations in Christchurch.

The Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) issued a warning on Thursday evening about the illegal drug after a rush of people suffering from potentially severe synthetic cannabis toxicity ended up in Christchurch Hospital.

As a Minister in the National-led Government Peter Dunne copped a lot of flak for dysfunctional drug laws and growing drug abuse problems, especially the growing use of new drugs often inaccurately referred to as synthetic cannabis.

It suited National to allow the blame to fall on Dunne while they did virtually nothing to deal with obvious drug law problems and growing use of dangerous drugs. And there has been many ignorant attacks on Dunne.

On 1 News yesterday Dunne suggested a rethink on how we deal with natural cannabis: Legalising recreational cannabis could stem NZ’s epidemic of ‘zombie drug’ deaths, Peter Dunne says

Synthetic cannabis has killed more than 40 people in New Zealand since June last year, a massive jump from the previous five years, the coroner recently reported.

One way to serve a blow to the market for the so called zombie-drug in New Zealand would be to legalise recreational cannabis, former MP and Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said today on TVNZ1’s Breakfast.

But the suggestion came with a caveat.

“It would certainly remove some of the incentive for people to try some of these substances,” he said. “But…some of these (synthetic drugs) are so potent and so powerful that people may well feel they’ll get a better high from these rather than the real product.

“While on the face of it the answer would be yes (to marijuana legalisation), I don’t think it’s necessarily that simple.”

“I don’t think we ever anticipated we’d get new synthetic drugs that would lead to so much harm,” NZ Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell told 1 NEWS yesterday.

So what is the current Government doing about it? very little as far as I’m aware. Health Minister David Clark seems as reluctant as National was to address the problem, and most of the Labour-led Government seem to be gutless – the exception is Green MP Chloe Swarbrick who is working hard to try to progress long overdue drug law reforms.

The only official press release from David Clark since becoming Minister was this last December: Medicinal cannabis to ease suffering. Labour have been very disappointing in their handling even of medicinal cannabis.

Nothing from Clark mentioning ‘synthetic’. What the hell is he doing apart from nothing?

NZ Herald (31 July 2018): Health Minister David Clark in favour of liberalising drug laws

Health Minister David Clark is personally in favour of more liberal drug laws because prohibition has not worked in the past.

But Clark would not commit to abiding by the result of any referendum on loosening laws around cannabis use, saying he preferred to wait for advice from his colleagues.

“I think it’s highly likely that that’s the course we would take … all I’ve said is I want to wait for advice.

“I haven’t had a conversation with colleagues about how that referendum’s going to be framed and what question we’re going to be asking the public.

“Broadly, I favour at a more personal level, more liberal drug laws because I think in the world when prohibition has been tried, it hasn’t worked.”

We have multiple drug crises, with both synthetics and P (methamphetamine). Natural cannabis is far less dangerous, but it is getting more expensive and harder to obtain because drug pushers make more money out of getting people addicted to P and synthetic drugs. They have no trouble finding more victims to replace those who die.

National’s lack of action on drug abuse and drug laws was extremely disappointing.

Clark and Labour are acting just as poorly. This is disgraceful.

Q+A: Helen Clark on why NZ should give up the war on drugs

On Q+A last night Helen Clark talked about why New Zealand should give up on the war on drugs.

“I support the New Zealand Drug Foundation on this, and their position is that there should be a binding referendum in 2020.”

I’d prefer to see a binding referendum before the 2020 election (and that could be done in early 2020). It is important enough to be dealt with on it’s own, without the distraction of a general election. This means having legislation written and agreed in Parliament to put to the referendum for approval or rejection before that.

The Greens have a confidence and supply agreement with Labour to have a referendum before or alongside the 2020 general election.

This isn’t new from Clark. In March 2018: War on drugs has failed – Helen Clark

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark says a bill that would quadruple the maximum prison sentence for people supplying synthetic cannabis reflects a failed war on drugs mentality.

National MP Simeon Brown’s bill would extend the maximum prison term for supplying synthetic cannabis from two years to eight.

It passed its first reading at Parliament last night – supported by National and New Zealand First MPs.

At a conference on drugs at Parliament today, Ms Clark, who is a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, said the global war on drugs had failed, with devastating consequences for individuals.

Ms Clark said the proposed synthetic cannabis law change was more of the same.

“That is heading in the war on drugs direction which isn’t going to work – but going to a select committee to a bill is one thing, what will come out the other end.

“And I think all the people who know about drug policy, who know what’s happening around the world, need to come to the (select) committee and spell it out how it is.”

Ms Clark said it was time for New Zealand to have a fresh look at its drug policy.

“We have to look at the evidence of what works – and if we looked at Portugal or to Switzerland or any number of countries now we see more enlightened drug policies, which are bringing down the rate of death and not driving up prison populations.”

Full Q+A interview:

 

“If we look at penal policy, clearly it’s failed.”

“I’m personally totally opposed to three strikes and you’re out, I think that’s a ridiculous approach.”

On drug reform:

“That would be the gold standard, to go to the Portuguese model, which is decriminalisation surrounded by massive harm reduction measures.

“New Zealand innovated more than thirty years ago with the needle exchange scheme, and we did that because it was absolutely essential to stop the spread of HIV aids.

“But we haven’t really done much in all the years since, and if we look at what Canada is now doing, you have safe consumption spaces where people who inject drugs are able to inject in safety where their drugs are tested, and also in a number of countries much readier access to the anti-overdose drug Naxolone, which WHO says should be in the hands of anyone likely to witness an overdose.

“So I have no doubt that we could do much better, and we need to look at what’s Norway doing, what’s Canada doing, what’s Portugal doing, who’s doing things that are working.”

Corin Dann: “Again though where does leadership come in here, because this current Government has said they would look at a referendum, but then there’s no guarantee they would act on that referendum. It seems to me that once again politicians are very nervous about leading on this issue. What should they do?”

Clark:

“Well I support the New Zealand Drug Foundation on this, and their position is that there should be a binding referendum in 2020. and for it to be binding you need to prepare the legislation beforehand so people know what they are voting on and you can have an informed debate.

“In referendums the question is always the question, and it needs to be simple, but if it’s a simple yes/no around a law that’s been passed and will be activated by a ‘yes’ vote, that becomes clearer to explain.”

I hope she convinces Jacinda Ardern and Labour on this.

Passing legislation next year that is subject to a binding referendum in early 2020, months in advance of the general election is do-able and should be a no-brainer if Parliament is prepared to lead on this and address what is currently a very poor situation on drugs.

“The current policies aren’t working”.

Do you think the public feels that?

“Yes I do, but I also think what has changed is that around the world we’re seeing a lot of movement on these issues. Certainly on cannabis decriminalisation and even legalisation in US states and Canada and European jurisdictions.

And in the area of the other illicit drugs we’re also seeing a lot of innovation around harm reduction measures. So I think follow the evidence, see what’s working.

Portugal in the mid-late nineties, when it went down this road, had the highest rate of drug related deaths in all of Western Europe. Today it has the lowest, so clearly they’ve got something right.

Decriminalisation or legalisation is the approach that Portugal and others take, but they then have regulation.

Now New Zealand did try regulation of some psycho-active drugs back in 2013, then for whatever reason it got dropped like a hot cake the following year, but I think it is worth going back and looking at the principle of that with respect to that particular group of drugs.

That refers to the legislation promoted by Peter Dunne, passed by Parliament but then dumped by National when they panicked after bad media.

The global drug commission that I’m on will be bringing out a new report in September that will be talking about legalisation AND regulation, you have to have regulation, and you have to have major harm reduction measures.

If Ardern really wants to demonstrate that her Government is truly progressive then they will address drug policies that are currently failing badly.

Minister of Health David Cl;ark seems to have been given the responsibility for dealing with this, and he has seemed tol be far from progressive, he is more conservative, and doesn’t seem keen to lead on it.

 

 

National “too scared” to address cannabis issues

Peter Dunne has said that National were ‘too scared” to address dysfunctional cannabis and drug laws – and Labour seem to be barely better.

It’s widely known that cannabis law (and drug laws generally) are not effective and create more problems than they solve. However successive governments have failed to deal with them.

As Associate Health Minister under the previous National led Government Peter Dunne bore the brunt of political criticism over cannabis and other drug law failures, but he has become increasingly critical of the role the National Party played.

Newshub:  National ‘too scared’ for cannabis reform while in Govt – Peter Dunne

Former leader of United Future, Peter Dunne has called out the National Party for only putting forward a medicinal cannabis bill once they were ‘in the safety’ of opposition.

“In government they were frankly too scared – they were really paranoid about the potential impact any change in this area…would have on their rural and provincial support base. They didn’t want to be seen as soft on these things. That was their prevailing mindset.

“I am frustrated that now they’re in the comfort of opposition, the impotence of opposition, they think this is a good course of action to take,” he told Newshub Nation on Friday.

I believe Dunne on this.

I was approached in 2011 to stand as a candidate for United Future. It was always going to be an extremely long shot, but it gave me a great perspective of politics and our democratic system.

One condition for standing was that if I won the equivalent of political lotto (the odds were probably greater) I would be able to promote cannabis law reform. Dunne was happy with this.

I had contact with him over the years, and he always expressed a willingness to try to deal with drug law issues, and he showed frustration that he was being limited by National.

Dunne was used by National as a scapegoat to take attention away from their own gutlessness in avoiding drug law reform.

Labour haven’t been much better. They effectively trashed Chlöe Swarbrick’s Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis and Other Matters) Amendment Bill when it went before Parliament earlier this year – see Chloe Swarbrick’s medicinal cannabis bill fails at first reading.

Also Chloe Swarbrick: MPs out of touch over medicinal marijuana (RNZ are out of touch using the term marijuana):

During the first reading Ms Swarbrick told Parliament something had to change.

“You do not find a solution to a problem by beating it with a blunt and broken instrument.

“The law here is broken and good, kind otherwise law-abiding people are risking jail to help their neighbours and those in their community currently experiencing unnecessary suffering.”

Ms Swarbrick urged National MPs who wanted to support her bill to do so – despite the official party line being to oppose it.

“I would like to invite any National Party MPs who support this to stick their neck out and to be on the right side of history tonight – it will not pass without you votes.”

On Tuesday, National MP Chris Bishop said he would be backing the bill, but voted against it.

Nikki Kaye had been given dispensation to vote for it but also ended up opposing it.

Now Labour have put up their own inferior and flawed alternative.

National and NZ First were the main culprits in blocking this bill, but eight Labour MPs also voted against it. Parliament failed to reflect strong public opinion (in one poll 78%) who supported cannabis law reform.

Current Health Minister David Clark has taken the responsibility for medicinal cannabis law has failed to show leadership on this, as has Jacinda Ardern.

It reflects poorly on National and Labour that the most prominent champion of cannabis law reform is first term *and the youngest) MP Swarbrick to try to represent public wishes on this.

Cannabis referendum could be binding

A cannabis referendum (on recreational use) is part of the confidence and supply agreement between the Greens and Labour, and has been promised before or at the 2020 election. The Government is considering making it a binding referendum.

RNZ:  Cannabis referendum may be binding

The Justice Minister Andrew Little says the government is considering what kind of referendum will be held.

“One of the decisions that the Government is going to make is whether it will be a binding referendum, meaning that once the decision is made then the Government will follow through on it. In order for a binding referendum to take place there has to be a reasonable degree of specificity and certainty about what would follow a ‘yes’ vote.”

Winston Peters says he would support the result of a referendum.

“Well look we don’t believe in fake democracy. A referendum is a form of democracy.

“If the question’s going to the people, the people’s answer will be paramount, yes.”

Simon Bridges says that National would follow the wishes of a public referendum: National would legalise cannabis if public voted in favour – Bridges

If the public votes in favour of legalising cannabis in a referendum, a National-led government would change the law accordingly, National Party leader Simon Bridges says.

Mr Bridges said National would enact a law change if that was what New Zealanders wanted.

“Oh I think we’ve got to, I mean we’ve got to go with what the people want and what a referendum tells us.

“We’ve got a bit of water to go under the bridge, we’ve got to see the question, we’re going to have an informed debate I hope on the issues, but absolutely on principle we support referendums and their outcomes.”

Not as much certainty from Labour though.

When asked before she went on maternity leave, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern would not yet commit to whether Labour would legalise marijuana if a referendum favoured the change.

That’s disappointing from Ardern.

Guarded support but vagueness from the Minister of Health: David Clark in favour of liberalising drug laws

Health Minister David Clark is personally in favour of more liberal drug laws because prohibition has not worked in the past.

But Clark would not commit to abiding by the result of any referendum on loosening laws around cannabis use, saying he preferred to wait for advice from his colleagues.

“I think it’s highly likely that that’s the course we would take … all I’ve said is I want to wait for advice.

“I haven’t had a conversation with colleagues about how that referendum’s going to be framed and what question we’re going to be asking the public.

“Broadly, I favour at a more personal level, more liberal drug laws because I think in the world when prohibition has been tried, it hasn’t worked.”

Clark seems to have been one of the weakest links in the medicinal cannabis bill before Parliament at the moment, so it’s hard to know how he would deal with this.

Hopefully Parliament will make it a ‘conscience vote’ (personal vote) for MPs when it comes to legislation, and hopefully the will of the people weights heavily on the consciences of MPs.

If ever there was an issue that could do with some real leadership in parliament, this is it.

Perhaps Ardern has had a chance to see this while on her break from Parliament, and she picks up and runs with proper drug law reform rather than the weak tinkering and dithering we have seen so far.

‘Synthetic cannabis’ crisis requires urgent action

Synthetic drugs, inaccurately referred to as ‘synthetic cannabis’, have been causing major problems for years. The National government got spooked by bad publicity and neutered a ground breaking way of dealing with them in 2013  – Psychoactive Substances Bill a ‘game-changer’ but National lost the plot after some adverse publicity.

But these drugs are still a major problem – in part because of Parliament’s failure to address the ongoing failure of current drug laws, especially for cannabis which is far safer than synthetics.

National have tried to address things through a Member’s bill, but this has been slammed: ‘Naive nonsense’ – Peter Dunne slams Simeon Brown’s bill increasing synthetic cannabis penalties, saying it just won’t work

Former Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has slammed a member’s Bill proposing to increase penalties for dealing synthetic drugs, saying penalties simply will not solve the problem.

Numerous deaths, especially in the Auckland region, were attributed to deadly batches of synthetic drugs last year.

Pakuranga MP Simeon Brown’s Bill, which would amend the Psychoactive Drugs Act 2013, would increase the penalty for dealing the substances from two years in prison to 8 years, and has passed its first reading.

National’s Mr Brown wrote that “this Bill is necessary in order to protect our communities and young people from these harmful drugs, to deter those who are supplying them into the market, and to give Police stronger powers to crack down on suppliers”.

Mr Dunne, speaking this morning with TVNZ 1’s Breakfast called Mr Brown’s Bill “naive nonsense” and put it down to being an “easy win” for him.

“It’s been the easy one over the years – make the penalties tougher, hit those who are supplying,” Mr Dunne said.

“There is a case for changing the penalties, because they are a bit out of line with the Misuse of Drugs Act, but to suggest that is the answer is simply naive nonsense.”

Mr Dunne said synthetic drugs were under control in 2013, but parliament had backtracked due to “moral panic” from the public about the drugs.

“These drugs had actually been on the market for years – we’d brought them under control,” he said.

“Parliament then backtracked and decided to change the law and the consequence of that, plus the unrelated but pretty important issue of a ban on animal testing of these substances, meant the law has been stymied for the last four years and the market’s gone underground.

“The only way to get on top of it is to go back to what the Psychoactive Substances Act was all about – have products tested for the level of risk and sold properly through regulated stores.”

Mr Dunne said increasing penalties would  be popular with Mr Brown’s constituents, but it would not solve the problem.

“The problem is, because this market is underground and is expanding, we’ve lost control of it.

RNZ:  Govt departments urged to find solution on synthetic cannabis

Government agencies have been asked to urgently find ways to reduce the harm caused by synthetic cannabis.

Figures from the Coroner show 40 to 45 people died in the year to June because of synthetic cannabis, compared with two deaths in the previous five years.

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters said the ministers of health, justice, police and customs would seek advice from their agencies and put their heads together to find the best solution.

“There has been a lot of work on this in the past but I think we have to be honest in that we haven’t come up with the kind of solutions which have seen a turnaround or a victory against the people who are peddling this stuff.”

Mr Peters would not rule out including part of National Party MP Simeon Brown’s bill, which would increase the maximum jail sentence for selling or supplying synthetic drugs from two years to eight.

“The police say that that would not work.”

RNZ:  Synthetic cannabis crisis: ‘They are looking for help now on the ground’ – Drug Foundation

The Drug Foundation wants the government to come up with a practical response to the synthetic cannabis crisis, not a bureaucratic one.

Executive director of the Drug Foundation Ross Bell said his fear was that officials would look at policy responses or suggest tougher penalties – neither of which was a solution.

“We need action on the ground now, if you see a lot of the community voices, the parents who have suffered tragedy here, they’re not looking for policy responses, they’re not looking for tougher penalties, they are are looking for help now on the ground.”

Mr Bell said there were practical things that government agencies could be doing now, or should have been doing last year in response to this.

He said part of that was sharing information much more quickly.

“So that St John Ambulance for example, knows what the hell is going on, getting resources on the ground, helping those communities that are experiencing these issues, getting resources there around harm reduction, drug treatment and making sure people who need help don’t have to sit on a waiting list for so long.”

Mr Peters said it couldn’t be denied that governments had tried and failed to address the issues around synthetic cannabis.

“We have to look at what we’ve been talking about in the past and reviewing in the past, and with a multiplicity of agencies set out to provide some serious solutions and as fast as possible.”

But continuing to fail to deal with laws and policing related to natural cannabis is  apart of the problem.

Winston’s insistence of a referendum won’t cut it – it needs urgent and decisive action from those in power in Parliament.

2/2 The challenge now is to make that Act work as intended, not waste time reinventing the wheel while people die

Confusion over medical cannabis bill

It turns out that National’s pulling of their support for the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill was a prelude to them announcing an alternative bill that is subject to being drawn from the members’ ballot – National puts forward medicinal cannabis regime.

Then the Health Committee published its report on the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill – Final report (Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill) [PDF 595k]

Recommendation

The Health Committee has examined the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill. We have been unable to reach agreement and therefore cannot recommend that the bill proceed.

That sparked a lot of angst until it was sort of explained that the bill would still proceed, unchanged and without a recommendation of the committee. Or something like that.

Perhaps this will have been properly clarified by the morning.

In the meantime here’s a speech in parliament by the youngest MP, who also happens to sound more sensible than the rest on how to deal with cannabis law.

CHLÖE SWARBRICK (Green): It’s a pleasure to rise to take the call after that speech from the Leader of the Opposition with regards to positive solutions, particularly on the topic of cannabis. I just want to lay it out in this general debate speech here how we got here and what issues we’re actually talking about when we speak to the issue of cannabis.

I want to demarcate for the public out there that may be listening the two separate issues of recreational and medicinal cannabis. I think this is really important because so often they end up conflated in the public discussion.

The issue of recreational cannabis is one that will be dealt with in the context of our commitment negotiated in the confidence and supply agreement between the Green Party and the Labour Party, with a referendum on adult recreational use on or by 2020 that I’m very proud to be working with the Minister of Justice, Andrew Little, on. He’s demonstrated his incredible responsiveness on a number of proposals that we’ve put forward with regard to its design, including the likes of citizens juries.

So today the predominant focus of this call that I’m taking will be on medicinal cannabis. Alleviating the pain and suffering of patients and their whānau denied access to legal medicinal cannabis requires urgent, open, and collaborative cross-party action. That’s because patients deserve a guarantee of access—affordable, consistent supply. We’re talking here about people’s lives, not just facts and figure on statistical sheets.

I want to read some of the thousands—literally thousands—of stories that have come through my office in the past few months. One is from Jasmine:

“My name is Jasmine. I am 28 years old and I am my father’s caregiver. My dad sustained a neurotoxic brain injury via his occupation in 2001 and has a degenerative spinal condition. He suffers from a range of medical problems, including severe mental illness, nerve damage, and inability to walk or stand unaided for more than a few minutes. He spends most of his life confined to a bed and will soon require a wheelchair.

“Cannabis allows my father many benefits that cannot be obtained with the use of any other single drug, without the risk of heavy addiction or chemical interactions with his other medications.

“This man is a pensioner who contributed 30 years of his life to the workforce, raised two children, was permanently injured and made to fight for rightful compensation, had his wife taken by cancer, and, due to current legislation, is a criminal who will face two years minimum prison sentence should the police ever wish to search our property. My father wants nothing more from what life he has left than peace and quiet and to be left alone.”

Yesterday the New Zealand Drug Foundation’s annual poll was released, demonstrating that in the last 12 months there’s been a near – 10 percentage point increase in public support—87 percent of New Zealanders support growing and/or using cannabis for any medical reasons such as to alleviate pain.

Look, I know that correlation does not imply causation, but the most deeply related event that has occurred in the last year is absolutely the public debate that occurred around my medicinal cannabis member’s bill in January, which attracted support from diverse quarters such as past Prime Minister Helen Clark and, of course, the likes of Grey Power.

This member’s bill was, however, voted down. On the night, I said that we had not won the battle but that we were winning the war—the war that is so crucial for patients, for people who are suffering under a demonstrably unfit for purpose status quo.

The Government’s more restrictive bill did, however, pass with unanimous support. Today the Health Committee has reported it back to the House, and it does not, unfortunately, recommend the changes asked for by submitters.

The Greens will continue to push for those changes, for the patient voice to be central, which brings me to the National Party member’s bill introduced today. I am stoked that they have come around to the idea of a comprehensive, common-sense medicinal cannabis framework. But, to be honest, I’m still quite perplexed that they voted down the similar scope that was before the House six months ago.

All the while, patients have been in pain and suffering. We do, however, wholeheartedly invite the seeming change in tune for a progressive medicinal cannabis scheme, and we look forward to continuing to work across the House collaboratively for the betterment of patients.