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).

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another baseless assertion.

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

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

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

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

Stephen Franks responds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions about a regulatory framework were also asked.

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

Use of cannabis:

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

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

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

Source – NZ Herald

Binding referendum on cannabis in 2020

The Government has left it as late as possible but have now confirmed there will be a referendum on personal use of cannabis alongside the 2020 general election. I’d have preferred it sooner but at least this allows for proper legislation to be agreed on by Parliament (if this is how it is decided it will work, and pending the referendum result) and for a proper debate to take place.

There have been some complaints )for example from Simon Bridges) that it is a cynical distraction from the next election but I’m sure people are capable of deciding on multiple decisions at the same time. It will still be much simpler than a local body election.

RNZ:  Binding referendum on legalising cannabis for personal use to be held at 2020 election

It’s not actually clear what the referendum will be on.

Justice Minister Andrew Little says the Electoral Commission will now get on and start planning for it.

“Having made the decision now, the Electoral Commission has put together a budget bid for the budget process next year. So … we’ll now process that budget bid. It obviously will attract budget confidentiality, so we’ll know about that next May.”

Chlöe has been doing a lot of work in helping this happen.

We will have to see how this will work, but it is a big step in the right direction.

National Party leader Simon Bridges questioned the government’s motivation for holding the referendum at the same time as a general election.

“I’m pretty cynical that you’ve got a government here that wants to distract from the core issues of a general election like who’s best to govern, their actual record in government over the last three years, and core issues around the economy, tax, cost of living, health, education, law and order.”

FFS, we can deal with more than deciding which politician is the least dweebie and lame, or which party is up with changes on drug laws happening all around the world. .

And he said the government had already effectively decriminalised cannabis through the medicinal cannabis bill.

“Now you’re allowed loose leaf out on the streets and the truth is they’ve said to police, you don’t need to prosecute this so right now, if someone’s smoking cannabis outside a school what are the consequences? What’s the message?”

This is a pathetic attempt at scaremongering, nearly as bad as Bob McCoskrie.

Bridges may pander to people most likely to vote national anyway, but he risks alienating a lot of swing voters, and especially younger voters (voters under 70).

There is obviously no guarantee which way the vote will go, but at least this means that people should get to decide. At last.

Is Simeon Brown a Bannonite or just a deceitful right winger?

Who is Simeon Brown? Most people are unlikely to know much if anything about him. He is young for an MP (27) and seems to lean right/conservative.

He won the candidacy for National to contest the Pakuranga electorate last election, which allowed him to romp in to a safe seat vacated by Maurice Williamson. Brown actually increased the MP majority by 2,000 votes, and helped National increase their party vote by about 1,300 votes, giving them 61.69% in the electorate. It must be one of if not the safest electorate.

Like most back bench MPs in a large party Brown has not had much attention. However he was lucky to have a Members’ Bill drawn from the ballot giving him some publicity – it would ensure anyone who supplies illegal synthetic drugs receives a penalty consistent with the penalty prescribed for supplying a Class C Drug.

This is the opposite of most current moves to combat drug problems in dealing with them more as health and addiction issues and providing far better treatment and rehabilitation rather than lock ’em up for longer.

Yesterday after the passing of the Medicinal Cannabis bill in Parliament:

Other reactions:

Yoza: This is how backwards some segments of our society truly are. While sanity is prevailing in other parts of the world, we still have drug war fanatics here pushing a prohibitionist model that has been an utter social disaster for decades.

Mark sanders: So the party would reverse this if given the chance? Cool, add another reason to never vote for you…

Matthew Whitehead: The hilarious hypocrisy of National, a party full of MPs who have big issues with alcohol, moralizing on drugs is astounding. It’s also grossly inaccurate to pretend this is the forthcoming decrimalization decision. This allows prescription by GP, and we don’t see people abusing prescription drugs outside schools or addiction centres. (inside might be another matter ofc). Coincidentally, requiring prescription by GP is a control and a regulation, Simeon.

“Misleading at best and you know it.

“So out of touch fella”

“Perhaps you could try smocking it?’

This follows a recent exchange on Twitter over immigration, with speculation that he may be some sort of a Bannonite (a follower of Breitbart/Steve Bannon).

Peter Dunne: I think you know the answer to your question already Peter!

Peter Aranyi: No, I haven’t worked Simeon out yet. I recognised the ‘socially conservative’ aspect, & we (he & I) had a private conversation about his stance on abortion law reform (he’s agin it) but this migration thing, given the demographics of Pakuranga (even more so Botany) seems oddball.

>> Surely he’s not a Trumpette? Bannonitte?

Peter Dunne: Without the stridency or ideological precision, NZFirst here touches many of the same themes. But it is not as intellectually organised as the Bannonites.

An individual attempt at right wing populism? Whatever, Brown was not very popular on Twitter yesterday:

 

Medical cannabis bill passes third reading

The medical cannabis has passed it’s final vote in Parliament today. Minister of Health David Clark called it the most progressive bill ever, which will grate on those who were hopeful the Government would treat medical and general use of cannabis as boldly as a growing number of countries and states around the world. But at least it’s a start.

NZ Herald: Medicinal cannabis bill passes third reading

A bill that gives terminally ill people a legal defence for using illicit cannabis products has passed its third reading in Parliament today.

The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill also gives them a defence to possess utensils for using cannabis.

That defence comes into force as soon as the bill receives royal assent.

Last month, during the bill’s second reading, Health Minister David Clark made changes to the bill that expanded the defence to all people needing palliative relief, rather than just those with a year or less to live, as it previously was.

The changes also created a requirement for regulations for the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme to be in place no later than one year after the law comes into effect, allaying concerns that it could take as long as 2020 before the regulatory framework was in place.

It made clear that cannabis varieties already in New Zealand could be used for medicinal products, prompting at least one therapeutic cannabis company to call for illicit growers to come forward with their unique strains.

Following the bill’s passing, Clark said the statutory defence would be available to around 25,000 people who could benefit from palliative care.

But it wasn’t progressive enough to cover people suffering from chronic pain and debilitating illnesses that are hard to treat with conventional medicines.

Greens are happy they have finally got somewhere on freeing up cannabis laws.

National are acting like numpties. After voting for the bill initially they voted against it today and are grizzling about the bill. They had held up doing anything meaningful about dysfunctional drug laws through their last nine years in Government.

Facts and factions for cannabis law reform

Two articles show how the debate over cannabis law reform is growing, with a referendum of some sort promised before or alongside the 2020 election.

Newshub: Cannabis: Where is the data? (Joel Rindelaub):

New Zealand is gearing up for a contentious cannabis conversation. Looking to temper the current NZ opinion, which – according to recent polls – is 67 percent in favour of cannabis reform, Family First’s Bob McCoskrie recently submitted a comment to the NZ Herald that condemned the marijuana movement in Colorado, comparing it to a Big Tobacco industry that doesn’t care about the health and safety of consumers.

Using statistics from a highly criticised report that Forbes Magazine has called “dishonest”, McCoskrie claimed that adolescent use has increased in Colorado, that cannabis is responsible for significant societal harm, and that “Big Marijuana” is trying to get kids addicted. Of course, none of this is true, based on the data available from credible scientific studies.

Instead, since legalisation, Colorado has seen its lowest rates of adolescent use in a decade, a reduction in deaths from opioid use, an increase in closing unsolved crimes, and – to date – nearly $1 billion in government revenue.

While Colorado’s results should be considered preliminary, they are consistent with others that have changed their stance on the substance. In addition to a decrease in drug-related homicides, the implementation of progressive marijuana laws in the State of Washington has coincided with a reduction in sexual assault and property crimes as well as a decrease in the abuse of other substances, such as alcohol.

Supporters of the substance also turn to its medical applications, including its use to alleviate symptoms of chemotherapy, reduce seizures in epilepsy patients, and its potential as a safer, less addictive pain reliever. In fact, the World Health Organisation has called for a component of cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD), to be removed from internationally controlled substance lists, due to its lack of harm and potential therapeutic benefits.

This news has fuelled cannabis activists, who claim that legalisation will allow police to shift focus onto violent offences, ease the burden on the prison systems, reduce organised crime, lead to better drug education, and provide less societal dependence on dangerous opioid painkillers.

The cannabis activists Flying the flag for cannabis law reform (Russell Brown):

A referendum on legalising cannabis will take place either next year or in 2020. The crucial details – the timing of the referendum, the nature of the process and the question voters will be asked – will be announced by the responsible minister, Andrew Little, before Christmas. But already, the government’s decision to do something no nation has before – put the question of whether to reform drug laws directly to its voters – is changing the face of cannabis advocacy.

Last month, the bland conference level of the James Cook hotel in Wellington was host to something different to the corporate away-days that are its usual fare: a cannabis conference. Or, more specifically, a conference about New Zealand’s coming cannabis referendum.

The event was a bid by the Cannabis Referendum Coalition (CRC) – a new group of old campaigners – to move beyond the loose and sometimes fractious history of cannabis advocacy and present a coherent, even respectable, face.

It largely succeeded.

Ironically, the CRC and its veteran activists look in some ways like a conservative party in the referendum debate. Over the day of the conference, it became clear that there was a strong mood on the floor for a non-profit-at-retail model, something like Spain’s cannabis social clubs, rather than a commercial one. And the final conference resolutions called for a two-part question: the first part asking whether possession and use should be legalised, and the second on allowing regulated sale.

But if the legalise cannabis advocates now have their ducks in a row, who and what will constitute a “no” campaign? Murray suggests that gangs who fear the loss of black-market cannabis income could weigh in against legalisation. Right now, however, the obvious opposition consists of one man, Family First’s Bob McCoskrie, known for opposing euthanasia, abortion and smacking law reform.

McCoskrie has been churning out press statements that seem to draw heavily from US religious conservative groups. In an opinion piece published by the New Zealand Herald last week – almost identical to one published two weeks before by Stuff – he focused on the risk of ‘Big Marijuana’, high potency cannabis, and the appeal of the drug to children.

Ironically, the reformers aren’t at all keen on Big Cannabis either. Neither proponents or opponents of change see an excess of capitalism as desirable.

There is likely to be a growing debate over cannabis law reform next year. This will be helped when a timetable for the referendum is known.

 

Government considering triple referendum:

On Q+A last night Andrew little revealed that the Government is considering a triple referendum that would include questions on Euthanasia, Cannabis and MMP Electoral reform.

Hopefully the MMP question would be on lowering the threshold.

Little didn’t say whether this would be before or with the next General Election, but I think it would be far opreferble to have a separate non-postal referendum.

I guess it would be to much to expect also including a referendum on becoming a republic.

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.