Mike Sabin a prominent elephant in the Northland room

The Northland by-election is due to Mike Sabin’s mystery resignation.

Press Release: New Zealand National Party

Northland MP, Mike Sabin, today announced he has resigned from Parliament, effective immediately.

Mr Sabin said he had decided to resign due to personal issues that were best dealt with outside Parliament.

That’s all the public have been told. Except that it remains a prominent topic in the campaign, albeit spoken about in code public, but just about every New Zealander seems to think there is some sort of dirty secret. The rumours must be common knowledge in Northland.

SabinElephantThere seems to be general acknowledgement that a concurrent story is related.

National candidate Mark Osborne has struggled with awkward questions about the ex-MP he wants to replace.

Plunket: Oh there were rumours. And you had heard the rumours?

Osborne: Oh yes.

Plunket: Yes. Did you ask Mr Sabin or did anyone ask Mr Sabin to clarify those rumours when he was re-selected as the candidate?

Osborne: Well I can’t speak for anybody else, but ah I asked if he was ok.

Plunket: Well what do you mean, did you ask if there was anything that might damage his candidacy or the National party?

Osborne: No no I didn’t, no I just…

National, Sabin, Osborne, train wreck

Winston Peters uses Sabin as a key part of his campaign strategy:

Winston Peters: Nats covering up Sabin issue

The New Zealand First leader used his personal “paradise” to launch a political attack at the town hall, accusing National of covering up why MP Mike Sabin left Parliament.

“They are still trying to shut it down as we speak,” he says.

Mr Peters says the National Party knew before the election of a police investigation into Mr Sabin.

“That’s why $1 million is being spent on this by-election, to cover up that mess.”

National are spending big and keep rolling out their big guns to try and rescue a by-election disaster. Trying to sweep the Sabin elephant under a rug is part of their strategy, but is there any Northland voter who hasn’t heard the rumours?

He also accused his opponent Mark Osborne, who was the local party treasurer and a friend of Mr Sabin’s, of knowing about Mr Sabin’s issues.

But Mr Osborne denies the allegation.

“The reality of it is I knew nothing until the end of last year, and they are only rumours, and that is what they are still,” he says. “I still know nothing about the details.”

Osborne is playing right into Winston’s hand with his denials. I doubt anyone believes he didn’t know something. And it’s preposterous to still be claiming he doesn’t know about the details.

A candidate in his situation would surely make it their business to know what the details are, unless it is deliberate ignorance – but even that isn’t credible.

Sabin remains an elephant in the Northland room and if Osborne chooses to pretend it isn’t there he courts trouble and risks getting stomped on. And National will have to wear own the resulting mess.

Key on cannabis – avoiding the elephant

There are major issues looming over the use of legal highs and associated cannabis use.

John Key was asked about legal highs and cannabis on Firstline this morning – PM: Legalising cannabis won’t kill legal highs

Prime Minister John Key says decriminalising cannabis will not prevent people from smoking synthetic highs.

Respondents to a Campbell Live poll last week overwhelmingly voted in favour of decriminalisation of cannabis (see Campbell Live cannabis ‘poll’), but appearing on Firstline this morning, Mr Key said that would send the wrong message.

“The Government making it legal I think we accept is a step we could take. It would be a very, very difficult and challenging step to take, it wouldn’t actually eradicate society of these products,” says Mr Key.

Yes it would be difficult. And it wouldn’t eradicate legal highs.

But it would give people who wanted to (and will) use drugs a legal choice so could better choose risks. At the moment it appears as if there are major problems with some or all of the legal highs that are still available, including significant addiction issues.

A  question has to be seriously asked – is cannabis safer than legal highs? If so why isn’t it given at least the same legal status as synthetic drugs?

Is cannabis one of the least worst options?

“In the end, drugs of any sort are a road to nowhere in my view, and we want to encourage New Zealanders not to use them.”

That’s fine but it won’t stop many people from seeking and using drugs.

Banning the 41 legal high offerings still on the shelves is harder than it sounds, says Mr Key.

“If you ban Kronic, for instance, they just change the chemical formula. Some of those chemicals are used in products that New Zealanders wouldn’t want to see banned.”

From 2015 all psychoactive products will need to be proved safe before they can be sold, and the Government hopes the cost of getting products tested will be so high, none will.

“The balance of proof, if you like, will change,” says Mr Key.

“Instead of saying, ‘here’s a product, is it actually harmful?’ they’ll actually have to prove it’s not harmful before you can get it on the shelves.”

What if none of the synthetic drugs are found to pass the ‘low harm’ threshold and they are all banned? We will have a large number of drug users who suddenly have no legal options.  They will either switch back to (illegal) cannabis or source illegal synthetics.  Neither will address the issues, and they could create more issues and problems.
This is something that needs urgent attention from Government. Just waiting and seeing what happens as the Psychoactive Substances Act kicks in fully would be a very risk experiment.
Cannabis is an elephant in the House. John Key must take a lead on this and look at how to deal with cannabis versus legal highs.