Bennett takes pot shots at cannabis debate

Paula Bennett has launched into her new role as National’s spokesperson on drug reform with a lot of gusto and questionable assertions – put another way, with bullshit bluster.

Claire Trevett (NZH): National’s Paula Bennett takes on Big Pot

Bennett’s job is to appease the conservative base in National while trying to look as if the party is being constructive about the issue of liberalising cannabis laws.

Bennett announced she was undecided on the matter and a realist rather than “a prude”.

She has not led a sheltered life and can not be dismissed as an arch-conservative on this issue, although her initial comments might look that way. There are political reasons for that.

The issue feeds in nicely to the law and order narrative National is pushing, and the hope voters will decide the Government is distracted by social reforms and punish Labour accordingly.

Judging from Bennett’s beginning, National is likely to continue to beat the drum against liberalisation.

It is ripe for a bit of scaremongering and Bennett was up for the job.

She said she had many questions and her own vote would depend on the regime wrapped around any reforms.

She had many answers too which indicated she may well not be undecided.

She warned of the downfall of decent society as we know it should marijuana be decriminalised. Not a crevice of New Zealand would be weed-free.

She predicted that in 30 years time, those who voted to decriminalise in 2020 would be apologising to their children.

Weed iceblocks would be there right in the supermarket chiller next to those delicious Kapiti plum ice creams. Children would be buying dollar mixes of electric puha lollies. Mr Whippy would become Mr Ganja.

Russell Brown, an authority on drug issues, took issue with Bennett.

I can’t help but note that both of the above claims are well-worn Bob McCoskrie talking points. Does National really want to go *there*?

Going by Bennett’s opening pot shots it appears that it is a deliberate strategy by her and National.

And finally for now: if you don’t want kiddy cannabis lollies, propose that we follow all the other jurisdictions that prohibit them. We’re not fucking helpless here. Parliament will define exactly how this works.

Chloe Swarbrick also takes issue with Bennett’s bullshit bluster. Stuff: Chloe Swarbrick accuses Paula Bennett of ‘cynical politics’ over drug debate

When asked by host Hayley Holt if the ‘War on Drugs’ was working, National’s deputy leader said it wasn’t.

“Oh goodness, it can’t be. We see too many people addicted, too many ruined lives, too much of it in our streets, from meth to synthetics and others.”

Bennett called herself “relatively open minded” to drug reform and potential marijuana legalisation, but said there were still many more questions to be answered.

If she is open minded it doesn’t show. It looks like she has a deliberate anti-reform agenda in mind.

“It scares me and it should. I’ve got kids I don’t want people dating people who are addicted.”

Bennett said she was concerned that legalisation would mean more companies marketing towards children in the same way that alcopops or RTDs appealed to younger drinkers.

“Where it has been legalised, there has been a huge increase in the number of people under the age of 18 who have taken marijuana and there is evidence that it can fry little brain cells when you’re younger. That is of concern to me.”

Swarbrick agreed that there were concerns that were being addressed, and they were being debated openly.

Swarbrick challenged Bennett, asking what evidence the National MP was referring to. Bennett said that the lack of evidence was part of the problem, because it had been on the market for such short time, but claimed that in Canada and the eight US states where cannabis has been legalised, there had been a six per cent increase in car crashes and “more young people showing up to emergency departments with drug issues.”

Swarbrick accused Bennett of relying on the “thoroughly debunked” Rocky Mountain report. She was referring to a 2017 report by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a US government funded drug prohibition enforcement program in Colorado.

The report was widely criticised for inaccuracies and bias. Forbes labelled the report “dishonest.” In one instance, the report included a column chart showing a dramatic increase in “marijuana-related emergency department visits” between 2012 and 2013 when the legislation took effect, even though the report’s own footnotes noted that “2011 and 2012 emergency department data reflects [sic] incomplete reporting statewide. Inferences concerning trends, including 2011 and 2012, should not be made.”

Swarbrick said the use of that report “seems a lot like a bit of a cynical political move that belittles and degrades the tone of the debate”.

More than a bit of cynical politics from Bennett.

Bennett said Swarbrick was being “passive aggressive and “trying to put me down,” but said she’s “been in politics for far too long to jump at that one”.

That’s a ridiculous and worrying retort from Bennett. She wasn’t being put down, her bullshit and unreliable sources were challenged with facts.

As I have already said, this is a very disappointing move by Bridges, National and Bennett. They have cynically decided to disrupt the drug debate for political purposes – but I think they will lose support with this approach. I for one am moving further from voting National than I have been for a decade.

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.

Tougher measures against drug dealing, police to go easier on users

The Government announced new measures to combat drug problems, especially synthetic drugs that have been causing a number of deaths. Two common ingredients of synthetics will be reclassified, making selling them punishable by up to life imprisonment, balanced with instructions to police to go easier on drug users.

Generally this is a big and welcome step forward, but it has a complication – it’s common for drug users to also sell drugs to finance their habit.

And Police have expressed concerns about what the changes will mean for them. They already use their discretion in dealing with drug users.

Beehive: Crackdown on synthetic drug dealers

I don’t know why they have chosen to focus just on the getting tough bit in their headline.

The Government is responding to increased drug-related deaths by cracking down on the suppliers of synthetic drugs while making it easier for those with addiction problems to get treatment, Health Minister Dr David Clark and Police Minister Stuart Nash have announced.

“Under current laws synthetics and other dangerous drugs are killing people and fuelling crime while dealers and manufacturers get rich. The current approach is failing to keep Kiwis safe and can’t be continued,” David Clark said.

“It’s time to do what will work. We need to go harder on the manufactures of dangerous drugs like synthetics, and treat the use of drugs as a health issue by removing barriers to people seeking help.”

I hope the measures will work better – they should – but it is not going to solve all drug problems.

The Government has today announced a suite of measures to tackle synthetic drugs. The measures include:

  • Classifying as Class A the main two synthetic drugs (5F-ADB and AMB-FUBINACA) that have been linked to recent deaths. This will give police the search and seizure powers they need crackdown on suppliers and manufacturers, who will also face tougher penalties – up to life imprisonment.
  • Creating a temporary drug classification category, C1, so new drugs can easily be brought under the Misuse of Drugs Act, giving police the search and seizure powers needed to interrupt supply – an important part of a health response.
  • Amending the Misuse of Drugs Act to specify in law that Police should use their discretion and not prosecute for possession and personal use where a therapeutic approach would be more beneficial, or there is no public interest in a prosecution. This will apply to the use of all illegal drugs, so there is no perverse incentive created encouraging people to switch to a particular drug.
  • Allocate $16.6 million to boost community addiction treatment services, and provide communities with the support to provide emergency “surge” responses, when there is a spate of overdoses or deaths, for example.

“To be clear, this is not the full decriminalisation of drugs recommended by the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry. These are immediate steps we can take in response to the challenge we face with synthetics. We are considering the Inquiry’s recommendations separately,” Dr Clark said.

National have grizzled about it being a path to decriminalisation but given their lack of action through their 9 year term i feel like telling them to get stuffed.

Police targeting dealers

Police Minister Stuart Nash says frontline Police are targeting dealers and suppliers with an increased focus on organised crime and trans-national crime as a result of extra resourcing in Budget 2018.

“Misuse of drugs remains illegal and people should not be complacent about the risks of getting caught. Whether a drug user ends up getting Police diversion, goes through an alternative resolution process, or is referred for health treatment, they will still come to the notice of Police,” Stuart Nash said.

That’s fine, when a user isn’t also doing some dealing.

Police Association:  Police Association conditional support to drug initiatives

The Police Association supports the government’s move to go after the manufacturers and suppliers of lethal synthetic drugs.

Association President Chris Cahill says he is pleased to see a commitment to classification of two synthetic drugs as Class A, and the intention to create a temporary drug classification, C1, so new drugs can easily be brought under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

The association supports a greater focus on treatment of drug addiction rather than prosecution. However, there is concern about some aspects of the government announcement.

“It has an air of drug reform on the fly, rather than a more considered debate and informed legislation. I am worried that by codifying Police discretion the government is potentially asking officers to be the spearhead of decriminalisation. If decriminalisation is what parliament wants, then that’s what the law should say,” Mr Cahill said.

Police officers already use discretion and follow very clear guidelines to determine whether a prosecution is appropriate for the particular person and whether a prosecution would be in the public interest.

“This is often a difficult decision, taking into account factors about the offender, the offence and the victim. Evidence of discretion-in-action is apparent in research from Massey University’s Dr Chris Wilkins which notes that apprehensions for cannabis use have declined by 70 per cent between 1994 and 2014, and about half of all arrests now result in warnings only,” Mr Cahill said.

“Now the government wants officers to apply that discretion when it comes to drug users who are suffering from addiction or mental health problems so, instead of going to court, they can undergo addiction treatment. However, we know the treatment facilities are just not available.

For this all to work it is critical that substantially more treatment facilities and options are made available.

Russell Brown has a good post on it –Just quietly, this is a big deal

Finding the actual nature of that balance has not been an easy matter, and both official and independent expert advice has been sought on how to manage it. But this is what they’re doing, per this morning’s announcement:

Amending the Misuse of Drugs Act to specify in law that Police should use their discretion and not prosecute for possession and personal use where a therapeutic approach would be more beneficial, or there is no public interest in a prosecution. This will apply to the use of all illegal drugs, so there is no perverse incentive created encouraging people to switch to a particular drug.

Yes, you read that correctly. The Misuse of Drugs Act will be amended to guide Police discretion in such a way that the default will be to not prosecute personal use and possession of any illegal drug. The government is at pains to emphasise that this is not the full Portugal-style decriminalisation  repeatedly called for in last week’s Report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction, and you may even expect reform advocates to play it down a bit.

But it’s a really big deal.

If you are interest in these changes Russell’s whole post is worth reading.

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.

 

Journalism versus political hit jobs

There has been discussion and questions asked lately  about why some media (Newshub and RNZ in particular) have been publishing conversations that had been secretly recorded by Jami-Lee Ross. It has appeared at times as of they are aiding ongoing attacks on Simon Bridges and National on behalf of Ross and/or Cameron Slater and/or Simon Lusk. They have at least aided and abetted the attacks.

Some of the latest headlines on it from Newshub:

That ‘expert’ was an employment consultant, and the issue being covered had nothing to do with employment.

An indication of how agenda orientated these are is that this sort of article is being repeated at Whale Oil – and most other media are not covering it with anywhere near the same attack style.

The Newshub approach prompted an interesting discussion on Twitter:

Matthew Hooton: People complaining that is campaigning to get rid of Bridges don’t understand current media ethics. etc are doing . They think Bridges is too socially conservative so they think they need to protect NZ from him by getting rid of him

Tim Watkin: Matthew, I’m putting this into your ‘wind-up’ category. Because I assume you do actually know what advocacy journalism is… and know that’s NOT advocacy journalism.

Liam Hehir: Advocacy journalism is more like what John Campbell does – or did – right? What do you call it when you simply go out to wreck politicians and degrade public trust in the institutions of politics?

Time Watkin: Advocacy journalism explicitly advocates for a cause or argument. Sometimes for a group of people/victims. It takes a viewpoint & transparently says it’s not balanced. Saying Tova is not balanced is insulting & undeserved. I don’t like lazy insults.

Lawrence Hakiwai: I think what is saying is that there is a clear and obvious attempt by members of the media to unseat as leader of the National Party by using manufactured and imagined crises. The issues this Government faces are real and far more newsworthy.

Tim Watkin: Well if that is what he’s saying, then I think he’s very wrong. (And I’m sure he knows that’s not true). If any journalist in NZ set out to try to unseat a politician they would be fired. Anyone claiming that has never been in a NZ newsroom. Let’s value our independent media.

Matthew Hooton: Don’t make me laugh. Journalists of a certain kind constantly speak privately in terms of “we’re gonna get her/him” as you very well know. This is exactly what is happening in this case.

Russell Brown: On this one point, I agree with you. I hate hearing journalists brag about “scalps”, as if ending a political career is what they’re there for. But that’s quite different to your original allegation. It just happens to weakened leaders, because that’s safer and easier to do.

And I don’t even know that that’s what’s happening in this case. Maybe it’s more about a supply of newsworthy material for people who are under constant pressure to deliver news. That’s why some journalists used to hold their noses and deal with Slater.

Matthew Hooton: “used to”?

Liam Hehir: The nihilistic approach to covering political news here, with its emphasis on corroding trust in institutions & assuming the worst about everyone, will continue to have purchase since at any one time, half the audience just laps it up with little regard to how they felt earlier.

Matthew Hooton: It’s like the thing. A total colossal fuck up of course. But “gotcha” reporting didn’t start speculating on how it all happened (which would be of huge interest) but on whether he would resign (which is neither here nor there).

Russell Brown: To be fair, the gotcha was the key message of the Opposition party. National doesn’t *actually* think ILG has committed a resigning offence, but must be delighted that the more biddable commentators have bought into the idea.

Whether the sort of journalism being discussed is a result of pressure to produce headlines and clicks with a fast turnover of stories, or whether some journalists get sucked into the thrill of the political kill (there is probably some of both) this is a serious issue facing both journalism and politics in New Zealand.

One symptom is media making virtual demands that politicians resign over embellished stories that can look more like hit jobs than reporting.

Russell Brown’s submission on medicinal cannabis bill

I am a journalist and one of my specialist areas is drug policy. In the course of my work, I have interviewed users, suppliers, doctors, police officers, researchers, activists and government ministers. But the story I want to tell you is a personal one.

My old friend died this year. He had survived three years since he was diagnosed with a kind of brain tumour called glioma multiforme – far longer than he was supposed to – but complications associated with his illness were eventually too much for his system and his health deteriorated rapidly in the weeks before his death.

Shortly before he was moved to a hospice, I had a conversation with his wife, another old friend, about medical cannabis. My friend had, with the approval of his oncologist, used a cannabis oil preparation (acquired as a gift) for some time while he battled his disease: a couple of drops rubbed into his gums before bed each night.

I can’t tell you that that prolonged his life. But there is a body of pre-clinical evidence that a balanced preparation of THC and CBD can help shrink tumours in glioma cases. His tumours shrank to the point where he was at one point declared cancer-free.

Our concern now was not with the cancer itself, but with his comfort and well-being through his final days. I agreed to try and source a product for him and, through the kindness of strangers, was able to source a good-quality medical oil.

—-

My dear friend died in hospice, after a handful of deeply precious days in which he and his loved ones were able to say their goodbyes. It is my belief that the cannabis product helped him have those precious days, awake and aware. I would unhesitatingly break the law again to give him those days. And I believe it is wrong that I – or anyone else – should have to do that.

Summary:


I ask you to consider taking a realistic and compassionate view and do the following:

• Use the regulations that will be attached to this bill to make the gesture towards the terminally ill work in the real world by allowing them to nominate an approved supplier, so they and their loved ones can safely access a safe product.

• Recognise that the terminally ill are not the only New Zealanders to derive benefit from cannabis products and allow others with chronic conditions to register to use these products.

• Provide specific protection for hospitals and hospices from prosecution under Section 12 of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

• Allow a local industry to develop by allowing export of locally-produced products, and by not excluding those with existing convictions from participating in the industry.

• Allow self-growing under regulation.

• Enable research into growing, and clinical trials. The trend in the developing global industry is overwhelmingly towards breeding plants with desired attributes – an area in which New Zealand has a strong track record of IP development.


Brown comments:

I seem not to be the only one who sat in on these hearings and came away with the impression that the bill’s statutory defence may well be extended to those with chronic illnesses. If that happens, it’s huge. It’s worth bearing witness.

I hope that’s not just wishful thinking.

Peter Dunne calls time on his political career

Another leader stepping down- this time it’s Peter Dunne who has decided not to stand again this election, meaning the end of his 33 year career as an MP.

He has served in four different Governments, two National led and two Labour led, and has served under seven Prime Ministers.

He had many critics and detractors and his style was not very modern, but he was widely regarded as a hard working and effective electorate MP, and was the most successful MP over time under MMP.

It seems certain that his United Future party will retire with him.

There has been some genuine comments from some politicians and others, and a lot of awful an uninformed criticism.

Statement from Hon Peter Dunne

“The current political environment is extremely volatile and unpredictable. However, I have concluded, based on recent polling, and other soundings I have been taking over the last few weeks, that, the volatility and uncertainty notwithstanding, there is now a mood amongst Ōhāriu voters for a change of MP, which is unlikely to alter. This shift in voter sentiment is quite at variance with polling and other data I have seen throughout the year, upon which I had based my earlier decision to seek re-election for a 12th term as MP for Ōhāriu. While I am naturally extremely disappointed after 33 years of service at this apparent change of feeling, I recognise and understand it, and respect absolutely the electorate’s prerogative to feel that way.

“I have therefore decided that it is time for me to stand aside, so the people of Ōhāriu can elect a new electorate MP. Consequently, after much consideration and discussion with those closest to me, I am announcing today that I will not be putting forward my nomination for election to the next Parliament. I do so with considerable reluctance, but I have always understood that holding public office is a temporary privilege granted by the people, and can never be taken for granted.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed serving the Ōhāriu electorate in its various forms since 1984. I thank my constituents, my supporters, my Party, and all those staff members who have worked so loyally and professionally alongside me over the years, but above all, I pay huge thanks to my wife Jennifer, my sons, James and Alastair, raised in the heat of politics, and my entire family for their loyal support, patience and encouragement for so long.

“I am especially proud to have worked alongside successive National- and Labour-led Governments in the collaborative environment of MMP, and to have had the privilege of serving as first an Under-Secretary and then a Minister under seven different Prime Ministers for just on fifteen years. I am very proud of the many changes I have been able to make in my portfolios over the years to make New Zealand a better place in which to live and raise a family.

“Over the last three years alone, I have been very pleased to lead the work to modernise New Zealand’s drug policy towards a stronger health focus; and to make fluoridation of drinking water more widespread. I was delighted to establish Fire and Emergency New Zealand which unified our urban and rural fire services in the biggest reform of our fire services in 70 years. I was also very pleased to have been able to bring back 10 year passports. The D5 group of the world’s most digitally advanced nations meets in New Zealand early next year. Having overseen New Zealand help form the D5 group in 2014, I will be very sorry not to be chairing that meeting. Lastly, I have enjoyed being part of the continuing drive to make the taonga of the National Library and the National Archives more widely available to all New Zealanders.

“Ōhāriu has been a very large part of my life. I have lived continuously in the area for more than forty years. Jennifer and I raised our family in Ōhāriu. It is our home. Working for the community and its people over the last 33 years has, at all times, been an absolute delight. I will miss hugely that direct engagement with so many aspects of the life of our community, and I will never forget the huge honour Ōhāriu gave me by electing me, first as a young 30 year old, and then for the next ten elections after that.

“But good things cannot last forever. Now it is time for me to put all that behind me, take the election hoardings down, say goodbye to Parliament without bitterness or regret, and get on with life.

“Finally, my thanks and best wishes for the future go to Brett Hudson MP, National’s List MP based in Ōhāriu, for the support he has shown me throughout this year.”

This is a typically pragmatic decision. Dunne has plenty of experience at reading the mood of his electorate.

It looked quite likely he would lose the electorate, so not standing avoids not just a defeat but the vacating of his office under the shadow of a loss.

If Dunne managed to retain his seat he faced being shut out of government by Labour, or by Winston Peters.

Going now on his own terms look like the least worst option for him.

RNZ has a good career summary:  Dunne: A great survivor finally runs out of support

Ignorant criticism was especially prevalent on drug issues. Russell Brown covers reality well at The Spinoff: Peter Dunne, the flawed reformer

 

Medical cannabis – battles and brick walls

In his latest NZ POLITICS DAILY up Bryce Edwards looks at The Battle over medical marijuana, which has many useful links on the topic.

This focusses on Helen Kelly’s battle with cancer and her other battle, with medical bureaucracy in trying to get access to a medical cannabis product that’s unavailable in New Zealand.

Kelly has highlighted a very contentious issue, particularly as there seems to be accelerating moves towards allowing the growing of cannabis and the production of medical products, most notably for us in Australia and the US.

One of the biggest problems here is the lack of available credible research on the effectiveness and the safety of medical cannabis.

However for someone who is dying of cancer safety shouldn’t be too much of an issue, and allowing some alleviating of suffering and comfort of mind should be much higher considerations.

It’s a bit bizarre that they don’t want us to be able to take lethal drugs to end our lives if we so wish, but they don’t want us to be able to take comfort drugs that have long proven to be virtually non-lethal.

One of the best posts on Kelly and medical cannabis is by Russell Brown at Public Address – Helen Kelly’s letter.

While looking at Kelly’s situation specifically Brown also considers the wider situation.

In particular, there should be some better thinking around palliative care. It doesn’t make sense to treat every application to improve the quality of life of a dying person the same as a bid to give a sick child an experimental treatment. The criteria are ostensibly specifically dedicated to cannabis products, but they’re actually entirely general. We need this to be done better and more transparently.

As I’ve noted before, the use of cannabis in palliative care represents a particular ethical case. If a patient testifies that the treatment does in fact improve their quality of life and ease suffering in a way that approved pharmaceutical products have not, that should count for a great deal. The case for preventing access becomes much, much harder to make.

But many doctors and the Ministry of Health seem reluctant to go there.

Peter Dunne has previously said to me that the criteria are only guidelines and don’t determine his ministerial decision. But he’s a minister who likes to emphasise that he acts on expert advice. And perhaps he has no choice, given his limited stock of political capital in this area.

This is, after all, a government that has chosen to brand itself on never changing the law – either the Misuse of Drugs Act or the Medicines Act – no matter what the evidence. That was, remember Justice Minister Simon Power’s response to the Law Commission’s view that there was “no reason why cannabis should not be able to be used for medicinal purposes in limited circumstances” by declaring ”There is not a single solitary chance that as long as I’m the Minister of Justice that we’ll be relaxing drug laws in New Zealand.”

Power is no longer Ministry of Justice, but every single initiative to improve the way we deal with drugs in New Zealand still has to climb around this entirely political edict. It’s the key reason we have little prospect of dealing sensibly with a fast-changing environment.

During the last election campaign, Prime Minister John Key paid visits to several Kapiti Coast and Porirua schools. When he wasn’t insisting that his favourite music was One Direction, Key fielded this question from a student at Kapiti College:

Asked whether he would legalise medical marijuana, he told the school assembly: “This is the fundamental message. Drugs are bad for you.”

Yes, the Prime Minister really did say “Drugs are bad, m’kay?”

Dunne cops much of the flak for Government unwillingness to address medical cannabis or the wider issue of recreational use.

But there’s nothing Dunne can do about changing laws on this if National won’t allow it, and they are the ones with the most votes by far, and the most reluctance to do anything. I don’t think we will get cannabis law reform, nor any meaningful attempt to consider any change to our stance on the drug, while National are in government.

It seems that National doesn’t want to give a medical inch for fear of a recreational mile. But that’s out of touch with the world that is quite rapidly changing it’s attitude to cannabis and criminality.

Dunne seems to be trying to move things as far as he can under existing law, and Brown believes that medical cannabis could be easily allowed under the current laws.

The good part is that the criteria for applications like Helen’s can be improved without changing the law. They’re not part of the Medicines Act. I think Peter Dunne needs to ensure,  as minister, that the process is fundamentally improved. Because a process so designed as to frustrate all medical cannabis applications will not prevent the use of cannabis in this way.

If the process was improved then access to medical cannabis could be made much easier for those who seek it.

In the end, we do need to revisit the law – as the Law Commisison and two Parliamentary select committee inquries have already said. Palliative care is not the only element of medical cannabis policy. But it’s certainly the place we should start, given the growing use of cannabis this way in defiance of the law. When we fail to do this, we impose risk and stress on desperately ill people and their doctors – and we’re saying we don’t care enough to properly regulate for their safety.

No one is going to prosecute Helen Kelly for treating her symptoms with cannabis. But what the system currently says is that it can’t and won’t make that safer for her. We need to do better than this. A lot better.

And it really shouldn’t take much to make things better for people like Kelly who are suffering as they die.

And there are potentially many people who are not living through death sentences whose lives could possibly be substantially improved, or at least given some hope, if the Ministry of Health re-thought and improved their processes for approving medical cannabis.

‘The Message’ is clear

Russell Brown has posted The Message at Public Address, giving an account of sorts of Phil Goff’s launch of his campaign for the Auckland mayoralty.

They message he is trying to convey is quite clear. His intro:

The announcement of Phil Goff’s intention to seek the Auckland mayoralty yesterday was able and organised. Various important constituencies were represented in the room, the messaging was precise and the first person to be greeted by name in the candidate’s speech was the present deputy mayor, Penny Hulse. So she’s on board.

Later:

Goff was at pains to emphasise that yesterday was not a campaign launch, merely the announcement of his candidacy. Policy will come with the launch proper, next year. He has already drawn some clear lines: finance the CRL more quickly, prevent Port expansion into the harbour, don’t privatise Watercare. But he will need to take good advice on what he chooses to say around the complexities of the Unitary Plan, the Auckland Plan and the Long Term Plan before having to actually state policy on them. Populism gets very perilous in that area, especially when you’re promising “protection for areas of high heritage value.”

But yesterday’s launch was competent and confident. After he spoke, Goff circulated easily for photographs while the press waited at the door of the room. His meeting and greeting completed, he turned, strode to the door and delivered his lines. He clearly does know how this is done.

Is Russell Goff’s media adviser? Did he arrange the media event? Whether he did or not his message is quite clear.

I can’t see any dosclosure so he must just be a interested observer, albeit quite keen on Goff’s bid for the mayoralty.