The wrongness of synthetic cannabis

Synthetic cannabis is known for inducing what could be described as a zombie like state of being in affected individuals. In the U.S. it is called K2 or spice.

In the last few months, synthetic cannabis has been linked to four deaths in New Zealand and about 20 cased have been referred to the authorities in Auckland on a daily basis. St John Ambulance say that they have seen a spike in synthetic cannabis cases with life threatening consequences.

In July 2017 8 people died in New Zealand from synthetic cannabis. The drug is illegal, having been banned in 2014.

No specific treatment exists for treating people with conditions related to it. The cannabinoids have been linked to cardiac arrest, and loss of faculties, inability to control ones limbs.

We need a comprehensive drug detox programme in New Zealand. The cost of administering such a programme will be paid for in kind by the socio-economic benefits of helping those affected by these substances. Also of concern, which needs an overhaul is the penalty regime for manufacturers as the low penalties ensure that it is an attractive industry for manufacturers of illegal substances to get into. To get on top of this, there needs to be a Ministry of Health/Ministry of Justice task force set up to tackle the supply and the distribution and the effects of damaged individuals in the public domain.

In a broader sense there needs to be an overhaul of the law. How much of the synthetic cannabis problem is because we have tightened on substances that can be inhaled/ingested to the point that people are prepared to commit violent crime in order to fund their habits? And if the law was amended to allow a small amount of cannabis to be on a person, would that be enough to tear the bottom out of the black market, without endangering the community?

But one thing is certain, if this is the way the supposed “War on Drugs” is going, I can understand people wanting out. It has not worked. It was an ideological concept borrowed from the United States. There it has cost billions, been a devastating part of U.S. foreign policy. We do not need to follow suit in prosecuting this war any further.

Addressing banking sector concerns in N.Z.

I remember the onset of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis all too clearly. In the space of about two years 31 separate New Zealand finance companies crashed and burned, taking about N.Z.$3 billion worth of savings with them. The crash of so many companies and the resulting fallout cost numerous jobs, led to criminal trials for fraudulent activity and caused a loss of trust in banks. Nine years later, not having learnt much from the previous crash New Zealand, like the world at large is at risk of another, possibly bigger, crash.

The causes of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis are well documented. In the United States lax banking regulations led to the failure of Fannie Mae’s, Freddie Mac’s, Lehman Brothers amongst others . Hundreds of billions of dollars was wiped from the value of the U.S. economy when Lehman Brothers collapsed. The bailout plan authorized by U.S. President George W. Bush cost about U.S.$700 billion to enact. Following these collapses President Barak Obama passed legislation called Dodd Frank Act which enabled large scale reform of the banking sector, in terms of transparency, tightening up reporting requirements and protecting whistle blowers.

In New Zealand the following are just some of the financial institutions that failed in 2006-2010 (N.Z.$)¹:

  • Capital Merchant Finance ($190 million)
  • South Canterbury Finance ($1.6 billion)
  • Provincial Finance ($296 million with $273 million recovered)
  • Bridgecorp ($467 million)

¹67 went into liquidation or receivership, or entered moratoria all up between 2006 and 2012

I believe that legislation needs to be passed in two respects to bring accountability to the banking sector, but also institute a better code of practice than the one that exists. Elsewhere I have mentioned the need for better whistle blower protection. This is to ensure that the fate of whistle blowers at the Ministry of Transport who exposed fraudster Joanne Harrison and lost their jobs for doing so, is not repeated.

But perhaps the biggest reforms that I think need to be made are to how individuals enter and exit the financial industry, and the range of tools that can be used in dealing with significant breaches. We have the Financial Markets Authority investigating significant breaches, which is well and fine. But, given the size of some of the aforementioned collapses and the fact that individuals who had leading roles in precipitating said collapses were handed what I think were very light sentences, I think the law needs an overhaul.

For small fraud (less than N.Z.$250,000), claims can be dealt with in the District Court and the High Court deals with larger claims. We saw out of the court trials arising from the collapses of companies like Bridgecorp that in many cases the sentences were too light. The sentences did not appear to take into account ill gotten assets such expensive cars. Nor did they appear to stop the defendants from working in the industry again. The sentences should be proportionate to the size of the losses incurred by the investors. Such a scale could look like this:

  • Category E (dealt with in District Court) up to $250,000 = suspension of trading license + fine (up to $250,000) or jail sentence (up to 2 years)
  • Category D – $250,000 to $10 million = loss of financial trading licence + confiscation of luxury assets or fine (up to $500,000) or jail sentence (up to 5 years)
  • Category C – $10 million to $100 million = loss of financial trading licence + confiscation of luxury assets + fine (up to $1 million) or jail sentence (up to 15 years)
  • Category B – $100 million to $250 million = loss of financial trading licence + plus fine (up to $2 million) + jail (up to 25 years)
  • Category A – $250 million+ = loss of licence + fine (up to $4 million) + jail (up to 40 years) + confiscation of luxury assets + loss of passport

Sound harsh?

Not as harsh as thousands of investors having their retirement plans and anything that they might have been relying on their investments to fund now having nothing to show for their efforts. Not as harsh as hundreds of people working for these forms in good faith finding themselves without a job because of the collapse. Nor as harsh as any community finding that sponsorship of community events and projects have just gone up in smoke.

National not serious about crime

When one thinks of a conservative party, they think of a party that is normally strong on law and order. It will be a party that spends more on the police, normally has a harder line on sentencing and talks about rights of the victims.

It all sounds well and good, if in the case of National, it were actually true. If National were serious about crime, then why is there this long litany of armed hold ups that have all been carried out in Auckland since 01 January 2017?

In January:

In February:

In March:

In April:

In May:

In June

It seems that not a single week goes past without a new armed hold up happening somewhere in Auckland. It might be Mangere or Manukau. It might be somewhere on the North Shore or out west in Waitakere. The target might be a family run dairy. It might be a superette or a bar – the targeting seems indiscriminate.

The victims are understandably fearful for their lives. It is quite a violating thought to know that you, in the course of your every day work life were subject to an attack on your premises by thugs. They might have been looking for cash or cigarettes to sell on the black market. Whatever the case the outcome is the same – another one for the crime stats, a legitimate business violated and the owner/operator scared to death.

So, this is what has happened in Auckland alone since June. It does not include any offences reported in Hamilton, Dunedin, Wellington, Christchurch, or anywhere else.

The causes can be debated, though one can fairly conclusively suggest that increased taxes on tobacco products are at least in part to blame. The black market is thriving.

So, just stop and think about this when you decide who to vote for in September. Who do you think will try to address the causes of these offences – National? Labour? New Zealand First? Greens?

And more importantly, WHY?

The firearms threshold and the New Zealand police

Yesterday it came to my attention that an American police officer had shot dead an Australian woman living in Minneapolis when she approached his patrol car. The Australian woman, Justine Damond had called 911 to report what she thought was a sexual assault happening in the alleyway next to the property she and her fiance lived at. When the police arrived, she went out to talk to them, in her pajama’s. As she approached the car, an officer shot her through the open window.

It is incidents like this that make me very glad that New Zealand police operate to a significantly higher threshold for drawing on firearms than their American counterparts appear to. Granted the United States has a much larger population than New Zealand and much more complex and dynamic criminal elements, there is one really fundamentally troubling aspect to this shocking case:

The lady posed no threat whatsoever to the officer who shot her.

So how on Earth did he come to the conclusion he needed to draw a weapon, much less use it? When I look at police shootings here, I am grateful for the training New Zealand police receive. There are several very good reasons why I hope I never see New Zealand police officers routinely wear fire arms:

  1. The New Zealand police are trained differently and are taught to understand that the fire arm is the weapon of last resort. Because it is purpose built for delivering a potentially lethal injury, the threshhold for using a gun are correspondingly higher than that for using a taser, or lesser device such as a baton or pepper spray. I hope it stays that way.
  2. There is a certain degree of risk to the credibility of authorities when they play the fear card. New Zealand is a nation that does not like to be ruled by fear. If New Zealanders think authorities are purposefully playing on fear, the authorities will lose respect and any measures seen as punitive will become the target of ridicule. By giving authorities the means to use lethal force, the red line in the sand between credible fear and scare mongering comes a giant step closer to merging.
  3. The gun culture in America makes things much more dangerous than it does in New Zealand. Because the Second Amendment explicitly permits Americans to use firearms for self defence, and because the National Rifle Association holds significant clout with conservatives who often complain about Americans having their gun rights eroded, it is a highly politicized issue which can cause politicians to tread unnecessarily warily around. We do not have that antagonism here and there is no reason to start now.
  4. There is a degree of moral integrity at stake when a police officer shoots someone – for arguments sake – fatally. Because if that person was not armed, or in possession of something less lethal than a fire arm, unless the officer had expended the non-lethal options at their disposal and had failed to subdue the suspect, that officer has potentially committed manslaughter (giving the officer the benefit of the doubt that they did not intend to kill). How can one ascertain the suitability of an officer to possess firearms?
  5. The Police Complaints Authority and the system of accountability it uses to ensure that complaints against the New Zealand Police can be assessed have been found wanting with current cases. One where a formal complaint is laid for the accidental shooting of a homeless man high on methamphetamine could expose it and New Zealands reputation as a safe place with a reliable police force at risk. We cannot afford that.

However, a person high on drugs cannot be reasoned with, at least not safely. Their reactions, their understanding of their immediate physical circumstances and their location is likely to be affected. An officer who approaches a person in such a state is right to be wary.

Despite the concerns that New Zealand police may become like their American counterparts, I think the public scrutiny on the police force and their reactivity to that scrutiny is a good thing. The certainty that individual shootings are automatically referred to the Police Conduct Authority means officers have good reason to be careful about the use of force.

Between a constitutional rock and a dam(n) hard place

National is in an unenviable position largely of its own making. Resistance has been growing against Ruataniwha Dam, throwing the whole project, which is growing increasingly controversial because of its likely environmental impact into significant doubt. But now a court ruling has left National in a bind. Does it accept the ruling against the dam and cancel the project – costing jobs and potentially votes – or does it violate what is considered to be constitutional law and proceed with something the Court of Appeal has said no to?

But am I sympathetic to National’s hard choice? No. It did not have to come down to this, and there are many reasons other than the environmental impact as to why the Ruataniwha dam should not proceed:

  1. The lake that would be impounded by it would cross some large fault lines – any rupture event on one of them involving vertical displacement would send millions of litres of water rushing down the lake to possibly over top the dam
  2. It was a misguided use of Hawkes Bay Regional Council’s mandate and ratepayer money that was questionable from the get go
  3. Climate change will impact on how water takes are issued because the known amount available in a catchment will decrease, thus affecting availability
  4. Hawkes Bay Regional Councillors themselves have admitted the dam project is dead

The ruling (ruling starts on page 68)was in response to a proposed land swap involving Department of Conservation land. The ruling had said that Department of Conservation land cannot be grabbed by developers. At the crux of the matter was whether or not the Minister can revoke protected status on conservation land. The answer is yes the Minister can, but only if the lands conservation values no longer warrant such protection. The land at the heart of the planned swap did warrant such protection, and thus moves to revoke it would have been in breach of the Conservation Act (Section 18(7)).

This is a tough place to be for National. It wants the project to go ahead because it would create jobs and the party would be able to say it is addressing water storage issues in the region by blocking the Makaroro River.

The ruling also has legal consequences that cannot be ignored. The Government has said it is prepared to overturn the law as a result of this ruling, which in some respects would leave it in contempt of the court. That in itself is an offence. But if it happened, who would hold National to account?

But you got yourself into that spot National. Now you can get out of it.