Cannabis referendum a chance for sanity

As part of their agreement with the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, the Labour Party under Prime Minister designate Jacinda Ardern, has agreed to hold a referendum on cannabis. Whilst it will not happen until the latter part of the new Parliamentary term – possibly 2020 – the referendum which will be on whether or not legalize cannabis, comes as New Zealanders acknowledge that the “war on drugs” is not working and that it might be time for a new approach.

There will be some unequivocally opposed to cannabis being legitimized in any form. It will not matter whether it is the decriminalization of cannabis so that small amounts are acceptable, or legalizing the drug. The differences between decriminalization and legalization are significant and it would be true that there are people who do not understand the difference, either as a matter of being deliberately ignorant or or not having had it explained to them properly.

I have been of more conservative persuasion in the past on cannabis. But rather than view it as a criminal issue, I am starting to lean towards the view that addiction to cannabis is a health issue. Rather than criminalizing people and cannabis, I am now of the opinion that the money being pumped into dealing with minor scale cannabis offences should be diverted into helping those who have developed an addiction and setting up associated programmes.

Laws are just that. So are the courts where the sentences are handed down and the jails where the worst of them are carried out. None of them address the causes of addiction to cannabis in the first place, or seek to help anyone other than the victims of criminal offending.

The worst will offend no matter what happens. No matter how one helps them, punishes them or shows sympathy, determined offenders will offend. But what about those who were brought up in a culture of drugs, who have only ever known the debilitating effects that drugs have on families – you cannot blame them for not knowing better if they have not been shown better.

With synthetic cannabis reducing its victims to zombies, and an influx of liquid methamphetamine starting to make its presence felt, a change in how New Zealand is dealing with the lesser end of the narcotics scourge might just be what the doctor ordered. Now we just need to see if New Zealand agrees.

Road toll is a matter of common sense

There is a section of State Highway 1 between Hamilton and Auckland which looks quite ordinary. Well travelled, just like the rest of New Zealand’s longest road, yet a complete and horrible mystery to locals, the emergency services and transport planners alike. This section of road passes through rural areas and small towns such as Mercer, Huntly and Ngaruawahia and is the deadliest stretch of road in the country.

As a kid trying to pass time on the drive from Taupo to Auckland during one holiday, I was looking out the window and started counting white crosses. Each one represents a life lost. When I did this in the 1990’s, the number was already quite depressing then – I counted at least 20. Some of them them were in groups. Others were in clusters. Some were well looked after, with photographs and flowers and others were barely visible. Someone’s mother or son, father or daughter….

As I think about them whilst typing this I wonder how it is after years of steady progress, the toll is suddenly running in reverse. Why are safety campaigns, law enforcement and social messages no longer working? Why do people not seem to be heeding the warnings?

Recently – about six weeks ago – I and a few others stopped a drunk from becoming a drunk driver. He was kicked out from a bar I was at. A few others I knew had been trying to talk him out of driving. Then he simply got up and staggered to his truck and tried to start the ignition. I took the key off him whilst another stood in front of his truck to stop him moving. I wondered at the time how often at bars around the country this sort of incident plays out. Sadly the answer is probably too frequently.

Speeding on roads that are clearly not designed for speed defies common sense. But we do it. Running red lights, failing to give way, not indicating are all things that happen far too frequently. Safety advocates campaign for New measures. The police and other emergency services beg for restraint and occasionally politicians vow action. But nothing happens and perhaps there is a good reason for it.

Perhaps, just perhaps it is because this surge in the road toll is caused a loss of common sense. Perhaps if people did not run those red lights, remembered to indicate and gave way instead of sailing through the toll might be lower. Perhaps less of those crosses I gave up counting would exist on the roadside. Perhaps the volunteer fire fighter at a family barbecue might not have his Christmas Day interrupted because a head on collision has taken two lives.

The time has come to stop blaming non New Zealanders for our own crap driving. Until we take responsibility and make the matching steps in exercising that responsibility, the road toll will continue to be a black stain on New Zealand. We can have the best roads, the best road code and the best driving tests, but if a person gets through all of that and decides they want to be a callous numpty and kill someone, they’ll find a way of doing that.

Is that too much common sense to ask for?

I think not.

Make addressing violent crime a priority

So, another dairy has been robbed. An occurrence happening all too frequently the length and breadth of New Zealand with the perpetrators getting away just as frequently.

But the worst part of this horror show is the courts. Soft as butter judges playing namby pamby games with peoples lives and livelihoods. The conservative parts of society might call for a return to the gravel pits for such offenders, but this fails to address the core societal issues that are leading to these horrendous crimes in the first place. By this I am talking about the lack of role models in their lives and the presence of drugs; their failure in the school system and a lack of a job.

But at the same time the courts have a job to do and they are failing at it in an abject way. It is almost like in some cases the judges do not care any more. I find it hard to believe that human rights laws for children have advanced to the degree that some say they have and that as a result the judges somehow have their hands tied.

I wonder if part of the justice process, a judge has ever asked an offender what their ambitions in life are. I am certainly not suggesting showing sympathy, but almost none of these offenders have probably thought about where they want to go in life. Maybe – I could be totally wrong, but just assume for a moment I am not – they simply need someone in a position of authority to show them right from wrong. If they don’t care, then that is a different story.

So, what are some of the steps that need to be taken? Several steps:

  • For starters I think Civics/Legal Studies needs to be compulsory in Year 12. Students need to know how the law works because at some point they are going to have to deal with it, so they better learn.
  • A youth policing section needs to be established so that young people learn to work with the police and see that they will only be in their lives if they commit crime or are the victims of crime
  • Synthetic cannabis needs to be banned immediately and all shops given one weeks grace to hand over their stock – all in possession of it should be given an equally short grace period to hand over their private stock
  • Small amounts of cannabis should be decriminalized – police are wasting their time and resources dealing with anything under say 5 grams
  • Importers/dealers and manufacturers of illegal substances should have a 10 year starting jail sentence plus anything purchased using the profits of their criminal activity should be seized and sold – money raised goes to funding drug treatment; non New Zealanders should be deported and permanently barred from reentering

But none of this will work if there is not a co-ordinated approach involving the co-operation of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Social Welfare and the Ministry of Education.

If a rise in tax is necessary to fund this, do it. Done properly, it will pay for itself in time.

Hugh Hefner: Divisive in life and divisive in death

Hugh Hefner was divisive in life. Hugh Hefner was divisive in death.

I am not sure how appropriate it is to acknowledge Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy and the man who established the famous Playboy Mansion. So, perhaps this rather short statement is more to acknowledge his existence, rather than than to necessarily lead a cheering squad for pornography, hardcore or not. Tasteful or not.

It should not be a surprise if it does some sort of cheer leading squad. Some loved Mr Hefner and will point to his estate, to Playboy, the magazine and this includes both men and women. If Mr Hefner was so bad as some say, why did and do so many respect his contribution for what it is – or is not – to society? If he was so bad, why have we not heard about alleged abuse like we have about Jimmy SavileĀ  and Rolf Harris?

I sit on the fence. He is what he was. I do not endorse exploitation of women. But in his 91 years, I am not sure he did either.

But if an adult woman chooses to become involved in making programmes/movies/documentaries of an overtly sexual nature, that is her choice. If an adult woman chooses to do a photo shoot in which she is stark naked, and knows that the photos will be a spread in the pages of a major magazine, again that is her choice.

If two consenting adults of the same orientation want to have sex in front of the camera and record it, fine. The key words are “adult” and “consenting”.

What we need to do is stop pretending. We need to acknowledge school boys at an age well under the minimum probably look for porn on their phones, or on the internet. Did I say it was okay? Not at all. NOT. AT. ALL.

But they do. And they will.

Parents need to grow a spine. Be a parent. Not their best mate. You might love them with all your heart but you have a job to do and that is show them right from wrong. Good from bad. Yadda yadda yadda.

So does the justice system. Cut the crap and call rape, rape. That all it is. A disgusting, damaging offence for which the only answer is jail and a rehabilitation into society that can only start when the offender acknowledges that they did a terrible wrong.

Mr Hefner may have contributed to moral issue around this. I acknowledge that.

Hugh Hefner was a person who for as long as I can remember him was associated with pornography. There was no getting away from it.. Mr Hefner proclaimed to be the man who whose mere attendance gave hope to his play bunnies. I think it s fair to say that whilst we did not know what Mr Hefner had envisaged, the reality was that his politics had angered or annoyed people to a one-on-one. The story never really had fairy tales or was perceived as being a moral hazard.

At some point or another many girls who thought – mistakenly – that they would be up to the arduous tasks to impress their boss and get the media hounds onto them quickly had become disillusioned. Ones body – male or female – is worth more than the lines or imagery necessary to explain what Playboy Mansion was trying to achieve. His memory will live on, though I am not sure it it will ever address the confronting nature of pornography in society, it will definitely belong to one of the more colourful – if not divisive – members of society.

Hugh Hefner. 09 April 1926-27 September 2017.


National’s M.S.D. failure

Every election we hear about the need to address social welfare in New Zealand. We hear the Greens and Labour going on about the need for compassion and making sure that people on the benefits are reasonably able to afford basics. We hear about the need to reform social welfare to stop it being a hand out as opposed to a hand up from National and A.C.T. After nine years of National and A.C.T. being in office, I get the distinct impression that they have lost sight of their message.

Or that the message they are putting out is perhaps not the message that the centre-right should be putting out about social welfare. I mean, the supporter base of both parties are the ones talking up employers – and there are many great employers, don’t get me wrong – and talking down the beneficiaries whom they claim are druggies, fraudsters and so forth. The same also generally go for bureaucrats as being financial wastage costing hard earned income. Which brings me nicely to my next point.

A good example of bureaucratic mismanagement is the Ministry of Social Development. I have heard stories of time, money and resource wastage by staff from others who have dealt with the M.S.D. and its umbrella agencies such as Work and Income New Zealand, Child Youth and Family Services, as well as Studylink. I have also seen inept practices with my own eyes.

To some extent I believe the Social Welfare Act is to blame. It is a rigid piece of legislation that is not fit for 2017 and its application forces staff to straight jacket cases that simply cannot be. The result is a misguided attempt to help clients that just as regularly damages individuals and their trust in the very agencies that are supposed to be assisting them, as it actually helps anyone.

But also there is a need to have a sea change from the Minister down in terms of how the Ministry operates. The culture of the management does as much to fuel the wastage as the Act. When one has staff treating completely innocent clients as if they are criminals, with an air of suspicion and a complete lack of empathy, of course one should expect them to treat one with contempt. It is not to say the staff member/s in question are necessarily bad people and it might be their training, or lack of that is to blame.

An average request in my experience at W.I.N.Z. took two meetings to do what generally could have been done in one. For the most part the second meeting was simply an exercise in time wastage, as were subsequent meetings. When across five separate meetings you find yourself telling staff the same data each time and no tangible changes being given effect to, I think the client has a good reason to ask what is going on. When a staff member who has never had your case before tells you what he thinks of you after just five minutes, is he not jumping to conclusions – or off a proverbial cliff? Especially when it happens without even looking at your case notes or even realistically giving you a chance to explain your situation.

And the paperwork. I understand the need to leave a paper trail to cover ones legal behind, but sometimes the sheer pedanticism of the letters that get sent out makes one wonder if paper wasting is not part of their brief. An example that I remember clearly was being told in one letter that I was over paid by $0.65c or similar in a weekly benefit payment and that W.I.N.Z. would correct this over the next two weeks – yes such pedantic nonsense actually does happen.

Given this wastage and ineptness costs hard earned income by requiring more tax and more money to be borrowed – which has to be paid back at some point (but that is another story) – the silence from National and A.C.T. about one of the biggest waste machines in Government is quite extraordinary.