Cannabis reform coming – But is it enough?


Reform of the laws around the use of cannabis is coming to New Zealand. Minister of Justice Andrew Little has announced there will be a referendum in which people will be asked a simple yes/no question about the legalization of cannabis in New Zealand.

I support reform for a range of reasons. New Zealand society sees and deals with the effects of cannabinoids every day. New Zealand Police see and deal with the aftermath of cannabinoid related emergencies each day as do the emergency departments at our hospitals. An unknown number of families are despairing as they watch loved ones become consumed by the effects of synthetic cannabis, which is many times more powerful than ordinary cannabis.

I wonder what the socio-economic cost would be if someone tried to add up the money spent on rehabilitation, Police and hospital time and resources, the cost to individual families and finally to the public at large – in a twelve month period in Auckland alone St. John Ambulance was averaging 20 synthetic cannabis related call outs a day.

At one end of the spectrum, I hope to see cannabinoids:

  • Legalized for medicinal purposes
  • Of the synthetic ban them completely
  • Restricted to age 21
  • Subject to strict controls on nationwide cultivation of it

However cannabis is only part of the problem. Much worse drugs are making their way into the market both in New Zealand and abroad. In the United States, fentanyl is currently the drug causing alarm bells to go off, as part of an opioid epidemic. As I see it unless we address these other drugs as part of a comprehensive plan involving both the authorities  and communities, there will not be a meaningful gain in terms of reduction of harm.

At the other end of the spectrum, there needs to be a quite different response:

  • Dealers, importers and cooks of methamphetamines, cocaine, heroin and so forth should have all assets and money illegally made from the business confiscated and the proceeds put forward for rehabilitating addicts
  • Aforementioned dealers, importers and cooks be given 20 year starting sentences
  • A nation wide drug education programme that everyone must go through at high school
  • Have fentanyl classified as a licenced GP administered drug only to reduce availability and prevent abuse of it

In terms of communities, people in New Zealand need to step up with perhaps a confidential line that people can call if they have concerns about someone’s drug use. It would be monitored by the Police and give people a way of ensuring no harm is done whilst at the same time making sure they are not harmed themselves. Community leaders need to work with the Police and start having regular meetings, work out a strategy and integrate it with other local communities.

Because the results of failing to do so can be in clips on Youtube and having viewed a couple, I can say right now they are NOT General Audience viewing.

 

The hour of legalized cannabis is approaching


It started with the release of the report into “meth houses”, houses that had been contaminated by methamphetamine production. Within months debate about how New Zealand view drugs and what should be done about them had turned its sights on potentially legalizing cannabis. Now with a referendum set down for 2020, I believe that the hour of cannabis legalization is approaching.

There is, I believe, no escaping the fact that public support for cannabis being legalized is high and rising. A number of reasons for this exist, but I believe in part the driver for change comes down to some basic myths around cannabis and its effects being blown wide open:

  • The so called “War on Drugs”, both in New Zealand and abroad has failed/is failing
  • Numerous other substances such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and synthetic cannabis are much more potent than regular cannabis
  • Judicial systems in New Zealand and abroad have been clogging up with cases big and small
  • Medical marijuana – whilst its legal status is still in limbo – is no longer something that the police are actively prosecuting
  • If done properly, the tax take from legalizing marijuana would be substantial and could be used for funding treatment programmes

A nation wide referendum, scheduled to coincide with the 2020 General Election, and possibly the first in the world to ask such a question, will ask New Zealanders point blank whether they believe cannabis should be legalized.

Synthetic cannabis, also known as “Spice”, is illegal and supermarkets and dairies have been banned from selling legal highs since 2014. It has been linked to several deaths in New Zealand, people being dangerously spaced out with no idea or comprehension of their surroundings and is the cause of considerable public concern.

But for many people a few quite high profile deaths have highlighted the use of cannabis as a medicating agent against chronic pain. One of these cases was that of trade unionist Helen Kelly who was diagnosed with lung cancer, despite never having been a smoker. As a result of these high profile cases and in depth interviews conducted with those suffering, public support for the use of medicinal cannabis has rocketed.

Some opposition inevitably stems from conservative parts of society who are concerned about the effects of liberalizing drug laws and believe that it will have detrimental effects on society.

Some nations, notably the United States, which has long waged an expensive, often violent and now – ultimately – failing “war on drugs”, will also probably express concern. America though is starting to see that Federal law is no longer keeping up with changes in state laws, particularly in states like Colorado and Washington where restrictions on possession, distribution and manufacture of cannabis have been relaxed. A good example of this is in Washington State – my parents visited a friend whose daughter used to work in the first cannabis store in the state. The store had several restrictions on how it could operate, so that it would not be in breach of Federal law these included not being able to take credit cards; banking the earnings from the days business was a problem because banks are bound by Federal laws.

New Zealand is not the United States and there will need to be strict conditions on how we permit stores that sell cannabis to operate cometh the day when buying, selling and manufacturing cannabis  is no longer a criminal offence. But if a few common sense ones are followed such as, strictly 18+; all stores selling registered with authorities and only New Zealand grown product is permitted, maybe it will not be the catastrophe some believe.

Housing New Zealand boss must quit


Andrew McKenzie is a man skating on thin ice. As the boss of Housing New Zealand, Mr McKenzie had oversight of the meth testing done on houses in its stock. During those many tests a bill of hundreds of thousands of dollars was racked up across a number of clients who found their tenancy aborted. Now with the meth testing industry in a state of disarray and the whistle having been blown on what could be a major cover up, why is the H.N.Z. boss not being forthcoming with answers?

His reluctance to be interviewed by media – declining twice in the space of a few days – suggests an agency boss with something to hide.

However, Mr McKenzie has compounded his problems. His failure to properly stop the charging of people in meth houses for costs incurred in their decontamination is just one other problem among several. Housing New Zealand’s failure to apologize for the charging of decontamination, thus leaving landlords and tenants alike significantly out of pocket should have been Mr McKenzie’s responsibility. Comprehensive methamphetamine testing has been known to cost up to $3,000 with decontamination costing up to another $15,000.

If one believes Minister of Housing Phil Twyford, Housing New Zealand was supposed to have stopped charging tenants for meth testing that had to be undertaken nearly 18 months ago. Yet just the same day that the meth testing story broke it was found out that Housing New Zealand was still pursuing tenants. When that was put to Mr Twyford i in a radio interview, Mr Twyford said that he had felt misled by the agency and demanded that it come clean with answers.

This leaves Mr McKenzie in an untenable spot. As the person in charge of H.N.Z., he would have known what it was doing, despite making a commitment to stopping such charges. The public of New Zealand have a right to know what went on and why its word was not backed by the matching actions.

There is only one thing for Mr McKenzie to do and that is apologize and resign immediately from Housing New Zealand. He is not fight to continue in that role.

It is highly improbable that it will happen, but former Minister of Social Development, Paula Bennett who took great zeal in kicking tenants using methamphetamine out of their homes, also owes an apology. It is highly improbable since it is not like Government ministers to apologize for their past actions.

Another agency that needs to review its actions despite not committing to doing so is the Tenancy Tribunal which would have heard numerous cases of people being unfairly evicted and left to fend for themselves.

Across the board there were failures at all levels in this sorry saga. Across the board all of the agencies and individuals who knew things were not right, but failed to take the appropriate actions should be taking an ice cold look at themselves in the mirror. Are they still fit for purpose? What will it take to make them fit for purpose? And why are they not actively seeking to learn from this?

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.

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.