The case for voting YES in cannabis referendum


At the General Election of 19 September 2020, there will be a referendum on whether New Zealand should legalize cannabis.

There are numerous reasons why I am voting yes in the 2020 referendum on the legalization of cannabis. In the article following I lay out those reasons and explore some of the side issues around cannabis in New Zealand:

  • Low level cannabis offences take up police time, resources and tax payer money unnecessarily
  • The justice system is unnecessarily clogged with the resultant prosecutions from those offences
  • Minister of Justice Andrew Little has announced a probable regime that would be implemented should the referendum return a YES vote, which focuses on reducing harm
  • Recognition of need to address cannabis addiction as medical issue and not a criminal one

The regime that Mr Little has proposed, the regulatory regime would have the following provisions:

  • A minimum age of 20 for purchasing and using cannabis products
  • A ban on all marketing and advertising of cannabis
  • Requires harm minimisation messaging to be on products
  • No public use, but confined to homes and regulated premises
  • Restricts cannabis sales to physical stores
  • Regulations on the potency of cannabis products
  • A person over the age of 20 will be able to grow two cannabis plants on their property
  • Individuals will be able to carry up to 14 grams of dried cannabis in public places

Mr Little says that it will be an education and health based regime for those with addictions, assuming that they are willing to enter a treatment centre.

More critically we need to acknowledge as I have mentioned in the past that the “War on Drugs” has been an abject failure. It has driven the cannabis market underground and in doing so it has enabled growers, synthetic cannabis importers and others wanting commercial gain from growing it to thrive in a market that has no regulation and attracts the worst in society.

One of the more damaging aspects of cannabis in New Zealand and around the world has been the rise of synthetic cannabis or “synnies”. These are much stronger and more debilitating than regular cannabis, and can render users zombie like where they appear to be completely detuned from what is happening around them. Many of the users are some of the most vulnerable elements of society with no family, support networks or means of finding work, their drug use can lead to – in the case of women – being forced into prostitution to earn money.

On the whole I like the regime that Mr Little is proposing to implement if the referendum returns a YES vote. I do have concerns though about cannabis being grown on private properties, due to some of the secondary activities and behaviours that tend to be associated with drug manufacture. Specifically I am thinking of the tendency to have firearms, the construction of structures that will impede lawful surveillance and law enforcement; also the coming and going of people with connections to the criminal underworld, prostitution and gang activity.

So whilst I will be voting YES, I acknowledge that there is more work to be done yet on these reforms and I look forward to seeing what the final plan will look like.

 

Causes of crime in New Zealand


It is quite fair to say that the New Zealand sentencing laws have multiple flaws to them that undermine not only the course of justice, but in some respects actually cause new injustices to occur. The cracks in the social net designed to keep people out of crime are so numerous that systemic failure is a real possibility and would occur when a critical mass of issues comes to a head causing a large scale collapse of services and functions.

Among these problems are:

  • A failing of the socio-economic conditions necessary to discourage criminal activity in the first place
  • A failure of the justice system to punish convicted offenders appropriately
  • Offenders occur because it suits the lifestyle that they have become accustomed to
  • Massive growth in the market for illegal substances – a seller can make $4,000 a week selling illegal substances in Whangarei
  • Break down of the family unit and a lack of role models for boys
  • Underfunding/scrapping of social welfare programmes causing them to fail or be wound up
  • Systemic underfunding and resourcing of the mental health sector

So how do these factors cause the sentencing regime to fail? There are numerous reasons.

  1. Whilst most New Zealanders are working, tax paying, law abiding people, there is a section of society that have no empathy with or understanding of societal norms. They come from broken families that have no had proper jobs, or have been involved with drugs or criminal elements – to them the law and the people who enforce it are suspect
  2. Despite legislation passing through Parliament in 2010 called the Truth in Sentencing Act, which was designed to make offenders do the full sentence handed down, sentences are becoming increasingly erratic and are rarely suitable for the crime/s committed
  3. It is obvious that the War on Drug has failed when drug dealers can make more money in a week than many New Zealanders do in a month – flow on effects from drug use can include being not suitable for a wide range of jobs
  4. A lack of role models for children with absentee parents or from a family where education and work are low priorities. They might be constantly working, or disinterested in their children’s development
  5. Welfare programmes have suffered from funding not keeping pace with inflation, but also constantly tightened criteria to eligible for assistance in the first place, with the result being more people are either getting cut off or finding the proverbial goal posts have shifted
  6. Mental health issues create highly unstable people whose symptoms may range from acute stress to being prone to physical violence or even killing – several cases have occurred in the last few years where either people not being treated have turned violent; caregiver gone to jail for mercy killing

New Zealand is going to have to address these issues collectively and individually in the near future or risk this nation becoming something other than the tourist friendly paradise many non New Zealanders believe us to be. Soon there could be significant costs to tax payers and companies alike fixing a problem that in some respects everyone is partially to blame for, but which nobody wants to come up with a comprehensive solution.

Asian “El Chapo” drug syndicate on the rise in New Zealand


Meet Tse Chi Lop. The Chinese Canadian man is known as an Asian El Chapo. He is a billionaire who has done exceptionally well out of the drug trade in ketamine, methamphetamine and other Class A drugs. Tse Chi Lop is the boss of a giant criminal network called Sam Gor. It operates in a dozen countries. The drugs, which mules have taken much risk to ship into countries as diverse as New Zealand, Canada, Taiwan, Japan and Myanmar have given fleeting albeit distinct looks into the life of a drug baron considered to be the most wanted man in Asia.

One such mule is Cai Jeng Ze, who was caught at Yangon Airport by Myanmar authorities, his cellphone yielded a plethora of data – it showed what happened to people who did not comply with the syndicate; all the normal data such as contacts, names and social media messages describing activities.

When New Zealand Police intercepted a shipment of methamphetamine earlier this year, it was probably not loss to Tse Chi Lop whose empire would simply ship another consignment over. 1,500 kilogrammes of methamphetamine was intercepted by New Zealand authorities in the first part of 2019, which is just part of a flood of crystal methamphetamine arriving.

How New Zealand is going to manage this burgeoning flood I am not sure. Certainly our customs and police need a long term budget increase to do the kind of work that will be necessary to help their international colleagues to locate Tse Chi Lop and bring him to justice. But of significant concern is that the United Nations representative on the U.N. Agency for Drugs and Crime suggested that the war on drugs paradigm is going to have to change significantly as this is too big to be out policed.

But will political parties come on board with the need to change the paradigm towards what the United Nations representative is suggesting? I am not sure that National and A.C.T. would.

Looming referendums: Are politicians passing the buck?


Two referendums are due at the next election in 2020.

One is for A.C.T. Member of Parliament David Seymour and his End of Life Choices Bill, which Mr Seymour hopes will legalize euthanasia. The other is to legalize cannabis.

But are Members of Parliament passing the buck? It depends on whom one talks to. New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters believes that “temporarily empowered politicians” do not necessarily know better than the general public. As a result New Zealand First believes that it is correct to pass the decision making on big decisions or ones that are perceived to be morally divisive back to the people. The party even has a principle in its 15 Fundamental Principles that requires decisions that are not party policy to be sent back to the public for a referendum.

This is the primary reason why New Zealand First voted no in the 2013 Same Sex Marriage conscience vote – the Same Sex (Definition of Marriage)Amendment Bill had not gone to the public as a referendum, so the party chose not to support it.

Whilst Mr Seymour is in support, many conservatives are not. Judith Collins and Maggie Barry of the National Party believe it is an affront to the most important human right there is: the right to life. I would probably support it, but I would need to see what safeguards are in place – not only to ensure that a family cannot use it as a means of getting rid of a terminally ill family member, but to stop pro-life family from interfering if the irrevocable decision to die has been made.

Currently the legislation to legalize cannabis will go before Parliament late this year or early next year. It is being sponsored by Green Party Member of Parliament Chloe Swarbrick, who was handed the legislation by fellow Green M.P. Julie Anne Genter when the latter become a Minister of the Crown.

Support for this is fluctuating. Family First, a small party outside of Parliament with strong conservative family orientation released a survey done by Curia research. It showed that there was low support for the legalization of cannabis, at just 16%. A Newshub poll showed that support among Green Party members dropped from 83% to 64% whilst National Party opposition rose from 40% to nearly 66%.

I personally support the legislation before the House and think it would help to reduce cannabis related crime. But before then should it become law there needs to be firm measures against anyone who sells to minors. I agree with sending it to a referendum as it is too controversial to rely on a party vote or conscience vote in Parliament. Whilst Members of Parliament are empowered to make decisions, I believe the limits of what Members of Parliament can vote on, should be mainstream legislation that was put through the select committee process and in doing so, subject to public submissions.

Young New Zealand First right to promote drug testing at festivals


Back in the 1960’s major music festivals such as Glastonbury, Woodstock – among others – were as much known for the drug scene that happened around the music as they were for the bands and the music that they played. One does not have to look hard on Youtube to find videos of such scenes – opium, mushrooms, cannabis, cocaine were just a few of the drugs used to get high.

50 years later delegates at the New Zealand First Convention in the weekend just ended were in a heated debate about the suitability of drug testing at music festivals. Some Members of Parliament including Darroch Ball, Mark Patterson and Clayton Mitchell stated their opposition to the idea, which was floated by Young New Zealand First  – the party youth wing – as a policy remit.

Messrs Patterson, Ball and Mitchell said that they were concerned that this essentially amounted to condoning the use of drugs. They were concerned about the messages that would be sent by supporting such a measure.

I support it totally. It is not that I support drug use by any means, but at music festivals, just as at Woodstock and Glastonbury, it is inevitable that drugs get slipped in. There is an equally high probability that strangers in pursuit of that hit that will make them high seek it from people who are otherwise no more than strangers. And further to the point it is far better those that are using them are given the opportunity to ascertain what exactly they are using, lest it be something with a potentially lethal active ingredient. Y.N.Z.F. member Robert Gore, who was quoted suggesting that young people on it should be allowed to repent, suggested lives could be saved and harm from the usage of drugs could be reduced by permitting this policy.

So, I welcome this move by Young New Zealand First to address this issue so that we can all remember the lazy days in the sun singing along to cool tunes for all the right reasons. I hope that the Caucus have another look at how they proceed with this and understand this is about saving lives as Mr Gore said, and not about condoning illicit use of drugs.