Hard News by Russell Brown


1984, Cambridge Analytica and what others know of our selves

A couple of weeks ago when I appeared on a discussion panel organised by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner around the Auckland Arts Festival stage production of George Orwell's 1984, I decided to talk not about how we might be surveilled, but how we are being surveilled, every second, by big internet companies.

We receive useful services from those companies in exchange for our data, which they use in turn to profile us as customers, usually for the benefit of their advertisers. The key question was, I ventured, not whether our private information was being held, but what happened to it.

China's grim march toward its "Social Credit" system has begun – and it employs state-controlled analogues of Google, Facebook, Amazon and PayPal to rate and rank every citizen. People's score will be affected not only by their own actions, but by the company their keep. And this isn't even the full government scheme, which doesn't launch until 2020. The Guardian's Tim Phillips recently signed off with this column on "the dramatic and troubling changes now sweeping the world’s wealthiest and most powerful authoritarian nation".

I also noted that Orwell's book was not only about surveillance and the surrender of privacy, but control of language and the undermining of the idea of objective truth. We saw this in action in the 2016 US general election – and the fact that mass data collection by state agencies may be of crucial help in finding out exactly when happened there presents quite a moral conundrum.

I'd love to say I mentioned Cambridge Analytica, but I didn't. But what has emarged over a year's persistent work by The Observer's Carole Cadwalladr – and more particularly the shocking revelations this week – fits the bill.

In short, Cambridge Analytica, the data firm owned by Trump backer Robert Mercer, used information hoovered up – in breach of terms and probably the law, and certainly without users' knowledge – from 50 million Facebook accounts to guide an unprecedented psychographic campaign. Not long after the election, it emerged that the Trump campaign had delivered political advertising in a new way, in thousands of different iterations, sometimes within the same day. We now know how.

Cadwalladr spent a year talking to former Cambridge Analytica data scientist Chris Wylie before he was ready to go public. He explained in this story in The Observer how the information was harvested under the auspices of an academic research project that took the data not only of the people it paid to take a personality test, but that of their Facebook friends too. Wylie said he had come to realise he was part of the creation of “Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool”.

There's also a video interview with Wylie:

The full extent of Facebook's own complicity is yet to be determined, but Techcrunch writer Josh Constine's Facebook and the endless string of worst-case scenarios explains how it was allowed to happen. The very, very best scenario is that Facebook showed a sustained recklessness with our privacy.

But things got even more alarming as UK Channel 4 published the results of a video sting carried out on Cambridge Analytica's senior management. First, them talking about the full range of dirty tricks their company could offer in foreign elections.

And then, bragging about what they depicted as the company's comprehensive involvement in the Trump campaign, including what appear to be illegal activities and the destruction of material communications. It raises questions about links between Russian state interests – which we know for a fact to have been active players during the election campaign – and what this company was doing.

Meanwhile, BBC Newsnight looked at whether Cambridge was involved in the Leave campaign ahead of the Brexit referendum – the company bragged about it then but denies any involvement now – a story it said "raises troubling questions about whether, in the age of big data, our democracy is open to manipulation".

It seems like that some of what the excutives said in what they thought was a business pitch was bullshit. But how much?

Big data and the democratic process are not exactly strangers. Many of us were awed by the work that firms like Blue State Digital did in marshalling votes for the first Obama campaign. But that was largely about a big workforce personally reaching out to voters, keeping their names and getting them to the polls. This targeting of people's psychological vulnerabilities seems something else altogether. It is, in its way, also Orwellian. Winston Smith was scared of rats more than anything.

It seems vitally important that we know as much as we can about this. State processes are in motion. But that we know what we now know is yet another vindication of real journalism.


PS: you can also watch a video of that 1984 discussion, and I think it's worthwhile less for my contributions than for a chance to hear from the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Cheryl Gwyn. She is really worth listening to. 


Fentanyl: it's here

The harm-reduction organisation Know Your Stuff announced today that for the first time it has found the synthetic opioid fentanyl in a field sample in New Zealand. It's something everyone who watches the illicit drug market knew was almost certain to happen eventually. Now it's here.

There have already been fentanyl overdose deaths here, but those appear to have been related to fentanyl diverted from legitimate prescriptions. What Know Your Stuff found last month was illicitly-imported heroin that turned out to contain fentanyl.

The organisation offers (in a legal grey area) drug-checking services at festivals and dance parties, using both reagent kits and a portable spectrometer funded by the New Zealand Drug Foundation. That's how this sample was found.

It's rare for opioids to be presented in that context – who takes heroin to a dance party? – but Know Your Stuff spokesperson Wendy Allison believes that drug users who have become aware of the service may now be bringing along substances they have no intention of taking on the day, to have those tested too.

"We thought we'd better tell people because it's the first time we've found it as a substitution for something else," she says.

"This one came into the country. That's about all we can say about it. With things coming through and being bought on the internet now, whether it's been bought as a single sample off some website or whether it's been smuggled in in large quantities is never certain.

"Anyway, it got destroyed. They weren't taking it."

Along with its toxicity – respiratory arrest is the primary factor in overdoses and fentanyl is likely to suppress breathing in far smaller quantities than more established opioids – it's this undeclared presence of the drug that has caused an extraordinary number of deaths in North America and Britain. In Canada it has turned up in almost every black-market drug but cannabis, including party drugs like MDMA.

Know Your Stuff's statement this morning makes several recommendations in response to the discovery. It notes that the most reliable method of testing for fentanyl and its its analogues is a fentanyl testing strip available at The Hempstore and elsewhere.

It also recommends amending the Misuse of Drugs Act to allow DHBs and other services to offer forensic drug-checking services for people who want to check that what they have is what it's supposed to be; making the opioid antidote naloxone more widely available – and pressing ahead on the long-promised Drug Early Warning System.

Although some Health budget was allocated last year for a scoping study for an EWS, there's little sign of progress on the matter – and the result is that, as Allison acknowledges:

"We are the Early Warning System. We don't really want to be, but nobody else is giving out information about things that could be dangerous. While there are a lot of agencies collecting data, nobody's sharing it."

What has happened this year has underlined quite how much that's the case. In January, Know Your Stuff announced that it was finding a new "crap drug", n-ethylpentylone, being presented as the more common party drug MDMA, or Ecstasy. Although, as a crystal or powder, it may be hard to distinguish from MDMA, it's dosed at about a third the quantity: about 30mg as opposed to 100mg. Taking even measured amounts in the belief it's MDMA can be very dangerous – as we saw last month in Christchurch, where about 20 young people presented to ED suffering serious effects from overdosing on n-ethylpentylone.

Police and the DHB announced that the substance they'd taken was not MDMA, but mistakenly conflated n-ethylpentylone with another drug in the cathinone family, mephedrone, which has a different dose profile. Police subsequently corrected the advice – and it's hard not to think that they did so because Know Your Stuff flagged the error.

But although the media are increasingly treating Know Your Stuff as an expert commentator, the system is wary.

"I suspect what's happening is that we're not legit enough yet. We're not the cops, not a DHB, not ESR," says Allison. "Nobody really knows what we are, we're just some rogue organisation that came out of nowhere and people in the corridors of power are not ready to take us seriously yet. Which is a shame, because while they've sat about, we're the ones telling people what's out there."

She says two MPs from different parties have approached Know Your Stuff and are "interested in what we're doing. Nobody else has shown any interest yet."

As it did last year, Know Your Stuff will be presenting this summer's testing data. Last summer, it noted the discovery of cathinones it could not identify being presented as MDMA. Spectrometer sused in the field typically identify the structure of a chemical and match it against a database of known profiles.

Was n-ethylpentylone one of those mystery cathinones last summer? Yes.

"One of the new and unnamed cathinones we found last summer was n-ethylpentylone. The spectrometer detected it as a bunch of different cathinones and we sent the spectrum to The Loop in the UK, who identified it as n-ethylpentylone. We got the Bruker database update which is now correctly detecting it as n-ethylpentylone, but there are two other cathinones we detected that The Loop could not find a match for. They're cathinones but they're not in The Loop's database.

"We've found those two again this year. We still don't know what they are."

The gap may lie in the fact that new substances in Britain tend to be manufactured in Europe, where those in the market here will typically have been made in Chinese factories.

"But until somebody identifies it and puts it in the database, the best we can do is record it as 'unknown cathinone' and say 'we don't know anything about it, please don't take it'."

And they keep coming.

"They do. And as far as we can tell from information from Europe, at a rate of about six a month."


Bikelash, paralysis – and progress

I couldn't ride my e-bike for a few days last week, having strained my back by, ironically, dismounting said bike and missing a step. In truth, my back had been ready to go for a week or two and I felt bad filling out the ACC claim form – it looked like a cycle accident when I wrote it down, but is it a cycle accident when it happens at home in your porch?

So I had to drive to several appointments where I'd otherwise have ridden, and it seemed tedious, stressful and (parking!) expensive. But after some rest and treatment, I was good to go on Sunday, when I had some errands to run. It didn't start well.

The presence of a national Under-17 football tournament had turned Meola Road, an important local link for Point Chevalier and beyond, into a proper shitshow since Friday. With both sides of the roads parked up with the large SUVs that seem to go hand-in-hand with youth football, cars struggled to even pass each other and on occasions where two buses found themselves on the road at the same time, things really ground to a halt.

I'm a confident cyclist and on the e-bike it was practical to just take the lane, but this mess happens to some degree every weekend. To an extent, it's actually better if traffic has slowed to a crawl – when there's speeding traffic behind you (the speed limit has always seemed optional on Meola), ducking out around parked cars is not for the faint-hearted. It is not something you would countenance a child having to do.

Meola, is, of course, the next leg in the safe cycle route when Garnet Road is sorted out and it's pretty much a given that there will be a similar bikelash, probably from the same people. Their campaigning already seems likely to delay the whole Point Chevalier section by up to two years.

But the fact is, the city needs to get parking off Meola Road, and the promised bike lanes will do that. I'm realistic: I get that many people will need to drive the kiddies to Saturday morning football, but please let's find somewhere else for the SUVs. (Happily, it seems there are talks about employing otherwise unused land owned by Motat for that very purpose, but that's a separate process.)

Things could hardly have been more different after I rode down through Cox's Bay Park and up the hill to the Peel Street roundabout in West Lynn. The roundabout is part of the controversial new road design in the area, and after a little bedding in, it's working well. It could hardly have been worse than the old intersection.

But the real treat was being able to ride up here.

This is the new bike lane up the hill to West Lynn shops. Its completion was briefly delayed when Occupy Garnet Road leaders Lisa Prager and Penny Bright occupied a digger, with a 'Save the Trees' sign. This was odd, given that no trees were being removed. At all. Indeed, the new lane diverts around a couple of trees before heading up the hill along the top of the steep grass berms. (I'm told the Occupiers' new objection to the path is that it is bad for the environment because it's made of asphalt.)

It's not quite there yet: Auckland Transport needs to better signal that the ramp that leads back to the road is not in fact yet more car parking.

From there, you're into the West Lynn shops, the site of an iconic bikelash battle. And you know what? It's looking good. AT still hasn't announced final details of what it's going to do to remediate the hamfisted streetscaping inflicted during the original project (that steeply sloping footpath on the east side is an embarassment), but the bike lanes themselves are pretty sweet.

In truth, there was never as much wrong with them as their opponents noisily insisted, but now that the asphalt has cured and the green surface has gone on, they look and feel like bike lanes.

It's surprising how much difference that makes. The bumpers are stopping people parking all over the southbound side – except where, like this vehicle, they're parking illegally.

The lane is messed up a bit on Sundays by the farmers' market at the community centre, but by the same token, there were plenty of bikes parked up there.

The very next stretch of the lane kind of threw me. There's not actually a lane, just a very narrow, painted "door zone". Well, actually, there is meant to be a bike lane, a kerbside one, but cars are parking on it. The design had them parking to the right of the door zone, but it is sitting there uncompleted because the Occupiers have spooked AT into leaving it unfinished. It's ridiculous, to put it mildly.

UPDATE: I'm told that AT is now saying it's going to paint out the bike lane, permanently restore parking to the left of the line and break its own design. Cyclists can just suck it up, apparently. I cannot emphasise how fucking stupid, outrageous and cowardly this is.

UPDATE 2: Auckland Transport has responded thus: "There is no commitment to remove greening at this stage. The proposed cycling facility between the West Lynn Village and Surrey Crescent is under review, and we are not pre-determining the outcome until the analysis is completed." This isn't what I was told by someone involved, but I'm happy (and relieved) to accept it. I hope and trust Auckland Transport will show some courage and do the right thing here. Meanwhile, a clearly marked bike lane will go unenforced for as long as a year.

Heading in the other direction, it looks like this. Yes, we'd all like separated lanes, but it's adequate.

Adequate, that is, until you pass the West Lynn shops and everything just disappears. Again, this seems to be because of the halt forced by the protesters. It seems likely to stay that way, dangerous and dysfunctional, for another year. And in a way that suits the Occupiers quite nicely – the longer they can ensure the the project stays uncompleted, the longer people are deterred from using it.

But the lesson from the parts of West Lynn that have been able to be completed is: build it and they will come. On Saturday, Patrick Reynolds took an extrordinary series of photographs as he enjoyed a St Patrick's Day beer at Freida Margolis.

They included this startling lineup of Onzo bikes, which didn't get there on their own – they were "scavenged from backyards" by some bikers on something called the Tour de Ponsonby and ridden en masse. Yes, perhaps somewhere better than the footpath is required for storage, but getting these things back in circulation is a worthwhile thing to do.

Again there's a lesson here about bike-friendly makeovers and bikelash  – especially a bikelash driven by people as mendacious and incoherent as the Occupy Garnet crew. The idea that whatever is being done is a "disaster" becomes the received wisdom. Until people start using it and it's not.

As one resident put it to me:

I've noticed the change in the vibe on the street, too. Many more kids and families out. Driver behaviour seems to be changing. Far more care being taken at intersections, turning corners etc. Far less stressful to be a pedestrian or a person riding a bicycle than it used to be.

And that, really, was the entire idea of the reshaping of that stretch of road (a project which didn't even begin with the bike lanes). A village looks and feels a lot more like a village when it doesn't have traffic speeding through the middle of it.

There will still be some unhappy people. The owners of Nature Baby, the high-end baby shop, have acknowledged that it's not really the bike lanes they're exercised about (and it can't really be the parking – they have more parking out back than any other shop in the area), but the fact that there is now a bus stop outside their shop. Their customers aren't really the sort of folk who take buses.

But, you know, things change. People who think the convenience angle-parking is going to be restored outside Harvest Wholefoods are dreaming. It's just not going to happen. Cities aren't and shouldn't be designed around convenience car parking. And, true fact, there is now more general parking in the area than there was before.

Another problem with bikelash driven by the likes of Occupy is that it tends to obscure real problems: every complaint about everything comes at the same screeching volume and the only acceptable solution is to reverse all change and put it all back how it was. Again, not going to happen.

So we got Lisa Prager getting herself arrested last week for haplessly swinging a log-splitter at a bump built as part of the reshaping of the road at the intersection of Surrey Crescent and Richmond Road. There's a reasonable case that the half-completed feature doesn't work. But – and Prager presumably knew this – a new design, agreed with the community liaison group that Prager demanded, is to be presented. And whatever that design is, the bump will be removed. Her action seems to have been purely an attention-seeking stunt.

Prager and her friends' wild statements – including the frequently-made claim that bike lanes are part of Agenda 21, a UN-driven conspiracy to steal private wealth and erase national sovereignty – have understandably led many observers to think they are simply deranged. I know several residents near the traffic island they have "occupied" (that is, littered with their pup tents and signs while they're away elsewhere) who are quite sick of it all, and who quietly cheer every time someone comes and trashes it.

But the noise has, unfortunately, been enough to spook Auckland Transport into halting all new cycleway development in Auckland for an unspecified time. There was another meeting of one of the community liaison groups yesterday, hijacked, like all the others, by Prager. Someone who was there described the atmosphere as toxic: "Like riding behind a bus for two hours." 

There are certainly lessons AT should learn out of this fuss, but it also also needs to show some spine. There must surely come a time, hopefully soon, when the city must just move into the future.


It is also true that some media commentary hasn't hasn't helped. While the Herald's duelling correspondents, Bernard Orsman and Simon Wilson, were duking it out over bike and bus infrastrcture, the paper published an editorial, headed Cycle lanes can do the job without being gold-plated, that tried to be helpful but wound up simply confused. It began:

The Tamaki Drive cycleway has just turned 42. The milestone is significant because it is a reminder that cycling has been part of Auckland's urban landscape for decades, yet its acceptance as part of the transport mix still faces bumps and impediments.

Hundreds of cyclists turned up when the harbourside cycleway opened on a sunny Saturday in March 1976. The budget for the route from the city to St Heliers was $1000, which included white paint for a separation strip.

But that's basically all the Tamaki Drive cycleway is – a thin strip of white paint on a footpath. It's fine for wobbling along on on a Sunday afternoon with the kids, but it's not really transport infrastructure. If it was, then Jane Bishop wouldn't have died under the wheels of a truck as she tried to ride home.

The other lesson from these projects is the tendency for planners to embrace gold-plated schemes. Two years ago, the K Rd budget was $11.7 million. The latest figure is $17 million.

Cycle lanes do not always need to be high-end projects. The 3m dedicated lane on Nelson St has 400mm concrete slabs along its road edge, sufficient to keep cyclists safe from heavily-laden trucks. The route was installed quickly and gets plenty of use on week days.

Yup, Nelson Street was low-hanging fruit – an available lane on an arterial road that was well under capacity. The inevitable whining from Mike Hosking, Brian Edwards and Michelle Boag has long since faded as people use it daily, for real journeys.

Yet it was useful because it's downstream from a much more expensive project – the $18 million "pink path". But the real point here is that the budget for the K Road upgrade isn't the budget for bike lanes – it's a complete remodelling of the street, adding amenity all along the ridge. The real cost is in the moving of the kerbs and services, not putting in the lanes themselves. That's also where the real disuption will be – retailers will see works for as long as 18 months, some of that time with their footpaths dug up. AT and the local board really need to work on minimising the impact of construction time on those businesses.

The same is simply not true of West Lynn and Westmere. They were not "gold-plated", but the opposite. The gold-plated solution on Garnet and Old Mill Roads in Westmere would have been to move back the kerbs and take a metre and a half of the vast berms. But the moment you do that, you're into serious money. So we got a series of awkward compromises to stay within budget while keeping the unnecessary flush median strip some residents said they had to have.

Same at West Lynn. A generous budget would doubtless have seen AT actually hire an urban design team and save itself a whole lot of grief. The actual lesson here isn't that gold-plated schemes are trouble, but that very cheap ones might be.

The Herald editorial reminded me of the one in The Listener recently, which trotted out a whole of received wisdom and unsupported assumptions that undermined Rebecca Macfie's long, carefully-researched cover feature on bumps in the road to greater cycling uptake that appeared in the same issue. (It's really worth reading.) If you want to help, it's best to know what you're talking about.


But, you know, this is a process, and it'll get better. And it's not just the big projects. Later on Sunday's ride, I came through Mt Albert War Memorial Park to be greeted by the bars of doom. Presumably it was originally intended to stop motorcycles using the path. In the process it stopped everything: bikes, wheelchairs, pushchairs and even pedestrians. The well-worn desire lines on either side of the bars very clearly indicate that almost no one actually ventures to navigate the bars. The picture doesn't do justice to what a bizarre squeeze that is.

So put that on the list, AT and Auckland Council. The path to a more accessible city includes tiny steps as well as big ones. But we can't allow ourselves to be paralysed.


Friday Music: The Roundup

It strikes me that with the essays that have occupied Friday Music lately, it's a while since I just rounded up a whole bunch of music and related stuff. And there is quite a lot of stuff. So here's a roundup, starting with stuff out today ...

Auckland MC JessB captured attention almost as soon as she stepped on a stage three years ago – the strength she radiates is pretty hard to ignore. She's had a busy summer – Rhythm and Vines, Northern Bass and Auckland City Limits – and her seven-track EP Bloom dropped on your favoured streaming service today. It's all tight rhymes and a booming production courtesy her long-time collaborator  P Money. And the video for 'Take It Down' featuring Rubi Du (aka the excellent Silva MC) is one of my favourite local clips in a while. Looks like you don't mess with Jess and her girls.

Also fresh today, but in a wholly different vein, Carnivorous Plant Society's The New King, an album of sweeping cinematic whimsy featuring the likes of Hollie Fullbrook, Lawrence Arabia and Don McGlashan. This is the video for 'Journey of the Sacred Crystal', which was created, like all their low-fi animated clips, by bandleader Finn Scholes.

Darren Watson, the local bluesman who unexpectedly found himself in a free-speech battle with the Electoral Commission over his song 'Planet Key', hasn't got any less political. This is the video for his new song 'National Guy', from the forthcoming album Too Many Millionaires, which is out in May. I presume no one will try to ban this one ...

Audioculture has matching new articles by John Pain on Bressa Creeting Cake and Edmund Cake and the Ed one in particular is a wild ride, encompassing the Geffen deal that slipped away, a nervous breakdown and "a kind of musical MOTAT". I know Ed a little through friends and he has always struck me as having a wild intelligence, but I didn't know the full drama. Hell of a story.

Also a hell of a story: that of Russ Solomon, the founder of Tower Records, has died aged 92 while drinking whisky and watching the Oscars. I really must track down the documentary ...

Over at The Spinoff, Calum Henderson has done a listicle of New Zealand’s greatest one hit wonders (and their second-biggest songs).

Record Store Day rolls around again on April 21. Here are the 500 releases lined up.

David Dallas has a new video for 'Probably', from the Hood Country Club album. Cool.

The new Unknown Mortal Orchestra album Sex & Food is on the way. Pre-orders and more information here.

Sydney-based soul and hip hop label Low Key Source has released its first mix CD, with Base FM's Dylan C on the mix and tracks from Ladi 6, Raiza Biza, and Haz Beats alongside contributions from all over the globe. It's a really cohesive collection and I like it.

In the build-up to her album Tell Me How You Really Feel, Courtney Barnett has released the video for 'Need a Little Time'. I think it's her best song in a while, and the video is trippy, dystopic sci-fi.

Melancholy, twisted, alone together at the margins: it's 'Hotel Room', a Tourette's poem set to music by Christchurch artist gemma Syme and Nick Harte of the Shocking Pinks and recorded in a room at the Sherwood in Queenstown ...

And yeah, I know Kamasi Washington's play the Powerstation tonight, but I don't have tickets for that and my night out will be at the soon-to-close Golden Dawn, where Orchestra of Spheres and friends are playing and my fried Lady Rox is on the decks.

Note that the GD's last night on earth is the closing party a week tomorrow – and that there's a tightly-packed schedule between now and then. You probably should go there at least one more time ...



Gemma Syme again, in her regular guise as Instant Fantasy, copping a dreamy, housey remix from Boycrush.

A remix too for Wellington's Estere, in advance of her album tour.

A gorgeous track from the forthcoming Africa Seven compilation Mothers Garden (The Funky Sounds Of Female Africa 1975 - 1984).

And there's still something new to be found in the dancefloor classics. Free-download banger ...



A medical cannabis korero by the sea

Several weeks ago at Splore, I ran, as I do every year, the festival's talk programme, The Listening Lounge. And the highlight this year was a discussion of medical cannabis and the law featuring five people who are at the frontlines of that debate.

Those people were patient advocate Pearl Schomburg, Shane Le Brun of Medical Cannabis Awareness NZ (MCANZ), Panapa Ehau of Hikurangi Enterprises (which will be the first New Zealand company to make a licensed medical cannabis product), Chloe Swarbrick MP and New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell. We talked about prospects for the government's medical cannabis bill, why the Greens' more ambitious bill was voted down and how the system works – or doesn't – right now.

Happily, the discussion was recorded. I've excerpted some key parts below.

Note that the Drug Foundation has published a guide to making a submission on the government's relatively cautious medical cannabis bill and is completing a series of workshops on the bill in Auckland tomorrow and Thursday – you can still register here for those. Also, MCANZ has published a model cannabis policy. Note that submissions close next Wednesday the 21st.

And you can read more about the remarkable things Panapa and his colleagues are doing in Ruatoria in my story here on The Spinoff

On why the "Chloe bill" wasn't voted through to select committee – and whether its provision for licensed home-growing was a showstopper.


CHLOE: "I think there were a lot of reasons that our bill didn't get across the line. The first was that it was introduced the day after the government introduced their bill. That's just one of the really annoying vagaries of the way the order paper works in the house, but I think it allowed a lot of MPs to say 'we've stuck our neck out this far, we don't want to cross the line any more'. And if you've ever met many politicians you'll know they're not the most risk-inclined group of people. They want to keep their jobs and that means staying as close as possible to the status quo.

 "So talking about we how go about getting more compassionate, considerate, comprehensive reform – I've been working quite a bit with Ross, and with Shane, and we're going to be starting a cross-party group in Parliament to try and get an increase in the understanding and evidence base that poltiicians have when they go into these debates. So at the very least they can't say that they don't know the evidence.

"Talking about my bill, the reasons that were cited by politicians for voting it down was first and foremost that they'd opened the door with the government one. But secondly that this would be carte blanche, open-door, anybody and everybody would be smoking cannabis.

"There's a whole bunch of things to unpack in there. The first is that smoking's not actually the preferred way of using for many patients. The second is that they hadn't actually read the bill. Section 6 of the bill proposed a regulatory standard, which would be defined by select committee. And they had this real fear around what came to be dubbed the grow-your-own provision.

"I don't know how they think people are going to be getting their cannabis with the terminal illness defence. There is still going to be the growing of cannabis."

SHANE:  "The government is committed to setting up a licensing agency to license the medical cannabis industry in New Zealand. And doctors are quite resistant to prescribing medical cannabis products at the moment, let alone handing out permits to people to grow. So we'd actually put the onus on the licensing agency, so that a patient-initiated application would go to the Ministry of Health's cannabis cultivation licensing agency. And they would review the patient and if they met a couple of criteria, they would be granted the privilege to grow their own.

"Naturally here'd be police checks. We're not going to be handing out any permits to patched members. But there'd also be the efficacy concerns. Youre not going to have a ptient apply for something like blindness, but for patients with severe pain and MS, rheumatoid arthritis, all those conditions where there's moderate to good evidence, they should be allowed to grow their own."

ROSS: "There is the potential in the government bill to create a system as Shane describes it. That's probably the unknown thing about what the government announced in its bill – there's a little bit in the bill which would empower all these regulations. Now, if the regulations the government developed were like Canada or Shane's, then I think we'd all be happy, because it actually picks up a lot of what Chloe's bill did. But I don't think the government's communicated that very clearly and actually I don't know if the government has a good understanding about the extent of those regulations. Because they rushed it through in 100 days."

PEARL: "I think if you're not seriously going to allow people to have a home-grown option, this black market will continue and patients will suffer. Patients are suffering dreadfully at the moment with the black market as it is. People getting ripped off – not only getting ripped off financially but getting sold, cheaply or expensively, very poor-quality products that are actually making them sicker. And it's incredibly dangerous.

 "A lot of recreational growers, let's call them, don't understand the need for clean product that patIents absolutely have to have. A lot of recreational growers think their products are okay for patients – and they're not always. Some are, but you need to give patients the right to grow – or to allow somebody to grow for them, because a lot of sick patients can't.

"So although I accept that for patients they need regulation around pharmaceutical products and also products in health food shops, in terms of my right to grow my plants in my garden, I think I've got enough support from my doctor to say that I can make my own choices about whether I grow it, or whether I go to a provider and say here, here's a photocopy of my letters that will keep you safe. There can be a really simple system set up for people like us.

"We do need regulations, but we need to start coming from more of an angle of what do patients want, what do they need? And unless you allow another pathway, the black market will continue."

On how the current system is working, or not.


SHANE: When we first started trying to find cheaper products and made these special applications, the first two special applications in the country had both been epic failures. So [Ministry of Health officials] were quite sceptical that it was going to even work. I had them comment to me about an MS patient who'd already had a good response to Sativex and illicit cannabis – they scoffed and said 'it might not even work, Shane'.

"From there we've gone through perhaps a dozen of these special applications for different patients – and they've all worked. So we've got this issue now where it's still way too expensive and the patients can't afford to go legal. For an epileptic kid, the pure CBD product that's available could cost up to $250 a day."

"The ministry has been looking at regulations around the world at the moment and it's interesting that Canada's the one that keeps cropping up for everyone. The model that our charity's put forward is very similar to Canada. The main driver at the moment is that we don’t want to follow Australia. They have 11 companies trying to grow and about 20 companies trying to import, but they've only got about 350 patients in the entire country.

"So there's a hundred million dollar industry on paper – and yet they've got a couple of hundred patients to fight over between them. So we really need to get loose access down to GPs and maybe even nurse practitioners in some case, so that patients don't have to go illegal, and so we can get enough legal patients on the books to actually have a domestic industry."

On cannabis efficacy and the paucity of medical research.


SHANE: "It's quite a complex situation because doctors like these things called Phase 3 clinical trials – and they cost tens of millions of dollars. And for a plant-based medicine that's not really a doable prospect for most companies, because another company can come along and basically make the same product without the research and rip off their data.

"That's already happened. The main drug for epilepsy is called Epidilex. It's made by the company in the UK who make Sativex. That's being trialled in America and meanwhile we've got a functional equivalent from a Canadian company called Tilray that's here right now and it's cheaper and it does the same job. But there's not a single jot of research behind it.

"But in general terms, when we do literature reviews there's good evidence for multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and for for HIV-induced nausea and vomiting as well. Neuropathic pain syndromes too. And there's weaker evidence for other conditions.

"But evidence versus efficacy is also two different things. In New Zealand we've had two really severe Tourette's patients try Sativex for their Tourette's tics. One of them swore like a trooper, like all the comedies on TV that might rip off and shit on their condtion. But the Sativex worked really well in both cases. So we can say that in a limited number of cases in New Zealand we have 100% success for Sativex in treating Tourette's syndrome. So it's limited evidence – but 'limited evidence' is a moot point when it's working in the here and now."

On Hikurangi Enterprises.


PANAPA: "We've positioned ourselves to be the first company in New Zealand to grow and manufacture a medicinal cannabis product, and it's focused on creating income for our people back home. So we're looking after the land and the people.

"In North America where the cannabis industry has taken off – there's a greenrush around the world and there has been a wave of investment bankers coming in buying out the industry. So we're doing everything that we can to be the first nose through the crack in that door, so we can secure that space or have influence over that space for people on the ground, so it doesn't get taken away."

"Social enterprise is a hyped-up term at the moment, but it's pretty much investing everything back into the benefit of the community. We have a charitable company and a charitable trust and any of the proceeds that come through all go back into investing in more opportunities for our own people, to lift the wellbeing of their families, through them creating job opportunities with the skills that they have, and that they want to use, rather than being forced into boxes." 

"The people with the big wallets are chasing in this space and it's our story and the reason why we do stuff that has really been a key component of us being in the lead in the industry.

"We've got to spend the money to go through the clinical trials. Huge amounts of resource have gone in, but it's something we believe in and we're passionate about and that was really the driving force. It's not an easy or simple pathway to go down, but with perseverance and belief we've been able to do it."

ROSS: "I really like the model of Hikurangi. The fear I think we all have is big multinational pharmaceutical companies coming in and dominating a domestic market. I love the charitable trust model, rater than a for-profit commercial model. That's the kind of stuff we should be advocating to the select committee."

On the "green fairies" currently supplying medical users – and in several cases facing serious criminal charges as a consequence.


PEARL: "That's definitely quite a passion of mine. Let's be clear: not all growers are good growers – some are making absolute rubbish and peddling it to anyone they can. But there are some very skilled growers who are making very fine medicines for patients. I use a couple of those products myself. I haven't used any pharmaceuticals for two years now, and I've got a multiple health conditions which create a lot of pain. You can see I've got a lot of scarring on my shoulders – I don't actually have a joint in here at the moment, it's full of plaster of paris. I just recently had surgery on this one here and if I hadn't had that range of medicines with in hospital … I took them into hospital and I never had any pharmaceuticals from the day after surgery.

"The doctors all knew I was using medicinal cannabis. They didn't ask me what I was using and where I was using it. It was on my file, 'patient prefers medicinal cannabis', but nobody talked to me about it it. Which I found quite odd, that doctors and specialists would not discuss it with me. 

"The providers that make my medicine for are highly-skilled. And that's why I want an amnesty on the medicinal community at the moment, so that people like that can take in these kinds of of conversations with these wonderful people here, and at Parliamentary level. And we can use that information to bring the good ones up to code, get ride of the duds in the process, because they won't survive without prohibition, the bad fairies. Let's see what we've got.

"Even to go to a select committee is very difficult for these people. It's not only them and their livelihoods – they're supporting a lot of patients. And as happened last year with the busting of one of my good fairies, John Patrick. He was providing balm to myself and my good friend Joan Cowie, who is passing as we speak. He got busted and I can't tell you how heartbreaking it has been to see the damage and the downward spiral in my dear friend Joan's condition since she's lost her most important medicine."

On the government's medical cannabis bill – and the importance of submitting on it.


CHLOE: "The government bill which did get through does three things. The first thing is that it essentially creates a criminal defence for people with a terminal illness. If it is actually to work the way it says on the box, people who have a terminal illness who are using or growing cannabis will still be dragged through the court system and have to prove before the judge how sick they are."

ROSS: "They did not consult patient groups and advocates and I think that was a real shame. I think it's really shameful. So for the submission process, we need to hear the patient voice. The risk with the bill that's coming up in the select committee process is that it'll be the New Zealand Medical Association, the Royal College of GPs, and the people who should be listened to will be ignored. We need to make sure patient voices, their carers, the green fairies are supported to make submissions as well. That's what's missing at the moment."

"We've written a submission guide on our website. For people who haven't written a submission before, it's really simple. Just tell a story. Ask to give an oral submission as well and front up to MPs and tell your story in public. Even if you're not a patient or a carer, but just a concerned citizen who wants to see reform. That's what gets reform done in this country."

CHLOE: "The flipside of what I said before about how politicians are very risk-averse because they don't want to stick their necks out is that if we do put pressure on them and make it known that they will lose their jobs if they don't jump – then they will react. I had a lot of people who were super-disappointed after our members' bill didn't go through and lot of people saying 'oh, I give up, I'm so over politics'. No! You cannot do that or we continue on with the status quo. This has to be the time when as many people as possible start participating in the political system, outside of the three-year general election cycle. You cannot let politicians get away with behaving like this, especially when it diverges so much from what the average citizen actually wants to see with regard to reform."

PEARL: "The time has come to be brave and stand up, if not for yourself then for you loved ones. Please stand up, now more than ever. Be brave – there is safety in numbers. I've been a very out speaker in term of my medicinal cannabis patient. status for 20 years or more now – you don't have to be that out, but step up to your doctors, your MPs. Write a submission."