Hard News by Russell Brown


The Scientology front operation behind the "No" campaign on cannabis

Last night, One News ran a follow-up story to its Colmar Brunton poll results on the cannabis referendum, headed here as Government accuses big American anti-cannabis group of interfering in NZ politics.

In truth it wasn't just the government: Justice minister Andrew Little, National's Shane Reti and the Greens' Chloe Swarbrick all appeared on camera to express unease about the entry to the referendum fray of the American lobby group Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

SAM is controversial in the US too, not least on account of its tireless efforts to avoid revealing who bankrolls its activities. Say Nope to Dope, which was founded by Family First's Bob McCoskrie, yesterday swiftly issued a press release on behalf of SAM-NZ denying that the local "No" lobby was being "bankrolled by or controlled by US organisations".

Further "SAM in the US are not telling our coalition how to run our campaign, and have not contributed one cent to it."

But Say Nope to Dope did, three weeks ago, issue the press release announcing the formation of SAM-NZ, to be fronted by Aaron Ironside, a Christian life coach, former radio DJ and longtime associate of McCroskie, who had also been announced only days before as Say Nope to Dope's new spokesperson.

Yesterday's press release included a list of other individuals and organisations who are part of the "No" coalition. It includes quite a number of well-known conservative voices, such as school principal Pat Walsh and Jess McVicar of Sensible Sentencing Trust. There are individuals with a commercial interest in talking up the drug war, such as Methcon's Dale Kirk and Drug Detection Agency owner Kirk Hardy.

There are various conservative Christian groups, along with a couple of senior members of the New Zealand Muslim Association (but not, it appears, the association itself). It's about what you'd expect: people with vested interests and people and organisations that routinely oppose liberal social change, along with a few who have entered the fray because they're genuinely concerned about cannabis legalisation.

But there are also four names from an organisation that will be less familiar: Drug Free World. That will be Drug Free World Aotearoa New Zealand, which set up a Facebook page earlier this year. It appears to have evolved from Drug Free Aotearoa, which was estabished by Taranaki woman Rose Denness in 2012. Denness's name will be familiar to people who have studied the Church of Scientology.

Yes, she is a Scientologist, and Drug Free World Aotearoa New Zealand is Scientology front, along with Narconon and various others listed by then-Green MP Kevin Hague in Parliament in 2009. Said Hague at the time:

I am not a person with a religious belief myself, but I do not object to churches providing social services, provided that the church connection is transparent and that the service is not a front for recruiting into the church. It seems to me that the Church of Scientology fails on both those fronts.

The "About" page of Drug Free World Aotearoa New Zealand's Facebook links directly to the website of the Foundation for a Drug Free World, a notorious Scientology front with a long history of wangling its way into official drug education programmes to peddle pseudoscience.

It even happened here: Drug Free Ambassadors, another Scientology front managed to get public money for 130,000 copies of a booklet distributed to New Zealand schools.

It's possible, probable even, that many of the people involved here in Drug Free World have no idea what it actually is. The old Drug Free Aotearoa used to wrap itself in tikanga so the links weren't obvious, and Drug Free Ambassadors claimed a "partnership" with Māori wardens. Some may have come to it via the "briefings" that can be booked via its Facebook page (the first one is free, of course).

If some elements of this anti-reform coalition are opaque and questionable, its embrace of a harmful Scientology front is actively alarming. And it says something about the nature of the active opposition to cannabis law reform in New Zealand that it's there.

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