Hard News by Russell Brown


Modelling Behaviour

You're about to take a psychoactive substance with which you have no previous experience. You don't know how strong it is, but you know some people have had real problems with it. Do you (a) Hoe into it, or (b) Have a little and see how it affects you.

The answer, of course, should be the latter (given that you're already decided you're going to indulge). In the course of  his recent Radio Live stunt, Duncan Garner basically did the former.

He rolled (badly) a large joint of a synthetic cannabis product called Juicy Puff, and smoked the whole thing, on camera. Unsurprisingly, he seemed a little distressed afterwards. I actually stopped finding the whole exercise amusing when I saw him on camera. I was worried about him. When he kindly came in to be on our TV show the following week, I told him I thought he'd been unwise and I was glad he was okay.

Duncan did a couple of other things you wouldn't normally do after taking drugs -- being on camera and appearing on live radio. But that was his choice and the stunt wouldn't have had any meaning if he hadn't. Privately, I hoped his mode of consumption hadn't given anyone else ideas.

Last night I watched The Vote, 3rd Degree's debating breakout show, which argued the moot "Should soft drugs be decriminalised?" Soft drugs in this context meant cannabis and synthetic cannabis, and the conflation of the two was a bit unhelpful. On one hand, you have a well-understood drug, and on the other, a big cluster of poorly-understood chemicals with widely varying effects. I would, without a doubt, prohibit the sale of at least some of the chemicals now being sold as synthetic cannabis in dairies. I wouldn't make the use of them a criminal offence, because that would not help the people having problems with them.

But that aside, I think the The Vote is an ingenious, engaging format and I enjoyed the debate, which set Ross Bell's measured, patient argument for a change of approach against Mike Sabin's wild grab-bag of factoids in suport of prohibition. It's entertainment as much as it is information and I thought it worked well on the night.

Until, that is, Duncan rounded on panelist Grant Hall, a legal high supplier and spokesman for the industry group the Star Trust, with another joint of Juicy Puff and challenged him to smoke it on the show. When Hall demurred, Duncan badgered him to do so. I'm told the confrontation went on for longer than we actually saw on TV.

Now, Hall, whose company makes Juicy Puff, had a perfectly good reason to not want to become inxoicated on his or any other product: he was in the middle of a televised debate. Most people don't get high when we're working, or in a meeting, or on TV. But there was a more important point at stake:

Don't EVER put pressure on someone to take drugs.

I had a little discussion with Duncan about it on Twitter today, and he acknowledged my point that he was modelling unhealthy behaviour. But producer Tim Watkin (I presume it was he behind the @TheVoteNZ Twitter) justified the stunt, saying the programme wasn't "pressuring an innocent, but testing Hall's ethic," and that "it wasn't a stunt for the sake of it, but asked whether the industry would consume [its] own product."

I have no problem with synthetic cannabis vendors being put on the spot about what they're selling, where it's being sold and who it's being sold to. Hall freely admitted on the show that natural cannabis was in all likelihood safer than the products now being sold legally. Duncan tells me Hall does use his own products, but in oral, rather than smokable form.

I guess this is perhaps the kind of thing that happens when someone comes into an unfamiliar sphere. But I'm struggling to think of a point that could not have been made without trying to coerce someone to take psychoactive drugs against their better judgement. Oddly enough, I suspect that the issue would have been clearer all round had Duncan been rounding on Hall with a shot glass in hand.

But for the moment, let's all try and bear in mind that behaviour on TV is public behaviour, and it's modelled behaviour. And that pressuring someone to take drugs when they don't want to is Not Okay.

You can watch last night's episode of The Vote and read more information on the participants and the issues here at The Vote home page.

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