Hard News: Getting serious about the cannabis referendum
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TVNZ’s report on the day is good value and has longer comments from speakers than I was able to scribble down.
One major opponent will be the pharmaceutical industry. They are a major funder of anti-cannabis groups in the US.
I agree that it wouldn't be as simple as doing a global search-and-replace to swap out the word alcohol for cannabis. But it would give a decent starting point if the government has any hope of meeting the referendum deadline. Developing new institutions wholecloth would be a big job. Adapting current rules for spirits is a lot easier. Notable and good (to my view) features of the rules around spirits:
- home distillation is legal, as is informal social supply. Excise only applies if you go commercial - along with the other rules for being a commercial operator. Applied to cannabis, this would allow all kinds of opportunity for growing at home, for running a licensed retail operation, and for entrepreneurial discovery. If you find that your friends rave about your home-grown product, maybe it's time to expand to take it commercial. That's how a lot of our craft brewing industry got going - folks who figured out that they were good at brewing because home brewing is legal.
- A lot of opposition to legal regulated markets will come from worries about kids having access. We already have rules preventing supply to minors, rules requiring licensees at bottle shops to be responsible, spot checks making sure licensees are behaving responsibly on pain of fine and of losing their licence. We already have rules around advertising and marketing aimed at children. Porting those over could help assuage those fears.
- Some communities might want to ban use in public; that kind of thing can be set in Local Alcohol Policy around alcohol ban areas. Could do the same for cannabis.
None of this is to say that the rules for alcohol are perfect for alcohol, or that they'd need no adjustment in application to cannabis. But it gives us a starting point.
I also think a pile of opposition to regulated markets comes from lack of imagination around how the rules could deal with particular problems. For folks unfamiliar with an area, it's real easy to hit the first perceived problem and imagine that it's insurmountable, and so reject the whole thing.
But if they have a familiar framework to start from, they can instead think through how that framework handles whatever the problem is.
Like "Oh, how will we know there isn't meth in the weed? Solve that! Ha!" Well, how do we know there isn't antifreeze or drugs in the wine? Do we currently have to worry about that? No. And we wouldn't have to worry about it for cannabis markets either.
Or, "How would you license retailers?" The same way we license bottle shops is a rather good start.
Re: price. From my limited experience - good beer is cheap in Colorado, but legal cannabis makes it look pricey. The dispensary was certainly better value than the bar.
Russell Brown, in reply to
Thanks Eric, that’s really useful.
None of this is to say that the rules for alcohol are perfect for alcohol, or that they’d need no adjustment in application to cannabis. But it gives us a starting point.
Two things occurred to me. One is that I’d like to see a more explicit duty of care, which doesn’t really happen in liquor retail above the baseline of not serving drink people or kids.
And I also wonder if “regulated like liquor” – which did poll and focus group well in California – would go down in, say, parts of South Auckland where bottle stores are regarded as a community plague. I don't actually want to see a dozen weed stores on K Road the way there are a dozen liquor stores.
On the other hand, Chris Fowlie’s campaign for the Waitakere Liquor Licensing Trust – on the view that the West Auckland trusts would not only be a good model for cannabis retail but could actually do it under existing regulations – foundered in part because a lot of people hate the trusts, with good reason.
I had someone try and persuade me to get in behind a licensing trust for Grey Lynn, after the suburb (where I was living at the time) finally went “wet” in the 90s. There was no way I was going to do that. And we ended up with a couple of bottle stores, wine in the supermarkets and a bunch of nice little cafe-bars, which was all anyone living there really wanted.
Assuming the referendum succeeds, I hope we can also learn some lessons from the failed experiment with the Psychoactive Substances Act. The moral panic and consequent scramble by local Government to find ways of prohibiting retailers could easily happen again. There is also no reason to assume that a newly legal cannabis industry will be ethical or well-organised. A lot of people will be less concerned about health and welfare than turning a profit. It could easily be a shambles. And well-meaning regulation can be counterproductive. The Psychoactive Substances Act required that new products should be proved safe (or safeish) but also made it impossible to use animal testing to prove that without providing any alternative process. The result was that AFAIK nobody ever even applied to register a product. I don't think anyone even has licences any more. So let's not do that again.
Thanks Russell & co, a good read.
I suspect any affection for a 2019 date is more to do with the fact that a cannabis question on the ballot would dominate the general election campaign.
I think that's the wrong way round. The election swamps all other issues in the media - in fact, sometimes the "horse race" commentary even swamps the election issues themselves. An election day referendum gets less coverage than one held during a term (the referendum on MMP in 2011 was a case in point, far more important than the flag, but far fewer column inches).
On the other hand, turnout on election day is much higher. And I'd guess that the opposition to reform will focus on scaring a conservative base, and getting them to lick their envelopes in a smallish postal ballot. Whereas in a general election the less engaged majority, whose attitude is more pro-reform but not "to the barricades", will outweigh the antis.
Russell Brown, in reply to
Assuming the referendum succeeds, I hope we can also learn some lessons from the failed experiment with the Psychoactive Substances Act. The moral panic and consequent scramble by local Government to find ways of prohibiting retailers could easily happen again.
On the other hand, a big part of the problem was the Ministry of Health taking forever to come up with regulations, meaning the interim regulatory period went on longer than anyone expected or intended. And the interim licences went to some shitty hole-in-the-wall businesses, which didn't look good on the news.
There is also no reason to assume that a newly legal cannabis industry will be ethical or well-organised. A lot of people will be less concerned about health and welfare than turning a profit. It could easily be a shambles.
That's what the regulation is for though. And, as above, not for profit retailing or cannabis clubs are one way around it. The Drug Foundation's model law also includes regulations on business size and local ownership. It can be done.
And well-meaning regulation can be counterproductive. The Psychoactive Substances Act required that new products should be proved safe (or safeish) but also made it impossible to use animal testing to prove that without providing any alternative process. The result was that AFAIK nobody ever even applied to register a product. I don’t think anyone even has licences any more. So let’s not do that again.
No, the animal testing ban was added in the same amendment that foreclosed the interim licensing period and shut the whole thing down. Leaving open the possibility that a product could be licensed if it was deemed to pose "a low risk of harm" – which was made impossible by the addition of the animal testing ban.
The Green Party, which supported the animal testing ban, still hasn't really been able to come up with any good argument as to how such a regime could work without animal testing.
On the other hand, a big part of the problem was the Ministry of Health taking forever to come up with regulations, .
Would that be the same Ministry of Health that will probably end up administering a regulatory regime for cannabis? In between the Ministry and the inevitable problems that will arise if local Government is given a role in, for example, licensing retailers like it does for alcohol, you have all the ingredients for a really first class omnishambles. If they are allowed to, Councils will probably try to adopt policies prohibiting retail licences from anywhere within a kilometre or so of a school. I dunno, maybe we'll do better this time. I hope so.
Moz, in reply to
how such a regime could work without animal testing.
Exploit the "people are not animals" delusion and allow volunteers to test stuff under medical supervision. It's a lot more ethical (people can give informed consent), although the lack of voluntary euthanasia laws could be problematic if they find something really awful.
There is an awful lot of research and testing being done on recreational drugs all the time, and possibly more so than in the past now due to ease of access to synthesis equipment. From what I can tell almost all the experimenters test on themselves rather than other animals.
Great article, and thanks so much for being there and chairing the referendum session (under difficult circumstances!).
Just one thing to correct - the plastic bag campaign was not "my" campaign. That was a networked campaign where many many local passionate people (including me) campaigned to get a ban on plastic bags. We networked together to share information, ideas and support. And each group was autonomous, which is why the corporate lobbyists couldn't neutralise us.
No one person can take the credit for a grassroots networked campaign - which is the strongest form of campaigning because its not about one ego, or one brand ... is about all of us..... its about doing things better together.
That's why the #makeitlegal campaign will be a grassroots networked campaign.
Its powerful and we all own it - Vote Yes!
The conference proposals for the two referendum questions seem suitable, well-phrased, easily understood, simple, direct, concise, well done all involved!
Ole fella interviewed here: https://www.thecannabist.co/2016/10/28/willie-nelson-reflects-on-cannabis/66254/ "a legalization activist, a social warrior and now a ganjapreneur via his own Willie’s Reserve pot brand, and he still gets high regularly at age 83."
Rebecca Reider's interview on Newshub's AM show convinced Duncan Garner, who said if the campaign made its points as clearly as she'd just made them to him, it'd win, in his view. Here's the interview https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2018/11/cannabis-advocate-s-impressive-justification-for-legalisation.html
And here are the points that convinced Garner:
* we're spending $400m a year policing it
* cannabis crime is needlessly filling up our prisons.
* We're missing out on $200m a year in tax revenues
* it's really not very harmful, never has been.
* so much less harmful than alcohol
* prohibition doesn't work - people already have it - is widely available
* But right now there's no regulation, it is sold on the black market - by criminals
* can be - and is being - contaminated, so regulation is good.
Jason Kemp, in reply to
In the US as I understand it the tax revenues and the lower costs of policing had been huge drivers for change. If the NZ number is in the order of $600m which I’d guess is a conservative estimate ( on the tax side) then that is quite persuasive. Surely there are things we can learn from Canada, Colorado, Portugal and wherever. And quite possibly Mexico soon.
There must also be export possibilities for NZ businesses. If NZ wants to create more higher paying jobs then we need branded and curated products as well as whatever else that comes along.
"Ten states and Washington, DC have now legalised marijuana for recreational use for adults over the age of 21. And 33 states have legalised medical marijuana."
from Here’s where you can legally consume marijuana in the US in 2018 also pretty sure they will need to update the list soon as there were some mid term elections votes on related laws.
As a parent I say untested and unregulated food / beverages / anything is a risk we shouldn't be needing to take. Lets accept that there are some downsides but regulation can mitigate a fair amount of that. Better to know the medical risks and actively manage those.
I watched an Anthony Bourdain story filmed in Seattle recently and Washington State look to be doing ok. But on legislations lets learn from the mistakes in the U.S states and elsewhere too.
O'Connor, a police sergeant before his 21-year tenure as president of the Police Association, said that in his experience, cannabis had never really been a big deal for police.
Perhaps the Cannabis Referendum Conference was the wrong forum to call out such blatantly disingenuous claptrap. I am having a hard time believing that O'Connor, a former undercover drug cop, could say this with a straight face.
Russell Brown, in reply to
Just one thing to correct – the plastic bag campaign was not “my” campaign. That was a networked campaign where many many local passionate people (including me) campaigned to get a ban on plastic bags. We networked together to share information, ideas and support. And each group was autonomous, which is why the corporate lobbyists couldn’t neutralise us.
Thanks Sandra. I did wonder whether I should have phrased that better.
Russell Brown, in reply to
Would that be the same Ministry of Health that will probably end up administering a regulatory regime for cannabis?
And the one taking a long, long time on regulations to accompany the medicinal cannabis bill, yes.
In between the Ministry and the inevitable problems that will arise if local Government is given a role in, for example, licensing retailers like it does for alcohol, you have all the ingredients for a really first class omnishambles. If they are allowed to, Councils will probably try to adopt policies prohibiting retail licences from anywhere within a kilometre or so of a school.
I wouldn't have a problem with such a condition. It would reflect what's happened pretty much everywhere else cannabis has been legalised.
Sacha, in reply to
without animal testing
Pretty sure there are advanced enough software models for toxicity testing by now that require neither humans nor animals.
My question would be whether or not reform opponents will get together in their own antis group, as has happened in the context of the contemporary euthanasia debate. I suspect it may have crossed Family First's mind- although its website seems to be down at the moment, as is Bob McCoskrie's personal blog.
Hopelessly misleading reporting continues to conflate synthetics and cannabis: https://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/108821210/Children-poisoned-by-parents-cannabis-and-synthetics-use
Russell. What's your take on Bob McCoskrie's story in the Herald today? If what he says is true, is there a worry with Big Marijuana and is the increased potency of marijuana a problem?
Russell Brown, in reply to
Russell. What’s your take on Bob McCoskrie’s story in the Herald today? If what he says is true, is there a worry with Big Marijuana and is the increased potency of marijuana a problem?
It's true, THC levels are getting higher – although that's been a trend in the black market for a long time. The US states (and now Canada) do regulate the dosage in edibles, which is where the problems really occurred after legalisation. Cannabis flower has to be tested for potency and that potency declared at sale.
It's entirely possible to regulate a maximum THC level. Or a set CBD ratio, which is the thing that goes under the radar – CBD levels have dropped sharply in black market weed in the past 20 years, and that's not actually a good thing. Under legalisation, higher-CBD strains are widely available in Colorado and elsewhere.
The thing is, selecting cannabis solely on its THC potency is actually kinda dumb. Research on cannabis social clubs in Europe found that many people like the clubs because they provided access to weed that wasn't rocket fuel.
Also, literally no one – least of all the local reform advocates – wants Big Marijuana to be a player in New Zealand. That's why there's strong support in the activist community for the non-profit-at-retail model.
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