Brexit trilemna shows referendum risks

June 13, 2019

Theresa May has resigned as leader of the British Conservative Party having failed to get a Brexit deal passed by parliament.

Will her successor do any better?

The whole mess illustrates the risks of a referendum that required a black and white answer to a vague question, the consequences of which were understood by too few voters.

There’s a lesson here for all governments.

Any referendum on constitutional or other complex matters should require more than a simple majority to change anything.

Every referendum should clearly spell out  the question and be accompanied by a comprehensive education campaign clearly explaining the issues so that voters understand not just what they’re voting for or against, but what will happen if those wanting change win.

We know there will be a referendum on decriminalising or legalising cannabis  at next year’s election. We still don’t know exactly what the question we’ll be voting on is yet.

Without that knowledge the latest polls here and here show a majority aren’t in favour of change, though given how divergent both polls were on politics, it’s difficult to know how reliable those results are.


Binding ‘reeferendum’ isn’t

May 8, 2019

The government is offering a half-baked proposal for the  ‘reeferendum’ on legalising cannabis:

Justice Minister Andrew Little says:

There will be a clear choice for New Zealanders in a referendum at the 2020 General Election. Cabinet has agreed there will be a simple Yes/No question on the basis of a draft piece of legislation.

“That draft legislation will include:

• A minimum age of 20 to use and purchase recreational cannabis,
• Regulations and commercial supply controls,
• Limited home-growing options,
• A public education programme,
• Stakeholder engagement.

“Officials are now empowered to draft the legislation with stakeholder input, and the Electoral Commission will draft the referendum question to appear on the ballot.

“The voters’ choice will be binding because all of the parties that make up the current Government have committed to abide by the outcome. . . 

This is a half-baked proposal, we’ll be voting on a Bill which could well be changed after the vote and while the Minister might think the referendum will be binding, but it won’t:

I’d be open to decriminalisation with the ability to treat users for addiction providing the funding necessary to enable that was budgeted for.

But I am not in favour of legalisation.

Critics say criminalisation hasn’t worked, but the harm done by alcohol and tobacco prove the dangers of legal drugs and lessons from Canada show that legalisation carries risks:

The Canadian federal study released yesterday found a 27% increase in marijuana use among people aged 15 to 24 over the last year. Additionally, approximately 646,000 Canadians have reported trying marijuana for the first time in the last three months, an amount almost double the 327,000 that admitted to trying the drug for the same time period last year.

“These are disturbing trends, especially when considering the effects on mental health, addiction and public safety,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.

Other concerning trends include:
• 15% of marijuana users got behind the wheel of a car within two hours of using the drug.
• daily users were more than twice as likely to believe that it was safe for them to operate a vehicle within three hours of ingesting the drug.
• 20% of Canadians who reported driving under the influence of marijuana admitted to also consuming alcohol at the same time.
• about 13%, or half a million, of Canadian workers who are active marijuana users admitted to using the drug either prior to or during work.

This report comes on the heels of another study finding that the black market in Canada is absolutely thriving, with over 79% of marijuana sales in the last quarter of 2018 occurring outside the legal market.

Regulation, testing and taxing of the drug if it’s legal will make it more costly. That will still provide on opportunity for a black market to sell cannabis at a lower price, and also to sell it to people under 20.

“Canada is quickly finding out that so-called regulation of marijuana does nothing to mitigate the harms of the drug. Legalisation simply exacerbates them. Diane Kelsall, editor in chief of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, called the new law “a national, uncontrolled experiment in which the profits of cannabis producers and tax revenues are squarely pitched against the health of Canadians.”.”

“Canada’s new law on legal marijuana demonstrates that cannabis legalisation is high in promise and expectations, but the reality is far lower. Evidence shows that marijuana – which has skyrocketed in average potency over the past decades – is addictive and harmful to the human brain, especially when used by adolescents. In US states that have already legalised the drug, there has been an increase in drugged driving crashes, youth marijuana use, and costs that far outweigh tax revenues from marijuana. These states have seen a black market that continues to thrive, sustained marijuana arrest rates, and tobacco company investment in marijuana. Portugal has seen a rise in the prevalence of alcohol and tobacco consumption and of every illicit psychoactive substance (affected by the weight of cannabis use in those aged 15-74) in the last five years.”

“Big Marijuana has high hopes for New Zealand, but liberalising marijuana laws is the wrong path to go down if we care about public health, public safety, and about our young people.”

Closer to home a community worker in Northland says there’s no simple fix for drug laws:

Community worker Ngahau Davis said while cannabis was often used in a social context without many issues in affluent areas, it played a more dangerous role in the poorer communities he worked with in Northland.

“A lot of whanau I work with where there’s chronic unemployment, really huge social issues from trauma, all sorts of things going down with that person, they use it really heavily on a daily basis just to survive and just to feel good. The difficulty with that type of usage is you’re starting to see a lot of problems around mental health issues.

“People say ‘Well it’s a drug that chills you’ – well I say to people don’t smoke it for a day or so, then this whole other thing starts happening; paranoia, frustration, irritability, and even violence.”

While he was yet to read the government’s Cabinet paper, he wasn’t convinced legalisation was the answer.

“When we talk about the issue of, say, prohibition with alcohol, people said ‘Well they’re going to do it anyway, and you’ve got to do this’. It still hasn’t stopped the pain, it still hasn’t stopped the damage.

“Nobody wants to talk about that because it’s legal and there’s a whole industries where people are getting rich. My caution is that while they’ve done that and it’s legal, it still doesn’t diminish the effect that it has on people in our society and our people, more so because they’re in a situation where dependency is higher because of the social issues that go with regions like mine.” . .

Can we legalise the drug so the affluent can indulge in occasional use without breaking the law without doing considerably more harm to more people in poorer areas?

In related news, health experts want medicinal cannabis to meet the same standards as other medicine:

In a discussion paper published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, it urged for more caution to be taken, following the government recently passing a bill increasing access to medicinal cannabis.

The government now needs to determine the regulations for a Medicinal Cannabis Scheme.

The paper said public surveys show widespread support for increased access to medicinal cannabis, yet GPs and clinicians generally remain more reserved.

“We believe that part of this difference lies in the lack of clear public understanding of the term ‘medicinal cannabis’, and a relatively greater awareness by health professions of what generally constitutes a medicine,” it said. . .

Medicinal cannabis should be treated like any other medicine with its composition and use governed by scientific research not anecdote and public pressure.

 


Who leaked and why?

May 6, 2019

Will we have enough information to vote intelligently in  the referendum on cannabis?:

A Cabinet Paper leaked to National which will be considered by the Government tomorrow shows New Zealand will head into the recreational marijuana referendum with many unanswered questions, National’s Drug Reform spokesperson Paula Bennett says.

“Cabinet will tomorrow consider four different options for the referendum but no matter which option it choses, there are huge holes.

“The Cabinet Paper is clear that smoking marijuana when you’re under the age of 25 is detrimental for development of the brain, and yet it recommends that the legal age should be 20. The legal age seems to have been plucked out of thin air.

“The paper acknowledges that regular marijuana use increases the risk of developing depression, psychosis and schizophrenia and is especially harmful to those under 25-years-old. It also acknowledges that there is a one in six chance of young people becoming dependent. This would result in further demand for mental health services.

“There is no mention about what level of tax will be imposed on marijuana, will it be the same as tobacco and alcohol? Will it really get rid of the illicit market if it’s taxed at 40 or 50 per cent? Will a much higher tax rate be needed if they will test 10 per cent of the product to ensure THC levels are low?

“The Government hasn’t identified any budget for ensuring the public knows about the pros and cons of legalisation in the lead up to the referendum. Given how much this would impact our communities, New Zealanders need to know what they are voting for.

“Only one of the options being considered will give New Zealanders some certainty about what they’re voting for – the other options will mean a huge lack of information.

“Every option takes us straight to legalisation instead of decriminalisation. Many other countries consider decriminalisation first before leaping straight to legalisation.

“National understands that as usual with this Government, the coalition has been unable to reach a consensus and the decision around which option they will choose has been holding up the process.

“The problem with that is there isn’t time for yet more coalition disagreements on an issue this important.”

The options being considered are:

• A general question consistent with the undertaking in the Confidence and Supply agreement: “Do you support legalising the personal use of recreational cannabis?” This would not be accompanied by any legal framework or other policy decisions and it would be left to a subsequent Parliament to determine what to do in the event of a ‘yes’ vote.

• A questions referring to a specific policy framework document setting out the basic principles of what legalisation for personal use of recreational cannabis in New Zealand would entail: “Do you support legalising recreational cannabis in accordance with [published policy document]?” A ‘yes’ vote would result in the duly elected government and Parliament having some moral imperative, but no obligation, to enact law changes consistent with that policy document;

• A question referring to draft legislation that outlines the regulatory model for cannabis: ‘Do you support legalising the personal use of recreational cannabis in accordance with [published draft legislation]?” Similar to option 2, a ‘yes’ vote would result in the duly elected government and Parliament having some moral imperative, but no obligation, to enact the legislation.

• A question referring to legislation already enacted but conditional on an affirmative vote on the referendum: “Do you support legalising recreational cannabis in accordance with the [Drug Reform] Act 20XX?” A ‘yes’ vote would trigger the legislation coming into effect.

Brexit shows the dangers of a referendum when people neither know exactly what they’re voting for nor understand the consequences.

This leaked paper raises serious questions about the questions and whether or not we’ll know enough to make a fully informed vote.

There’s also the question of who leaked the paper and why?

Is it someone who is unhappy about this particular issue or is it someone who is unhappy about the direction – or more accurately lack of direction – of the government and it’s continuing non-delivery of anything of substance nearly half way through what is supposed to be the year of delivery?


Learn lesson from Colorado

March 13, 2019

Ben Cort, an anti-cannabis campaigner has warned New Zealand against legalizing recreational cannabis  after seeing the effects of the drug in his home state of Colorado:

Marijuana was legalised for recreational use in Colorado in 2012, meaning anyone 21 years or older can use, carry and grow the drug there. . .

“I spent five years at the University of Colorado hospital when we legalised and we went from seeing paranoia associated with it every now and again to multiple times in a day.”

He said legalisation brings with it forms of the drug that have much higher THC levels.

“People don’t understand that we’re not talking about a joint.

“People are smoking vapourisers that come in the form of functional pens that you can write and then hit… it’s not weed, it’s a concentrate. An 80 percent THC concentrate.” . . .

Legalisation has led to the commercialisation of THC which is far, far stronger than the cannabis of old.

It is an addictive substance. The stronger and more accessible the product is, the greater the problems associated with it.

He said legalisation hasn’t stopped people from using the drug dangerously.

“The driving under the influence, the working under the influence – it has changed my home.” . . .

We already have a problem with people driving under the influence of legal and illegal drugs and with people unable to work safely because they are drug impaired.

”You need to understand that we are not talking about the plant, the drug that people consumed in years past. It has fundamentally changed and that genie can’t go back in the bottle.”

“We have changed from a plant with two-to-three percent THC in it, to something that is 90-plus percent THC, put into sodas, water, gummy bears, tea, coffee, it is not the same drug.” . . .

New Zealand can learn the lesson from Colorado.

Suzy Ferguson interviewed Cort here.


Proceed with caution

January 21, 2019

University of Otago researchers recommend a cautious approach to decriminalising cannabis:

Associate Professor Joseph Boden from the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Otago, Christchurch, has a research interest in the use of cannabis and has specifically investigated the use of cannabis among participants in the Christchurch Health and Development Study, a study following the lives of 1265 children born in Christchurch in 1977. By age 35, almost 80 per cent of the participants had reported using cannabis at some point in their lives.

In an editorial in the latest issue of the New Zealand Medical Journal today, Associate Professor Boden says to date most of the debate on changes to cannabis law imply it is a relatively harmless drug and that cannabis law change will only have beneficial consequences. However, both he and co-author of the editorial, the late Emeritus Professor David Fergusson, former director of the Christchurch Health and Development Study disagree.

“We would argue that, on the basis of evidence generated by longitudinal studies based in New Zealand, both assumptions are incorrect,” their editorial states.

What they propose is development of laws and policies that both discourage the use of cannabis and avoid criminalising recreational users of the drug. The key elements of their policy are:

  • Simple possession of cannabis by those over 18 would be decriminalised, as would supply of small amounts to adults, as recommended by the recent Mental Health Inquiry.
  • Penalties for the supply of cannabis to those under 18 would be increased.
  • Investments in mental health services for those with cannabis use disorder and cannabis-related conditions would be increased, again in line with the recent Mental Health Inquiry.

Professor Fergusson died in October last year, but he and Associate Professor Boden wrote the editorial prior to his death. Associate Professor Boden explains their reasoning is based on their research which shows resoundingly that cannabis use by participants in the Christchurch study is associated with educational delay, welfare dependence, increased risks of psychotic symptoms, major depression, increased risks of motor vehicle accidents, tobacco use and other illicit drug use and respiratory impairment.

At the same time, evidence from the study suggests the prohibition of cannabis is also a cause of some harm with males and Māori participants having higher rates of arrest and conviction for cannabis-related offences. Furthermore, the analysis showed that cannabis use did not decrease following this, suggesting prohibition generally failed to reduce cannabis use among participants.

“Given this context, the most prudent course of action for New Zealand to follow is to develop policies which eliminate the adverse effects of prohibition while at the same time avoiding the possible adverse consequences of full legislation,” their editorial states.

They highlight recent research reviewing changes in both medical and recreational cannabis laws in the United States that has shown cannabis legislation has increased the use of cannabis and cannabis-related harm. While cannabis use among adolescents has not increased, both cannabis use and cannabis-use disorders increased among adults. There was also evidence of increases in cannabis-related emergency department visits, driving under the influence of cannabis and accidental exposure to cannabis in children.

The war on drugs hasn’t worked, or at least that’s what those wanting to liberalise drug laws say.

But what does hasn’t worked mean?

It has provided opportunities for crime and income for criminals.

It hasn’t stopped all people from using the drugs that are illegal.

It hasn’t stopped the health problems that result from use.

But has it stopped some people from using them and reduced the harm done by use?

Would there still be opportunities for crime and income for criminals if personal use of cannabis was legal, or at least decriminalised?

Would more people use cannabis if it wasn’t illegal or at least decriminalised?

Would there be more health and social problems resulting from that use and greater costs dealing with them?

If law changes in the USA has increased the use of cannabis and cannabis-related harm that is likely to happen here.

Can we afford the human and financial costs of that here?


If it’s medicine treat it like medicine

July 26, 2018

If cannabis is medicine it should be treated like one:

National has today lodged a Member’s Bill to implement a comprehensive medicinal cannabis regime that would widen access to medicinal cannabis and license high quality domestic production, Opposition Leader Simon Bridges says.

“Over the past few months the National caucus has been considering the issue of medicinal cannabis while our Health Caucus committee members have been hearing submissions on the Government’s own, limited, medicinal cannabis Bill.

“New Zealanders deserve greater access to high quality medicinal cannabis products to ease their suffering but we must have the right regulatory and legislative controls in place.

“The Government’s Bill utterly fails both those tests, so we will vote against it. It includes only minor improvements to how cannabidiol products are treated, which the previous National Government had already facilitated.

“It is also totally silent on how a medicinal cannabis regime would operate in practice. The Government has said it will increase access now and leave it to officials to think through the controls and the consequences later. That’s typical of this Government but it’s not acceptable. So we’re putting forward a comprehensive alternative,” Mr Bridges says.

It is irresponsible to pass a law and then leave it to officials to think through controls and consequences later.

National’s proposed regime includes:

Medicinal cannabis products will be approved in the same way a medicine is approved by Medsafe. No loose leaf cannabis products will be approved.

Medical practitioners will decide who should have access to a Medicinal Cannabis Card, which will certify them to buy medicinal cannabis products.

Medicinal cannabis products will be pharmacist-only medicine.

Cultivators and manufacturers must be licenced for commercial production. Licence holders and staff will be vetted to ensure they are fit and proper persons.

A licensing regime that will create a safe market for medicinal cannabis products. Cultivators and manufacturers will not be able to be located within 5km of residential land, or 1km of sensitive sites such as schools and wahi tapu.

Legalising medical cannabis provides an opportunity for farmers. Restricting where it can be grown, and who can grow it provides safeguards.

We visited farms growing opium poppies in Tasmania and they managed to do that without encouraging or enabling illicit drug use.

No advertising of medicinal cannabis products to the public will be permitted.

The Ministry of Health will review the legislation in five years.

“National is determined to be a constructive opposition working on new ideas and new policies. National’s Bill is the result of significant work in recent months including study by MPs overseas and reflects a blend of international best practice, tailored to New Zealand.

“I encourage the Government to pick up the enormous amount of work done by National in Opposition and implement our comprehensive reforms to ensure New Zealanders in need can access high quality medicinal cannabis products to ease their suffering.”

I’ve never found a satisfactory answer to why medicinal cannabis should be treated differently from other medicines.

If medical research shows a place for it – and there are questions about that – then it should be available for those it could help as other medicines are, through doctors and pharmacies.

That would be  achieved by National’s Bill.

Legalising medicinal cannabis this way could also provide opportunities for not just domestic use but exports too.


Rural round-up

June 28, 2017

NZ Farmer Confidence at Record High – Rabobank Rural Confidence Survey:

• Net rural confidence has jumped up in the second rural confidence survey of 2017 and is now at the highest level recorded since the survey commenced in early 2003.

• Farmers across all agricultural sectors were more positive about the outlook for the agricultural economy with the majority citing improved commodity prices as a key reason for increased optimism.

• The number of farmers expecting their own business performance to improve was also up in comparison with the last survey with over half of farmers expecting an improvement in the coming 12 months. . . 

Cannabis more often detected in workers than any other drug – Maureen Bishop:

Cannabis is still the most common drug ”by a country mile” found when staff are tested, farmers attending a workshop in Ashburton last week heard.

Therese Gibbens, general manager of the Canterbury West Coast area for The Drug Detection Agency, said 80% of positive drug results from tests carried out by the company in Canterbury detected cannabis.

This was followed by opiates, amphetamines and methamphetamine.

She had tips for farmers about policies, detection and managing the risks of staff affected by drugs or alcohol, backed up by statistics and experience. . . 

McClay says time is right for trade deal with four amigos:

Trade Minister Todd McClay says he believes the time is right to launch trade talks with Mexico, Chile, Peru and Colombia as part of the Government’s push for better access in Latin America.

Mr McClay leaves tomorrow to attend the Pacific Alliance Leaders Summit where a trade deal will be top of his agenda.

“We’ve been talking to the four Pacific Alliance countries about better access for Kiwi exporters for the last two years. With direct flights to South America there is increasing opportunity for New Zealanders to do more in these growing markets,” Mr McClay says. . . 

High tech approach to improve safety on SH1 at Moeraki Boulders:

Associate Minister of Transport Tim Macindoe welcomes a new high tech warning system, which will help to improve road safety, has been installed on State Highway 1 in the Waitaki District.

The new Rural Intersection Active Warning System at the turnoff to Moeraki Boulders, off State Highway 1, is now operational and the variable speed limit is now legally enforceable.

“The new warning system is able to detect vehicles approaching the right turning bay at Moeraki Boulders Road and vehicles waiting to turn back on to the highway, and automatically adjusts the speed limit in the area to 70km/h to allow the approaching car to merge safely with oncoming traffic,” says Mr Macindoe. 

The 70km/h variable speed limit will apply 170 metres either side of the SH1/Moeraki Boulders Road. . . 

Be ready for the calving season:


MPI’s Penny Timmer-Arends has attended many field days and workshops to discuss the new bobby calf regulations with those affected across the supply chain.

The Ministry for Primary Industries is asking farmers to be ready for new bobby calf regulations coming in this season.

“The new requirements for bobby calf shelter and loading come in to play on 1 August and we want to make sure everyone is well aware and prepared,” says Paul Dansted, MPI’s Director Animal and Animal Products.

“Calves need to be provided with shelter that keeps them warm and dry, and loading facilities that allow them to walk onto trucks.” . . 

Tegel delivers continued growth with record volumes, revenues and profit:

New Zealand’s largest poultry producer, Tegel Group Holdings Limited , today reported its FY2017 results for the 53 weeks ended 30 April 2017. The Company reported Net Profit After Tax (NPAT) of $34.2 million. This was $22.9 million higher than the prior year mainly as a result of a change in capital structure following listing. Underlying EBITDA was $75.6 million, 0.8% ahead of FY2016. Both NPAT and underlying EBITDA were within the Company’s revised guidance range issued in December 2016. . . 

PCE receives Forest & Bird ‘Old Blue’ environmental award:

Forest & Bird has awarded the outgoing Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment an ‘Old Blue’ for her significant contribution to New Zealand’s environment and wildlife.

“Over ten years, Dr Jan Wright’s insightful reports have illuminated complex environmental subjects and in many cases fundamentally improved public appreciation of those issues,” says Forest & Bird Chief Executive Kevin Hague. . . 

Kiwis Eating Less Red Meat – Research:

More than half of Kiwis say they are eating less meat, and a quarter expect to be mostly meat-free by 2025, as they focus on their health and budget according to the results of a new survey.

It seems the days of a nightly meal of meat and two veg may soon be behind us too, with one in five of those surveyed (21%) saying they choose to have a meat-free dinner for more than half of the week. . . 


%d bloggers like this: