Thursday 2 August 2018

The Politics Of Cannabis Law Reform.

Is Cannabis Prohibition About To End? No, the thing that wrong with the current picture of cannabis law reform is that Labour isn’t in it. What? Yep. The Justice Minister, Andrew Little, when questioned about the Government’s likely response to a “Yes” vote in the forthcoming referendum, made it abundantly clear that the straight person at this particular student party is Labour.

OKAY, SO LET’S get this straight. In last year’s post-election negotiations, the Greens asked for – and got – a referendum on ending cannabis prohibition. Which means that if New Zealanders vote “Yes”, then the Greens will sponsor a change in the law to give effect to that result.

So far, so good.

It gets better, though, because NZ First have been keen supporters of referenda forever. (They don’t call them populists for nothing!) So, if New Zealand votes in favour of dope, then the NZ Firsters will 1) let loose a very long sigh, and then 2) call in the law draughtsperson.


Yes, it is, but you ain’t heard nothing yet. When asked if the National Party would honour the result of the referendum, Simon Bridges replied in the affirmative. Simon says that if pot is what Kiwis want, then pot is what Kiwis will get.

So, that’s game-over, isn’t it? If a majority of Kiwis vote to end cannabis prohibition, then a majority of the House of Representatives is pledged to making it happen. Time to dust-off that old hookah-pipe!

Or, as stoners used to say, way back in the day: “Solid!”

But, wait a minute, aren’t we missing something here?

No, it’s not David Seymour. As a good libertarian, the Act Party’s sole parliamentary representative (assuming he’s still there after the 2020 election) is bound to vote in favour of ending cannabis prohibition. The state, after all, has no business criminalising behaviour which is, to all intents and purposes, victimless.

No, the thing that wrong with this picture is that Labour isn’t in it.


Yep. The Justice Minister, Andrew Little, when questioned about the Government’s likely response to a “Yes” vote in the forthcoming referendum, made it abundantly clear that the straight person at this particular student party is Labour.


Oh yes, it’s Labour. And if that surprises you, then you haven’t been paying attention. Labour hasn’t had a progressive position on the issue of cannabis law reform since Noel Rayner persuaded the Otago Regional Council of the Labour Party to vote in favour of legalising marijuana way back in the 1980s. Hell, if Rob Muldoon hadn’t called a snap election in 1984, it’s even possible that Labour’s Annual Conference might have passed Noel’s remit. Labour was a pretty liberal outfit in the early 1980s: anti-nuclear, pro-gay rights, open to all kinds of progressive ideas. So, who knows?

What has become clear in the intervening thirty-five years is that while Labour has remained a progressive champion of LGBTQI rights, it has grown increasingly conservative on the issue of drugs.

Partly, this is a reflection of Labour’s uneasiness with everything Green. Nandor Tanczos’ energetic promotion of cannabis law reform and the response it elicited from the young and the marginalised in the 1999 election seriously freaked Labour out.

These were not the sort of people Helen Clark, Michael Cullen and Phil Goff wanted to be associated with. The slow but relentless pushback against Tanczos from the conservative establishment – especially secondary-school principals – further convinced Labour that, when it came to legalising pot, political discretion was the better part of principled valour.

Labour’s ultra-cautious approach was confirmed by the Greens themselves when, in election after election, cannabis law reform was allowed to slip down the party’s list of priorities.

The other explanation for Labour’s conservative line on drugs emerges from the party’s dramatically changed relationship with the poor and the marginalised. Where once the Labour Party had been the sword and shield of the disadvantaged in New Zealand society, by the turn of the twentieth century it had become, in effect, their case-worker.

The poor and the marginalised were now a client-class to be monitored and managed: the responsibility of precisely the same managers and professionals who had come to dominate the NZ Labour Party. Drug-taking was just one among many dysfunctional behaviours in need of middle-class intervention.

Far from promoting the liberalisation of drug laws, Labour contributed significantly to the dramatic expansion of the state’s powers of intervention in the lives of those Kiwis deemed to have deviated from the “caring” agencies’ expectations.

No surprise, then, that Labour is resisting the popular movement in favour of liberalising New Zealand’s drug laws – especially those relating to cannabis. The dog’s breakfast that is the coalition’s bill on medical marijuana is not the fault of NZ First, it’s a reflection of the impulse to control that grips so many members of the Labour caucus. National’s bill is better than Labour’s because its MPs are not so deeply enmeshed in the professional-managerial norms of the welfare state’s bureaucratic machinery.

Cannabis law reformers should, therefore, be on the their guard against any attempt to bring the referendum forward. Such a move would be an admission by Labour that it wants no part of the mobilising effect a well organised reform campaign could unleash. An effect which would very likely increase the Green vote in ways prejudicial to Labour remaining the dominant partner in the next progressive government.

Similar vigilance will be necessary when it comes to determining the nature of any public “education” campaign prior to the referendum. Much will turn on who is given the job of overseeing the debate between prohibitionists and reformers. Whoever is given this job must be able to resist the subtle and not-so-subtle pressures of the forces seeking to uphold the status quo.

That it should be Labour standing in the way of cannabis law reform tells us much about the political forces currently shaping our society. Lenin argued that all politics could be reduced to just two words: Who? Whom? On this particular issue it is vital to keep as clear as possible the distinction between those parties determined to exercise control over people’s private pleasures and those who are intensely relaxed about New Zealanders having fun.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 2 August 2018.


Unknown said...

"Medicinal" marijuana my arse. Just go ahead and legalise the recreational use of pot. Sell it like booze and allow cultivation for personal use. For the record Helen Clark, Michael Cullen and Phil Goff are EXACTLY the type of Labour Party wankers that I do not with to associate with.

Polly. said...

I for one do not believe that cannabis should be legalised / partially legalised for any reason what ever.
Its addictive and wasting upon users.
It does not ease physical pain.
There are more effective pain killers on the market.
Labour should stand out and say NO.
But do they have the balls?.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"distinction between those parties determined to exercise control over people’s private pleasures and those who are intensely relaxed about New Zealanders having fun."

Ah, but Kiwis are often seen as a humourless people. The difference between New Zealand political blogs and those overseas is in my mind quite distinct. If your only contact with Kiwis was in New Zealand political blogs, you would think that New Zealanders had no sense of humour at all. I can't remember the last time I saw a joke on this site for instance.
And I find the humour on some of the US political blogs I frequent gives you some relief from the constant grind of political and personal attacks that you get on just about any political blog, no matter what the rules are. Or indeed whether they are enforced. I quite enjoy at least one blog with pretty much no rules at all, where I've been called all sorts of things, including "tranny" because I support gay rights. But someone will take the piss and it takes a lot of the sting out of it somehow. Same with the Brits. A fine line in sarcasm, and someone always leavens it with a joke. Maybe it's about time we all lightened up?
And there is a deep puritanical streak in the New Zealand psyche, which gradually thank God, seems to be disappearing. It expressed itself in such things as 6 o'clock closing and in Patricia Bartlett's anti-"porn" campaigns. And it was in fact quite strong in the Labour Party itself of my memory serves. But you think that (according to Shane McDowell) now that they're the party for gay whales, and lacking in masculine tributes such as testicles, that they be all for a bit of relaxation of the drug laws.
It's interesting that you claim that New Zealand 1st is looking for an excuse though, because they have traditionally been a bit blue nosed, in spite of Shane Jones'efforts to liven them up a bit in the porn stakes – though to be fair he was a Labour MP at the time wasn't he?

Unknown said...

Want a joke? Q. What is the capital of New Zealand? A. About five bucks. Australians love that one. Here is another: Q. How do you bring up an AUSTRALIAN baby? A. kick a dingo in the guts. Well I have whales to harpoon and gays to bash, so toodle pip.

sumsuch said...

Didn't think there were any politics involved?! I wish you were our local politics reporter, that eternal dark age dim would lift into an electrified dawn.

Geoff Fischer said...

"On this particular issue it is vital to keep as clear as possible the distinction between those parties determined to exercise control over people’s private pleasures and those who are intensely relaxed about New Zealanders having fun."
Well no, those who favor prohibition are not motivated by a desire to "exercise control over people's private pleasures". They are motivated to contain the damage done by alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine and other drugs which bring profit to rogue capitalists and in too many cases bring misery to the users and their whanau. Anyone who thinks that drugs are just about "having fun" has got it very wrong. Sure, it will be good for business, and good for the IRD. But it will it be good for the working class? A century ago Labour would have said not. What, apart from the zeitgeist, should cause them to say "Yes" to cannabis now?

Nick J said...

I'm very confused by who and what the Labour party represents. Seems to me that the Left in general has developed a "we know best" authoritarianism.

Jens Meder said...

If Labour sticks to leading from the moral anti-pot and fiscal responsibility high ground, it has the best chance of winning again in 2020 -

by attracting votes from the sober Right and achieving even more political and economic stability in New Zealand through leadership closest to the Center, defined by participation in wealth and health creation and maintenance by all.

Simon said...

Cannabis increases risk of psychosis and has no demonstrable benefit.

The Greens have demonstrated their lack of ethics by 'trojan horsing' the recreational cannabis agenda on the back of people with chronic pain and cancer.

Anonymous said...

Lots of things are addictive, the medicinal angle is superfluous, why the reference to gendered courage?

Reggie said...

You need better education Polly.. The "facts" you're saying come from the 1950's

Blair Anderson said...

I believe in free so Each exactly for the reasons it gives me licence to say - bullocks. Addictive, Wasting? I think you are living in the world of potaganda my good friend. We have come a long way from those days.

Polly. said...

Guerilla Surgeon,
You need to go back on your happy pills.
Your world will be enlightened.
You will be a better chap.

ps; I do not charge for my first consultation.

Anonymous said...

Drugs whether legal or illegal prescribed or obtained for social or behaviour modification reasons are not the answer. With drugs you can never be quite sure what your getting, much less certain than alcohol were with Russian sourced spirits or even beer, it might not be pricesely what you things, but with drugs and so called medications the packaging might not be the story and its prescribed as medication, the doctor writing the script, specifies the drug not the commercial package. In both the illegal and so called legal field, less disclosure by the perscriber can be expected, as in a declining and poorer society the whole point to the social workers and authorities is behaviour suppression.
My own view is our wide open 1982-2010 24 hr open, all on booze and heterosexual society seemed a much better idea than the moved to a highly policed, closed down society with outlets and drugs to suppress happiness and revelry, to return to some outdated idea of a protected ordinary peoples society which in so far as it ever existed, depended on a very isolated NZ and a lot of rather I'll informed intelligent people going along with the project. Frankly social drugs and psychiatry appear comprehensively failed ideas as they remove control from the user and taker, and are at best over and inaccurately used defeating any real value.

Anonymous said...

Peculiar article, totally what I needed.

Geoff Fischer said...

The left in general, and the neo-liberal left in particular, tend to see moral questions in isolation from labour relations. The questions of the day that most concern the left - abortion, women's role in the work force, immigration,, same sex marriage and now cannabis law reform - are discussed as though they have no relevance to the relations between labour and capital. Therefore, if Labour fails to fully implement the neo-liberal program (as the ACT Party would want it to) by legalising the production, sale and use of cannabis, the left is mystified and disappointed. Yet the explanation is simple. Sure, legalisation would benefit those capitalists who might wish to enter, and many of those who are already operating illicitly within, the cannabis industry. It would also increase state tax revenues. However for strictly practical reasons many New Zealand industries (for example engineering, construction and forestry) effectively prohibit the use of drugs and alcohol by their workers, and those industries will be telling the Labour government that if they allow free use of cannabis within the New Zealand workforce, they will have to allow capital to bring in drug-free migrant labour from overseas. The horticultural, dairy and aquaculture industries in New Zealand are pioneering a new model of production employing teams of migrant labourers who have no home and no family in this country and no interests outside of work. Their needs for food and accommodation are met by the employer, but these are very basic and therefore affordable. The result is a dedicated, efficient and docile work force, having some of the attributes of slave labour, while retaining all the benefits of wage labour. This model has already penetrated the engineering, construction and forestry sectors. If cannabis is legalised, capital will demand the full implementation of the model across the economy. To some extent the demand will be based on good faith concerns. Employers are genuinely tired of dealing with workers who are chronically hungover, drunk or stoned on the job, or who don't turn up to work for any of the same reasons. But independently of the drug question, New Zealand employers crave a cheap and docile work force. When it comes down to it that is why they like migrant labour. They are ready to have indigenous labour sitting on the dole and smoking dope so long as they have migrants to do the real work. Although we are already a long way down that path, a responsible New Zealand government (which means New Zealand First as well as Labour) will hesitate to walk the final furlong. You only need a modicum of foresight to see that it will probably end badly, with an ostensibly efficient productive sector offset by a massive demand on the state revenues from social welfare, health and law enforcement. That is why Labour equivocates. We could go on to consider the cannabis problem from the working class perspective which informs the way we manage our own communities and marae, but it is capital which rules the colonial state, and the interests of capital as a whole which are relevant to the outcome of the argument over legalization.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Polly. The 1940s called – they want their ideas back. My God, it's reefer madness all over again.

I think it's agreed, at least amongst medical experts if not among dinosaurs, that marijuana does more good than harm, very little harm, and might in fact aid creativity. It certainly does a lot less harm than alcohol. And at least in the US, arrests for small amounts of marijuana cost the government a shitload of money, and ruin far more lives than the occasional smoke. Personally, I don't smoke anything because my lungs don't like stuff in there. And I think it has to be even more heavily regulated than alcohol to avoid teenagers getting hold of it – yes and I know some will – because that's where the harm is done. And we have a perfect opportunity to assess what happens in those various states in the US that have legalised it before we make a decision.

Shane. I can see why there are no right-wing comedians.

peteswriteplace said...

After all, NZ is really a conservative place among the 50+. Labour supports medical marijuana, but not yet full-scale marijuana reform. The average kiwi would rather have a beer than a joint - I would - but this may change in a decade or so as old buggers like me fade away.

Anonymous said...

Stop being ignorant and get your head out of the sand Polly. Once it's legalized nobody will bat an eye.

sumsuch said...

Geoff, you make me breathless with your writing style. While our grandee Chomsky tests me with his talking -- almost unforgivable, whatever his department of linguistics. Allowable by virtue of him and his necessary continuance with us.

What a bunch of sharp-elbowed letter writers you have Chris. Why demo-cracy in the developed world faces an uphill battle -- puffing feathered individuals. Marijuana is no worse than alcohol. No better -- I'm not sure? Maybe.

Geoff Fischer said...

Guerilla Surgeon wrote: "I think it's agreed, at least amongst medical experts if not among dinosaurs, that marijuana does more good than harm, very little harm.."
Are you sure about that? Just last week a medical professional who has worked as both a GP and psychotherapist sent me a copy of a scientific paper detailing the neurological dangers of marijuana. I know her credentials, I don't know yours but when you say "it is agreed" you must be talking loosely, because I know quite a few medical professionals and while they may have differing views on legalisation not one of them has suggested to me that "marijuana does more good than harm".
sumsuch: I'm sorry, I don't understand your point. Can you be more specific?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Sorry Geoff. I should have said legalising marijuana does more good than harm. In line with the rest of my comment about the harm done by carrying on a war against it. My bad. But even so, I think that most would agree it does less harm than alcohol.

sumsuch said...

Geoff, the lack of paragraphing. Back in the day I made my way through Carlyle's 'French Revolution' when making your way through a Carlyle sentence was worth a mention in dispatches. Nowadays we need to come up for breathers.

Geoff Fischer said...

Kia ora sumsuch.
Thank you for that advice.
I will try to shorten my sentences, and use paragraph breaks more frequently.

Unknown said...

Anonymous Surgeon, Denis Leary is pretty amusing. And quit while you are behind.