Waitakere Licensing Trust could regulate cannabis like alcohol

By   /   September 8, 2016  /   11 Comments

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New Zealand’s Liquor Licensing Trusts are a hangover from the days of prohibition and the temperance movement but provide a possible template for cannabis law reform. 

 

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Polls show most people support changing the law, especially providing safe legal access to medicinal cannabis. But so far there has not been a clear consensus about what exactly the law should be. 

One option is Cannabis Social Clubs, which I’ve previously written about. Massey University’s Dr Chris Wilkins recently proposed changing the law to allow cannabis consumers to form their own Incorporated Societies that would provide cannabis to members, along with harm reduction advice and other limits on excessive consumption. There would be a range of clubs providing a wide variety of cannabis to suit every taste. Touted as half way between prohibition and a free market, the Government would license producers to grow cannabis as well as make cannabis products such as edibles and extracts, and would set the market price that the clubs would pay. 

While noting that the exact from clubs take would depend on the legal situation in each country, the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (encod.org) has outlined some “basic principles” that all Cannabis Social Clubs should adhere to. There are:

  1. The supply is organised in order to meet the demand of the members, not vice versa.
  2. Cannabis Social Clubs are non-profit associations. 
  3. Transparency – Cannabis Social Clubs are legally registered associations.
  4. Public health oriented
  5. Open to dialogue with authorities

In countries with Cannabis Social Clubs, such as Spain and Uruguay, people who didn’t want to join a club can grow their own, and there is also medicinal access through pharmacies. It’s a model that is seriously worth considering but to do this in New Zealand would require changes to several laws – and unfortunately parliament has shown a complete aversion to revisiting our 41-year-old Misuse of Drugs Act. 

There is a way we can regulate safe legal access to cannabis, including medicinal cannabis products, within the current law. 

In West Auckland, like a few other places around New Zealand, the availability of alcohol is controlled by the Waitakere Licensing Trust and the Portage Licensing Trust, collectively known as The Trusts. They are left over from the days when we almost had a national prohibition on alcohol. We all know the abuse of alcohol causes a huge amount of harm in our communities. But these days, areas with Liquor Licensing Trusts are a bit different; they avoid excessive commercialisation, and they funnel any profits into local community groups and projects

The Trusts could actually do the same with cannabis – and within the existing law. The Trusts could obtain a license and trial Cannabis Social Clubs where adults could safely obtain cannabis. 

To highlight this idea and get people thinking about how cannabis could be made legal, I am running as a candidate for the Waitakere Licensing Trust in the local body elections. Together with other like-minded community activists we formed a local action group called “Regulate Cannabis Like Alcohol”. We believe cannabis is safer than alcohol, and should be treated that way. 

Licenses are permitted under the current law. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 (s14) has always allowed licenses for consumption of controlled drugs for research. The Misuse of Drugs Regulations 1977 says the Director General of Health can issue to any person or organisation licenses tocultivatedealpossess and use controlled drugs, as long as their purpose “is a proper purpose.”

The Act at s14(3) limits this proper purpose to research or study, saying “Except in the case of a licence issued for the purpose of research or study, no licence granted under this Act shall authorise the consumption, injection, or smoking of any controlled drug.” While there is are further exemptions for themedicinal manufacture, prescription and use of controlled drugs, the ability to manufacture and prescribe cannabis or cannabis products is made more difficult than cocaine or opium/morphine by the regulations. 

Despite all that, Cannabis Social Clubs for medicinal or research purposes could happen within the existing law and regulations, if the Government chose to allow them. Regulations can be quickly changed if there is the political will to do it. If a statutory body such as the Waitakere Licensing Trust applied to run a pilot project they might take it more seriously than would otherwise be the case. 

There are precedents: Cannabis Social Clubs exist in Uruguay, Spain, Belgium, the UK, and proto-versions have existed here (The Daktory, High Tea Cafe). In the US States of Oregon and Washington, where cannabis is now legal, cultivation and distribution is regulated by their Liquor Control Boards. Colorado now collects more tax revenue from cannabis than from alcohol. This is used to fund local schoolspolicesubstance abuse programsscholarships, andhomeless shelters. Since making cannabis legal in Colorado, there is less teenage cannabis use, fewer road deaths, fewer suicides, less abuse of prescription meds, crime is down, and the economy is booming.

Any Cannabis Social Clubs run by the Waitakere Licensing Trust would have to be for research and/or medicinal purposes. A medicinal club could be set up to meet the different needs of people who use cannabis therapeutically to alleviate a myriad of conditions. Clubs for adult use might resemble RSA’s, cafes, or sports clubs – but for cannabis. They could also be online only.

West Auckland growers already produce some of the best cannabis in the country, and supply much of Auckland’s insatiable demand for top quality bud. We also have, last time I checked, one of the highest rates of consuming cannabis, but we also have the lowest cannabis arrest rate in the country, and the most lenient cannabis sentences are handed out in the Waitakere court. Clearly, cannabis is in our blood.

We have the skills and the people to make this work. To supply the Cannabis Social Clubs with produce, the Waitakere Licensing Trust could employ local growers to cultivate crops in secure greenhouses, utilising the West’s proven expertise in horticulture and viticulture. It could issue tenders for local growers to bid on, or sub-contract locals to grow for them. By doing so, the Trusts would be bringing people back into the legitimate economy. And any profits from the Cannabis Clubs would fund community groups, including drug and alcohol treatment, like the Trusts do with the profits from West Auckland liquor sales.

Imagine what the Trusts could do with double the revenue to distribute to desperately underfunded community groups and projects? What would it be like if people could choose cannabis, the safer alternative to alcohol?

West Auckland could be the launch pad for a new approach to drug control that allows safe legal access, reduces harm and puts any profits back into the local community. This model might not be perfect – none are – but it’s a lot better than we have now and can be done without changing the law.

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About the author

Chris Fowlie

Former editor of NORML News, Chris Fowlie is president of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, manager of The Hempstore, and court-recognised expert witness for serious cannabis charges.

11 Comments

  1. Geoff Lye says:

    Interesting concept well worth looking at in my opinion and I don’t smoke the stuff.

    • Quick Thinking says:

      I would agree with you & I gave up decades ago. I would like to see decent health information & warnings against the risks of daily use. Using the Licensing Trusts has to be better than what supply methods exist now.

  2. Gonzo says:

    I think like prisons being universities for crime, and pubs and bars creating p[b]eer pressure for light imbibers to consume more, the club model could *raise the ceiling* in a light user and move them toward higher use.

    I noticed this in myself and others at The Daktory. Getting really stoned a few times means that one will use more than previously, to get the same effect. Same with any drug, alcohol or coffee.

    When you take a light recreational user and put them in a social environment with higher users, the light user will gravitate toward the mean.

    I imagine to pay the clubs bills, cannabis sales would be needed. It stands to reason that higher sales and use will be encouraged to provide income for the club.

    The lure of a *den of inequity* for socially isolated users who self medicate their loneliness [the neuro-diverse and bullied] or other socially limited peeps, may be two sided:

    -providing a place to meet similar other cannabis users who have social deficits, and be a place of companionship

    -put them in the realm of gangsters or bullies who may prey on them or torment them for kicks

    The Daktory was a source of companionship for many socially limited people who preferred cannabis to alcohol, and that is all goodness.

    It also increased their usage toward problem use, and put them in company of dodgy peeps, and that is not goodness.

    If the club model goes ahead for Westyville, ideally smaller places instead of a big barn like the Daktory, would mean vulnerable people [or otherwise] could pick and choose, and not be tied into a bad scene.

    And many do go rotten.

    When The Netherlands shut down 30% of their cafes about 5 yrs back, they were cleaning out the bad operators, who had developed problem use and behaviours among staff at these cafes.

    In NZ, this is likely to happen more-so than among Netherlanders, who are probably more sophisticated.

    Then there is drug driving.
    -whilst I firmly believe driving very stoned to be as safe as driving after 1.3 units of alcohol [one small beer] for those who are used to it
    – and is also confirmed by a federal study into the effects of cannabis driving
    -the fact remains newbies who have just got the most stoned ever, down the club with their new smoking mates, will be a hazard until they acclimatize to heavy use and develop tolerance, like their heavy using new mates.

    These club newbies will be the low hanging fruit for the cops to take licenses away…. due to their impairment being greater due to lack of tolerance.

    Personally I believe small amounts of cannabis should be compulsory before driving, for certain people like ADHDers, as these drivers once a bit stoned will slow down and be more considerate! Probably 10% of the general population have ADHD, and many do drive in a rushing, haphazard way.

    Alcohol testing stopped people going to pubs, this may happen with cannabis clubs too, depending on policing measures.

    Product quality also needs to be tested by an independent authority to guarantee safety for consumers. But I guess thats another subject.

    Toodle pip.

    • Strypey says:

      I’d like to add another social club example to Chris’ list, Whakamana Cannabis Museum, which has been operating here in Ōtepoti for a couple of years now:
      http://www.cannabis.kiwi.nz/

      I visited the Daktory on a number of occasions and Gonzo raises some valid concerns, but I’d like to address a few points.

      “I noticed this in myself and others at The Daktory. Getting really stoned a few times means that one will use more than previously, to get the same effect.”

      Well, there is a thrill in feeling free to openly smoke after years of hiding in the shadows, which fades as the novelty wears off. Yes, people will tend to drink more at the pub than at home, but if that becomes a problem there’s a simple solution; don’t go to the pub. Making pubs illegal encourages the same problem drinking to happen at parties in people’s homes, with illegal hooch, compounding the problem. I think exactly the same applies to cannabis. Plus, would parents keep their ganja at home if they could buy it and smoke it at a social club of cannabis cafe? I think not, so children would not be at risk of stumbling on a parent’s stash.

      “Same with any drug, alcohol or coffee.”

      Exactly. The existence of a completely unregulated free market in espresso coffee (containing high levels of the addictive stimulant caffeine) doesn’t seem to push people to ever higher levels of coffee consumption. Most people will find a level that works for them and stay there, maybe consuming more on special occasions (Christmas drinks etc). The minority who struggle with addiction will find some way to get high regardless of any prohibition (watching people sniff paint fumes in parks is one of the saddest experiences of my life), and this is a sign of serious mental health problems for which they need help and support, not judgment and punishment.

      “I imagine to pay the clubs bills, cannabis sales would be needed.”

      Chris addressed this in the principle that states:
      “The supply is organised in order to meet the demand of the members, not vice versa.”

      A not-for-profit social club needs much less revenue than a for-profit business, as it only has to cover expenses and could be run by volunteers. But even in a regulated free market like Colorado or the alcohol market in NZ, it’s possible to make rules that prevent vendors from encouraging or enabling overuse, and punish those who break those rules with loss of license. In contrast, black market dealers face no consequences for encouraging or enabling overconsumption.

      “It also increased their usage toward problem use, and put them in company of dodgy peeps, and that is not goodness.”

      Most of the social problems the Daktory faced were the consequence of being an illegal social experiment, under constant pressure from *both* gangsters and cops to cooperate with the business-as-usual of the NZ black market in drugs. Those running the Daktory did a good job of maintaining a friendly, welcoming environment (especially after Gizzy got involved), and keeping the gangsters at bay, despite their organisers being under constant hassles from cops and court cases.

      “If the club model goes ahead for Westyville, ideally smaller places instead of a big barn like the Daktory, would mean vulnerable people [or otherwise] could pick and choose, and not be tied into a bad scene.”

      The Daktory building was chosen because it was large enough to house MaryJane the CannaBus and other campaigning vehicles bought with donations made to the Daktory organisers. Obviously if social clubs or commercial vendors were legal there would be a wide variety, each set up in a venue that suits its members/ customers. Bad operators can stay in business under prohibition, because of shortages and the hassles of finding good dealers, in a regulated market they would either fail to retain customers, or (ideally) fail to get a license.

      “Product quality also needs to be tested by an independent authority to guarantee safety for consumers.”

      Agreed. Just one more of the many benefits of legalizing and regulating. There is no independent quality control of black market drugs, which makes them much more dangerous than when the same drug is supplied by a responsible vendor, from a quality-controlled source.

      • Gonzo says:

        Good points.
        I imagine the stress of cops and gangs on Daktory management would have been too much for most people.
        It would be like the ground constantly moving from under you.

        Both The Daktory, The High Tea Cafe, and Auckland Green Cross had the situation of a venerable leader.

        Ideally a commitee with a constitution of sorts would keep everyone honest and egos in check too.

        There are so many points of view and considerations its probably enough for a text book.

        My purpose for originally commenting was to be a voice for the disaffected.

        The consumer who is genuinely medical, even with undiagnosed or invisible conditions and continues to suffer in the dark and self medicate, much more fragile than most, who tends not to have a voice, yet, may make up a larger portion of the cannabis *user* demographic.

        It would be a shame if their situation became worse due to poorly managed establishments. But from my experience at the Daktory, the companionship and freedom to toke in freedom was hugely uplifting and stress relieving after hiding behind mum and dads shed their whole lives.

        When I was among hill tribe people in Northern Thailand, I ended up in this bonging competition with an eighty year old man. I got totally blitzed sitting in the main street of their ramshackle ‘town’. No paranoia, smiling and waving as locals and travelers walked about.

        Using cannabis in company is healthy, rather than hiding in a closet fearing the shadows.

        Many issues though, especially driving and the law!

        Meeting stoner girls is a real high point! as well as friendship.

  3. Having lived in parts of the city where those two bit, blatantly predatory independent liquor stores seem to be on every corner, I’ve really grown to love the effect of the licencing trust in Waitakere.

  4. Bill says:

    Great article Chris, It’s clear that if we don’t develop a framework for change, we can’t logicically expect anything to change.

    I think my only reservation to a referendum has been, how do we frame a question to such a complex set of issues with a simple YES or NO, when No has so clearly failed.

  5. Takere says:

    For Medicinal use, decriminalise, for possession of a few joints I agree with decriminalisation and/or instant fines. Unclog the Court system of petty cases. Selling & Harvesting/Growing would need to be Licensed by an independent body …WLT is a scam organisation. With income more than $120m. The Community gets less than $10m which is diverted into a private company to distribute to who it decides is worthy. Get rid of the WLT. The west needs a real Hospitality industry. Not a Monopolistic group of pakeha’s controlling the industry for their own gain and their crony mates.

    • Bill says:

      I agree Takere, we don’t want any monopolistic group controlling the industry. At the same time, the present system of controlling Cannabis via the criminal court system, has delivered very poor results for Maori.

      In fact our court system has shown, it recognises the fact that a Cannabis conviction plays a devastating role in affecting all life outcomes. If this isn’t so, why have they treated university students so differently often discharging without conviction. This is in light of the serious impediment such a conviction would have on travel and employment.

      In light of the serious disparity between conviction rates between Maori and pakeha, i don’t want to see Maori leaders buying into the premise that ( Cannabis use ) is more of a Maori problem, than a legal one.

      Any law that has such a contrast between arrest rates and sentencing outcomes needs reform. Finding a platform that everyone can agree on may not be easy, but the benefits can’t be overstated.