Election papers have been issued to decide representatives for local government, health boards, and liquor licensing trusts. Among the candidates some eccentricities shine through making the candidates’ book quite entertaining reading. There are some good people and policies too. But one set of policies in the Waitakere Licensing Trust in particular, rises above the usual mediocre rhetoric.
Chris Fowlie, long-time president of the National Organisation for Marijuana Law Reform, Norml, is running for the West Auckland liquor licensing trust on a set of policies that seek regulatory parity between alcohol and that other, less harmful, drug of popular choice, cannabis. Chris’ signs echo evidence that says cannabis is safer than alcohol –and suggest, “Let’s treat it that way”. –Let’s manage the relative harms from alcohol and cannabis in a considered, evidence based and consistent way, using existing licensing trust machinery. Local level regulation of cannabis, as with alcohol, rather than prohibition, helps manage health and social impacts and prevents the criminalisation of adults for victimless acts. Also as is the case with alcohol, taxes on sales can be circulated back into the community for wider social benefit.
Given the zealous but futile war on drugs – just another failed war – who would have thought that the United States would become more liberal in its drug policies than New Zealand? Yet state level cannabis decriminalisation in the US provides good precedent for here.
Where national governments are too averse, narrow-minded or conservative, to enact policies that recognise the logic behind progressive social change, other expressions of power and forms of government provide potential. Councils within New Zealand in the past who became nuclear and GE free, reflected public frustration with government policies, and gave voice to legitimate but marginalised dissident causes. In doing so, they were forces of change.
If local liquor licensing trusts were brave enough to regulate ‘Cannabis Clubs’ they could similarly show a lead to a reluctant government. Chris Fowlie claims cannabis clubs are legally permitted now. Imagine the precedent for other local licensing trusts and the government if the Waitakere Liquor Licensing Trust managed to regulate the sale of cannabis, taking the trade out of the powerful West Auckland gangs, reducing criminal harm and generating significant funds to return to community groups and projects.
New Zealand Drug Foundation studies showed that 64% of Kiwis surveyed, across all political parties, said a small amount of cannabis should be decriminalised or legalised. Support increased to 79% when it came to medical marijuana for pain relief.
Statistics released over the last few days confirm trends of declining prosecution and conviction of cannabis users. In the Manukau, Auckland and North Shore police districts in 2015, it’s been reported that only 332 convictions for cannabis were successfully prosecuted. The 2012 UN Drug Report reported that New Zealanders are among the world’s ‘top smokers’, with between 9-14% of Kiwis, cannabis users. There are clearly a lot more smokers than busts. Cops obviously use their own discretion in enforcing cannabis laws, thereby interpreting the law as they go along. That approach is pragmatic and sensible, and probably accurately reflects the fact that they have more serious issues to worry about than adults smoking weed. It does mean the law can be applied arbitrarily though, and fails to address health and social harm issues that might arise.
Local Government has increasing responsibility for managing the location and local impacts of low level potentially socially harmful exchanges such as legal prostitution, gambling, Sunday trading and the sale and consumption of alcohol. Ongoing research suggests responsible cannabis sale and consumption can be managed for better public outcomes than through the current prohibition denial. In voting Chris onto the Waitakere Licensing Trust, electors in the area get a chance to blaze a trail ahead of the government but alongside public opinion, and spearhead significant progressive change for New Zealand.
Christine Rose is employed as Kauri DieBack Community Co-ordinator by the Auckland Council. All opinions expressed herein are Christine’s own. No opinion or views expressed in this blog or any other media, shall be construed as the opinion of the Council or any other organisation.