The big cannabis news right here in lil ol’ NZ just keeps rolling in. And I haven’t even got to Julie Anne Genter’s medicinal bill being pulled for debate yet!
About a week ago, Abe Grey, the current president for the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party defected to Gareth Morgan’s The Opportunities Party in an open letter on Facebook. He said on Radio NZ, that “of all the parties who are posturing themselves now, The Opportunities Party is the only one that has a real, deliberate, well thought out policy, and one that’s backed by evidence… And it has basically eclipsed the Cannabis Party and there is no reason why I wouldn’t want to support TOP over them.”
I applaud Abe for a gutsy move that couldn’t have been easy. Perhaps within the Cannabis Party there will be those who feel he has abandoned or betrayed them, but the majority of feedback on Facebook has been positive, and as Mr Grey said, “I think thoughtful people will hear what I have to say and hopefully follow suit.” It makes sense for cannabis advocates to back TOP who have the resources, profile and the policy to make a real difference, where the Cannabis Party never could.
So what about The Opportunities Party’s cannabis policy then? Well, it looks pretty bloody good. TOP would legalise and regulate cannabis as the evidence they have gathered shows this “will more accurately reflect the internationally recognised intention of drug policy – to reduce harm.” The 10 page policy document takes in evidence from New Zealand sources, as well as Portugal, Canada, and the U.S. states that have legalised. It is fairly comprehensive – there is little in it that I find wanting. As Mr Grey said in his letter, “The fact that TOP arrived at this exact policy through an evidence based process and without the input of the pro-cannabis lobby only further vindicates law reform advocates and speaks volumes for the robustness of TOP’s evidence based policy approach.”
In fact, in the area of how regulated sales would work – something that is an important issue to me because I don’t want to see regulated cannabis become the next alcohol industry – the TOP policy follows a line of thinking that I have held for awhile. That is sales through a licensed trust, similar to alcohol licensing trusts. This is very pleasing to see as it signals the policy is really grounded in public health, unlike the American models, which while good in that they remove criminal sanctions for cannabis, have created a commercial model that will always be hungry for expansion and profits off of heavy users.
TOP’s policy: “These charities would establish their own retail outlets and would be tasked with minimising the health impacts of cannabis use. They would reinvest any profits into local drug education and mental health services, as well as after-school recreation for teenagers that are focussed on reducing drug use (as per the Iceland model).”
If you haven’t read about how Iceland has reduced teen drug, tobacco, and alcohol use, it’s worth a look.
They also look at the issue of purity, something regularly overlooked by people keen on the status quo. Cannabis sold illicitly can be grown with any number of pesticides that should not be used on a product that will be smoked. They can become infected with mould and fungi, particularly in the drying process. Drug policy’s key goal of harm minimisation is completely undermined in this respect by prohibition. Colorado has lead the way in ensuring that the smoke people are inhaling is as pure as possible (well, as pure as any smoke can be!).
To protect young developing brains (research suggests cannabis can be particularly harmful to these), TOP would set the minimum age for purchase at 20 years old. I can see the sense in this. Lowering the alcohol age limit to 18 did increase alcohol-related harm for youth. Yet, at the same time, the ‘fairness’ part of me says that if you can vote and go to war at 18, surely you should be considered responsible enough to drink a beer or smoke a joint. It’s a toughie, that one.
Typically, my party vote would go Green, even though, like Abe, I have been pretty disappointed in the limited attention they have given to cannabis policy over the last decade. However, I am currently thinking, also like Abe, that my party vote is going to go to TOP this time. Have a look at their policies and see whether you think yours should too.