The growth of the medicinal marijuana issue

An American I was talking to the other week had seen the media coverage of Helen Kelly’s raising of the medicinal marijuana issue, and noted that marijuana is already being steadily legalized across the United States. She said, I paraphrase, “you know the only reason it’s illegal is because the pharma industry can’t figure out how to monetize it, right?”

It’s an argument that sounds pretty spot-on when you see stories like this:

The parents of a 7-year-old girl have the green light to use medicinal cannabis to control their daughter’s severe seizures.

Karen and Adam Jeffries have Health Ministry approval to give their daughter Zoe the cannabis oil-based mouth spray Sativex for the next six months.

Each bottle lasts around four weeks and costs $1050. The Jeffries paid for the first script with a well-timed tax return and have set up a Givealittle page to help fund repeat scripts.

But Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has rejected calls to allow the use of raw cannabis for medical reasons, saying the Government’s policy was “not to decriminalise the cannabis leaf”, while there was not sufficient evidence for its medical value in an unprocessed form.

Over a thousand dollars a month for a product derived from a plant which has been cultivated for thousands of years? Yeah, that doesn’t feel right, does it?

Peter Dunne is one in a short line of government ministers who are firmly stuck in the Reefer Madness, “marijuana will destroy society” frame of drug control.

When he permitted the use of medicinal marijuana for Alex Renton, Dunne tried to insist this “wasn’t a precedent.” But back in May a poll showed nearly half of New Zealanders supported decriminalisation for medicinal marijuana, and the stories – like Helen Kelly’s, and Zoe Jeffries’ – have kept coming.

This feels like one of those issues which is only going to be talked about more and more. Like marriage equality, where even the United States is unafraid to go, we tend to follow. And politicians like Peter Dunne can figure out for themselves whether they want to be on the right side of history, or remembered as an anachronism in a bowtie.

The definition of irony …

… surely, must be Peter Dunne complaining (a) that the government hasn’t fulfilled its promises to him and (b) about the security of metadata:

“The question that the Law Commission identified about four years ago, the definition of metadata and the use or the way in which metadata can or cannot be utilised.

“And I think a lot of the issue about the interception and use of private communication is also about the interception and use of metadata.”

Mr Dunne said the Government had promised to clarify this.

“I would like to see the work on metadata get underway as soon as possible. I’ve been promised it for nearly two years and I am concerned the chain has been dragged. I think the intention now seems to be to wrap it all up in the review (later this year), which is fine, if in fact it leads to a conclusive outcome.”

Peter Dunne, of course, is the government minister who had to resign after refusing to hand over the content of 86 emails between him and Fairfax journalist Andrea Vance, who broke the story of the report.

Vance was understandably hopping mad about the subsequent releasing of her phone records and tracking of her movements around Parliament – but Dunne himself can’t have been too fussed, given in July 2013 he was still supporting a law change which would allow the GCSB to collect the metadata and private data of New Zealanders.

There are still a number of unanswered questions about the GCSB report leak – namely, who did it, but also, why Peter Dunne “considered” leaking the report despite claiming he had no intention to “hurt” the government and why anyone should just take it on faith that he didn’t follow through.

But you have to have a chuckle at a man who:

  • by his own admission couldn’t continue as a minister in 2013
  • refused to hand over his personal emails to an investigation impacting our national security
  • had his own suspicious-looking activity revealed due to an inappropriate handing over of metada
  • nevertheless supported legislation to allow the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders in the interests of national security
  • became a minister again only seven months post-resignation, after winning a key electorate seat and presumably promising not to make too much fuss

… now complaining that he’s not being taken seriously by his National handlers and that metadata is serious business.

No one really takes you seriously, minister. Your party barely scraped past 5,000 votes in 2014 and you retained your seat only because National ran a candidate who was afraid to say his own name in case people accidentally voted for him.

Perhaps, post-Northland-by-election, Dunne sees an opportunity to flex his muscles and show Key he isn’t to be taken for granted. And sure, Winston’s victory makes Dunne’s single vote (and Seymour’s single vote) more important.

But stamping his feet on an issue which only reminds people that he isn’t trustworthy and that he’ll do anything to get a portfolio probably isn’t going to help.

Northland isn’t Epsom – nor Ohariu

Danyl Mclauchlan has rebutted the spin around Winston’s victory in Northland – “Labour can’t criticise the Epsom deal now! Hypocrites!” very well. (And after I’d drafted this post, Rob Salmond made one, too! Great minds, etc etc.)

I’ve been a little disappointed in how many people have basically warned the lefties they know – oooh, you’d better not say that, that would look really bad, wouldn’t it?

Northland wasn’t Labour’s to give. New Zealand First didn’t need Labour’s help. Winston certainly isn’t going to turn around to Andrew Little and say “what policies would you like me to adopt so you can pretend you don’t really want to pass them?” And Andrew Little didn’t sit down for a farcical cup of tea photo opportunity (and then try to claim it was a “private” engagement when someone recorded his foolishly-uttered words.)

Northland isn’t Epsom.

Northland also isn’t Ohariu, which got very interesting last year. National fielded a candidate who was too scared to say his own name in case people ticked it (and gave him a nice safe list position so he wouldn’t scare the horses), but despite this Peter Dunne’s once-mighty majority was slashed to 700 – one of the lowest in the country. But the “deal” there took a very different form: the National Party basically pretended that Ohariu didn’t exist. They certainly didn’t do what they did in Northland, which was see bad poll results and massively over-react to protect their preferred candidate (which ironically would have meant undermining their actual candidate.)

And thus everyone assumed Ohariu was a (sorry) done deal, to the extent that local newspapers didn’t even mention the Labour candidate (the very talented Ginny Andersen) by name in some of their coverage, and many were shocked at the comical scenes from Dunne’s victory party – populated mainly by his staff.

But a deal was (sorry) done, nevertheless, and a man whose party could barely get more than 5,000 votes, who had to resign his ministerial portfolios in disgrace over leaking a confidential GCSB report, got a reprieve from retirement and the plum role of Minister of Internal Affairs.

That’s what a dirty deal looks like.

What kind of government would National lead?

The choice for NZ voters is becoming clearer in the last days of the 2014 election. The irony is that after John Key’s persistent scaremongering about the “five-headed monster” of the centre-left, the two most likely options we have are a three-headed coalition of natural allies versus a five-or-six headed hydra of extremists and sworn enemies.

David Cunliffe has signalled today that he only sees three parties around the Cabinet table in his government: Labour, the Greens, and NZ First. All three parties have a good number of policies set out, with obvious overlaps – there are clear differences of opinion, but coming to a mature compromise is a key part of how MMP is meant to work.

Meanwhile, John Key has been forced into opening the door to Colin Craig’s Conservative Party thanks to the abysmal polling of his preferred ally, ACT.

Colin Craig is talking a softer game as he sees his poll results edge closer and closer to the magical 5% threshold. But neither he nor Jamie Whyte are men built to compromise their passionately-held extremist beliefs. So what will each of them demand?

Is Colin going to get binding referenda? Or the abolition of parole? Or a curfew for the “most promiscuous” young women in the world?

Is Jamie going to get his wish of scrapping the RMA and OIO so overseas investors can buy up our land and poison our rivers, or abolishing all school zones except the one around Auckland Boys’ Grammar (and all building regulations except the ones that keep Epsom leafy)?

And how can any of this possibly be workable with middle-of-the-road Peter Dunne (if he wins Ōhāriu, and that’s not guaranteed), with “not crazy”-conservative Winston Peters (who can’t stand Whyte or Craig) and with the Māori Party (who may have a thing or two to say about ACT and Craig’s anti-Treaty ways)?

If NZ First and the Conservatives both get over 5%, it’s going to be impossible for National to get its long-dreamed-of governing-alone 50%. They’d have to pull together four or five coalition partners who hate each other, and their closest ideological friends are frankly bizarre.

As that becomes clearer it’s got to be a huge turn-off for the moderate voters who have bulked out National’s support for the past six years – and a Labour-Green-Winston coalition is looking rock-solid-stable in comparison.

The opening addresses of Election 2014

(Updated: more links to videos for your viewing pleasure)

Last night the opening party political addresses were broadcast on TV One, simultaneous with an All Blacks match and a live-tweeted crowd viewing of Labyrinth. So if you missed out (and don’t follow my every thought on Twitter), here’s my reaction!

(Screenshots nicked and cropped from Asher Goldman on Twitter.)

National: so corporate. Much artificial. John Key in a staged “interview” blathering about goals and targets and not changing horses midstream but really without any kind of concrete policy, while an increasingly-irritating Eminem ripoff plays. And lots of rowing. And a very clunky “Oh Bill English is a great asset FYI” line thrown in which makes me suspect succession signalling is underway.

National’s full video doesn’t seem to be available online but if you just watch the short version a few dozen times it has much the same effect. is now online here.

Labour: I loved this one. Yes, I’m biased. But the idea of getting the caucus out to do a community project, taking turns to discuss their own policy areas with real Kiwis, was genius. It was a huge contrast to National’s corporate one-man-band routine. And there were real, solid policies to work on, which is a bit of a bugbear of mine.

I actually want to help out at a community centre if it involves Andrew Little and Carol Beaumont making me cheese scones. They even got David Parker out of his suit.

You can watch Labour’s video here.

Greens: Didn’t grab me as much as Labour’s. Their focus was strongly and naturally environmental, Metiria and Russel did a great job of injecting their own stories and personality into it, but there wasn’t a strong narrative as there was with Labour’s.

You can watch the Greens’ video here.

nzfirstNZ First: Winston doing his best General Patton in front of a terribly CG’d New Zealand flag, and a diverse range of people asking rhetorical questions to camera. You may note Winston’s tie is red and black, so read into that what you will.

conservativesConservatives: Colin Craig hitting his usual talking points about binding referenda to a room of silent, bored-looking white people. He really is a charisma-free zone.

actACT: If you did not watch this, find it. Now online! Watch it! It’s the funniest thing broadcast this year and may have actually been made using Windows MovieMaker, it’s that budget.

internetInternetMana: cartoon futuristic hovercats. Enough said, really. You can watch it here.

dunnePeter Dunne: a few minutes of Dunne talking to camera about how reasonable and middle-of-the-road he is, while parroting Key’s lines about staying the course. Lacking his characteristic bow tie, which may bode poorly for him.

ALCP: Rate a mention because their video was approximately a hundred times more professional-looking than ACT’s.

Focus, Social Credit, and Brendan Horan’s outfit: Shrug.