A guest post by a reader:
Chlöe Swarbrick argues that our current treatment of cannabis as illegal is equivalent to an unregulated market for cannabis. In fact, prohibition is about as regulated as a market can get! What we actually
have is excessive and ineffective regulation. What Swarbrick is really
proposing is less and more effective regulation. She has a strong case that we can do better, but it seems that her mistaken view that she’s addressing an absence of regulation rather than improving upon existing regulation has led her to be complacent. Her proposal doesn’t just face the low hurdle of being better than nothing, but rather the higher hurdle of being good regulation. Where is the evidence that we will have good regulation before the nation votes in 2020?
We are being asked to trust that good regulation will be developed in the few remaining months. Why should we give that trust when the Greens did not develop detailed regulation during their many, many years of opposition? And when progress has been so meagre during the 20 months that the Greens have had access to all the resources of government? In May, a few brief bullet points of regulatory outline were released. But where is the detail on how cannabis will be taxed to encourage responsible use and to fund the costs of wellbeing programmes for those who use to excess (in the way other vices are e.g. cigarettes)? Where is the detail on how cannabis strength will be regulated to minimise the risk of harm (in the same way other vices are e.g. alcohol ABV)? Where is the thinking on how regulation will address the fact that cannabis is relatively unique in that it can be effective whether ingested or inhaled? One of those methods is vastly less unhealthy than the other. Are we voting for a new smokable product at the same time as we’re trying to achieve Smoke Free 2050 or will cannabis be legalised for ingestion only? How would that sit with our existing regime for all ingestible products (shared with Australia) that prohibits, for example, nicotine drinks?
We elect politicians to dedicate their time and intellect to understand issues better than we can. We elect them to delve deeply into the implications of potential laws and regulations and to optimise them. Punting to a referendum is an abdication of that responsibility no matter how much effort a politician puts into developing a draft law and educating the public on it, but that abdication of responsibility is vastly compounded with every day that passes. If we, the public, are to make the cannabis reform decision then we must have the time and information to do so.
Swarbrick’s lack of progress belies a perspective that anything will be better than nothing. We deserve the opportunity to require drug reform to be good for New Zealand. Will we get that chance?