Pubdate: Wed, 21 May 2014
Source: New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2014 New Zealand Herald
Author: Brian Rudman


It was a true "emperor has no clothes on" moment - Auckland Deputy
Mayor Penny Hulse asking her colleagues why they were tying themselves
into knots over regulating synthetic cannabis use, without taking into
account that the natural, illegal alternative was a safer drug.

She said: "I think we need to take a deep breath in this conversation
and say what are we trying to achieve? Are we going to deal with the
issue that people are going to make choices to smoke things that get
them stoned? Have we been able to stop people doing that? Absolutely
we haven't."

A few weeks earlier, writing on The Daily Blog website, Ms Hulse had
written of her recent change of mind over marijuana use. Until then
she had been against legalising it, believing "we have enough trouble
with alcohol".

However, "we cannot pretend that we can solve the issues by pushing
them underground, the alternative is challenging but I think we are
ready for the debate.

The need to escape our day-to-day life via a variety of chemical
substances is as old as humanity, let's get over the prejudice and on
with finding a humane way forward".

In March, she says she joined her "fellow Westies" in a march through
Henderson about the impact of "legal highs" on the community. She
didn't share the call to ban the products, but did share her fellow
marchers' concern "for the impact on our community of these
synthesised chemical cocktails on our vulnerable, young and poor".

Over recent months, she has found herself advocating for a major
change in the legal status of marijuana "as a result of talking to
users, doctors, community workers and long-time smokers of organic
marijuana. The overwhelming consensus is that, compared with the
chemically synthesised, variably manufactured psychoactive substances,
organic marijuana is a way less damaging option".

She says that the emergence of legal highs has brought the debate to a

The veteran local politician is being praised by reform campaigners as
"courageous". As a potential Auckland mayoral candidate in 2016, her
move is also politically canny when you consider, for example, that 84
per cent in a recent Campbell Live poll backed similar views.

It harks back to 2011, when Act leader Don Brash argued for
decriminalisation, saying the police and the courts spent about $100
million a year enforcing the prohibition of a drug believed by many
people to be less dangerous than tobacco or alcohol.

He asked: "Is there really any point to this?" He said about 6000
people were prosecuted every year for cannabis offences and 400,000
New Zealanders were estimated to use cannabis.

Unfortunately, Dr Brash was not the obvious poster-boy for drug
reform. Now it's Ms Hulse's turn. She seems keen to keep the issue
moving forward, declaring over the weekend, "the time is right to call
together a well-informed group of thought leaders to have a rational,
non-political and informed forum on how to move towards a more
sensible approach to marijuana".

She added: "I am not advocating for legalisation, I don't know yet
what the right answer is but I want us to have the debate. We took on
the issue of prostitution and dealt with it well, time now to deal
with this issue."

A good candidate for her talkfest would be retired Waikato Police
District Commander and former national crime manager Win van der
Velde. On his retirement in February, he told the Waikato Times that
legalising the use of cannabis was "a step too far" because of its
"negative health effects", but he did support looking at the option of
decriminalisation. Mr van der Velde said police tied up court time
charging people with low-level cannabis use.

He asked: "Why do we expel kids for being down the back of the school
experimenting with a cannabis joint when school is actually a safe
environment to experiment?"

He argued that if one were to compare the harm across society caused
by cannabis and alcohol then alcohol would be as bad, if not worse,
than cannabis.

The recent emergence of synthetic cannabis substitutes, and the
politicians' muddled response, has highlighted the need for a rethink
of the law on recreational drugs. Last year's Psychoactive Substances
Act is now in ruins, following the panicked reaction of politicians to
reports of deleterious side effects on some users to some of the
approved products.

What the politicians failed to confront was endless expert advice that
the illegal genuine organic marijuana was less harmful than the
synthetic chemical substitutes they were endeavouring to endorse and

Having voted 119-1 to approve the sale of these synthetic recreational
drugs, our politicians can no longer either stand on principle against
drug use, or rationally defend the decades-long ban on natural
marijuana. Especially now that the synthetic marijuana has turned out
to be much more addictive and dodgy than good old New Zealand Green. I
look forward to the Hulse inquiry.  
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D