The time I was woken by a police dog.

When I was 20 I lived by myself in squat in Dunedin. The squat was a partially burned out house, which I’d crawl into through a hole in the wall.

One night I woke with police German Shepherd on top of me.

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The dog was gentle, I in no way felt menaced by it; it was just as if a friendly dog was waking you up by climbing on you.

However, at the time, I was a cannabis dealer, and I did had about 1/2 pound of cannabis beside me. Not knowing whether the dog was trained to smell drugs, I quickly got up to meet the dogs handler.

A policeman was beginning to climb through the hole, and instead I met him outside.

He explained that they were looking for someone else. He said I could stay there for now, but that they’d be informing the owner that I was there, then him and the dog left.

A couple of months later I awoke to the owner and worker arriving. The owner promptly informed me ‘your tenancy is over!’, in good nature. They boarded up the hole and I felt a different place to stay.

 

 

 

 

Cannabis and its relationship to funding gang activity: My letter to Paula Bennett and its response

Hi Paula – I write to you in your capacity as Minister of Police.

 

In this Stuff news article: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/90502569/police-hit-back-at-cannabis-haul-criticism

 

The officer involved said something to the effect of “Removing cannabis and grow operations hit crime rings where it hurt most, their finances”.

 

Would you agree that legalising cannabis and allowing the free market to sell cannabis, would be a more effective way to remove this source of funding from gangs? After all – I don’t believe that gangs make much money from selling alcohol.

 

 

Kind regards,

 

 

David Johnston

 

 

The response:

 

Dear David,

 

I am writing on behalf of Hon Paula Bennett, Minister of Police, who has asked me to acknowledge your email of 17th March 2017 concerning legalising cannabis.

 

Your correspondence has been noted, however the legalisation of Cannabis is not on the government’s priority list.

 

Thank you for taking the time to write to the Minister of Police.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Jeff Penno

Like with my letter to Andrew Little, it seems both National and Labour hold the same position with cannabis – ‘it’s not a priority’.

I’m considering leaving New Zealand: my letter to Andrew Little, and its response.

I wrote Andrew Little (leader of the opposition in New Zealand, as well as Jacinda Ardern (deputy leader), Grant Robertson (spokesperson for Employment) and Clare Curran (spokesperson for ICT)  an email:

Hi Andrew, Jacinda, Grant, Clare.

I’m a 31 year old IT professional who’s been working in Wellington for four years since I graduated with my computer science degree.

I’m writing to tell you why I’m currently looking for work in Melbourne.

Firstly – there’s the standard reasons many New Zealanders leave New Zealand:

– I’m hopeful that I’ll earn more money in Melbourne.

– I’m yet to have an OE and I want to see the world.

There’s also the IT specific reasons – I enjoy the culture of Wellington – but a lot of the work here tends to be for government, which isn’t the best place to do IT. It seems that Melbourne (and cities like Berlin) have a more exciting, fast paced IT culture.

But also another reason I’m looking at moving. It’s really hard to find cannabis in New Zealand. 

 

I know this sounds absurd – but hear me out.

Firstly – be aware that it’s much harder to find cannabis now, than it was ten years ago. The Guardian even wrote about it. 

I think that this is probably the result of the police being good at their job, and career criminals finding it it more profitable to be involved with meth than cannabis, as well as the relative isolation and small population of New Zealand.

I think often politicians adopt the attitude that ‘Yes, cannabis is illegal, but it’s tolerated, we turn a blind eye to it, and its illegal status doesn’t really affect those otherwise law abiding citizens who smoke’. But this isn’t actually true. Let’s look at the options someone like myself has:

– Not use cannabis. (I’ll address this in a bit).

– Purchase cannabis on the blackmarket. This puts me in the awkward position of having to ask the people I know if they know where to find cannabis – and – in my experience, they don’t. I end up having to purchase some from gang controlled tinny houses – where it’s low quality and very expensive.

– Grow my own. ‘Grow your own’ appears to be the growing sentiment in the cannabis community. The problem with this is that it doesn’t suit everybody’s living situation. For example if you have a strict landlord, or you have flatmates, then you’re inviting trouble. I could rent a grannyflat for the purpose of having the privacy of growing on my own cannabis, but this would be around $200/week extra – or the cost of $10,000 a year.

Now you might say ‘if consuming cannabis is so much trouble, perhaps you’re better off not smoking it’. And you might be right. Where I’m currently at, I’m considering that smoking cannabis isn’t right for me – I tend to get more done when I’m not smoking.

However – I don’t need prohibition to make that decision for me. Even if I’m not smoking cannabis – I still find it frustrating not being able to make that decision for myself. Also, even if I’m not smoking regularly – I might want to smoke over the New Year period at a music festival – but the cannabis situation is so dire in New Zealand that I might not have that option. I’m better off attending a festival in Australia, if smoking weed is something I want to do at it.

So – I’m considering leaving New Zealand – for opportunities abroad, not just solely for the availability cannabis. But the cannabis issue feels the straw that breaks the camels back. It feels like politicians (except for the Greens) don’t really care about what’s important to me, or many of other New Zealanders, and that’s incredibly frustrating.  I get that Labour, quite rightfully feels like housing is a more important issue – but Labour can address more than one issue at a time – and I wish that they’d tackle this low hanging fruit already.

David Johnston

Here is Andrew Little’s response:

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Dear David Thanks for writing about the decriminalisation of cannabis. Labour’s key priorities are housing, health, jobs and education and that’s where our focus is.

I’m personally very uncomfortable about increasing access to cannabis, particularly to young people. The scientific and medical evidence I’ve seen says that most of the cannabis available in New Zealand has high THC content and for still developing brains, that poses health risks. Finding a formula for decriminalisation that means you could mitigate those health risks would be extraordinarily difficult. We will not make holding a referendum on cannabis a priority when in government.

We firmly support cannabis products being available for medicinal use, however, where its use is prescribed by a GP or specialist where a person has a terminal illness or chronic pain.

Thanks for writing

Yours sincerely

Andrew Little

Leader of the Oppostion

PDF

An outline for drug law reform

The essence of the my drug law reform policy is a kind of licensing system, similar to a driver’s license, whereby users are allowed to purchase and consume drugs once they’ve passed a test.

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Outlaw alcohol advertising

Alcohol clearly causes a lot of harm in New Zealand, from violence, to sexual assault, to addiction.

I think it would be heavy handed to try outright stop people from drinking.

However, a low hanging fruit for improving New Zealand’s drinking culture, would be to outlaw alcohol advertising – which serves to normalise our drinking culture.

A drugs license

A new form of ID, like a driver’s license would be created.

Purchasing drugs, including tobacco and alcohol and cannabis, would each require a separate endorsement on the license. The license would be required to be presented when purchasing the drug.

Acquiring endorsements

Acquiring an endorsement would require sitting a test that demonstrates that the user is aware of the risks and potential harms of the drug they are seeking endorsement for.

The risks that awareness is being tested for would be fact based.

The test might be administered by a doctor.

For example, the tobacco endorsement test might involve test that the user is aware that:

  • Tobacco has a high addiction potential
  • The yearly cost of a regular cigarette habit
  • The causal relationship between cigarette smoking and illness

The test for for alcohol endorsement might involve testing that the user is aware that:

Tests for cannabis are in my impression a little hard to find risks to tests for. Unlike alcohol and tobacco and alcohol, the risks of cannabis aren’t as pronounced as the relationship between cigarettes and cancer, or alcohol and car crashes.

As mentioned before – the risks awareness is being tested for, would need to be science and fact based. The New Zealand Drug Foundation provides a helpful, though not comprehensive summary of some health effects. 

You could test for awareness of things like:

  • Cannabis can cause anxiety
  • There’s the potential that cannabis exasperate symptoms for people already susceptible to mental illness.
  • The risk of psychological addiction.

Three categories of drugs

I would put drugs in three categories:

  • Recreational consumer drugs. eg. tobacco, alcohol, cannabis

    These drugs would be free for commercial sale to anyone who has the endorsement.

    The cannabis industry would like resemble the beer industry. You would have some large commercial operations, as well as craft operations.

  • Higher risk psychedelic drugs eg. MDMA (ecstacy), LSD

    These drugs would, as well as require the user to pass a test, would be prescription only. ie. everytime a user wanted to consume these drugs, they would need to ask their doctor for a prescription. This would prevent people from taking these drugs recklessly.

    An option to consider here is that psychedelics could only be administered by an authorised medical professional. What could happen is that drugs could be administered in a controlled, research manner, even if the situation was at a festival.

  • Addictive hard drugs. eg. methamphetamine, heroin

    These drugs should be treated as too dangerous to be administered freely.

    However, for people who are already addicted, their addiction should be treated as a health condition.

    Government run distribution centers that give administer the drugs, and track how much a user is using. At least that way addicts aren’t beholden to drug dealers, and the health system has a good deal of monitoring of peoples habits.

 

Pre-kiwiburn anxiety

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Friday 27th January, 1:30pm: I’m still in the office though I’m now off the clock. Going to write this as quickly as possible because if I’m going to make it to Kiwiburn before it gets dark, I really need to get moving. As an experiment I want to write and publish this post now, before I leave, and then compare it to how I feel when I get back.

I haven’t been to a festival in years. Like six years. I haven’t taken any psychedelics in the that time either. What’s commonly happened when I’ve been on psychedelics is that I’ve been all ‘This is really beautiful, but I’d be enjoying this so much more if I had my life sorted out’.

Since six years ago – its fair to say that I’ve gone through something of a positive transformation – albeit not without some major bumps on the road.

Where I was six years ago, was that I had just finished a year’s intensive supervision through the justice system, for my apparently incorrigible graffiti habits (I also received a second jail warning), and I was committed to not getting in trouble with the law again. New Zealand has clean slate legislation which means that your convictions will be wiped if you don’t offend for 7 years (providing you haven’t committed some serious offences, haven’t been to prison, and the clean slate applies in New Zealand only).

My convictions have been clean slated. I’m now employed in IT and am on a positive career trajectory. I have other projects I’m working on. My spending habits are for the most part under control. I have fairly healthy eating and exercise habits. I’ve since been diagnosed with ADHD and am generally better at impulse control.

I quit drinking six months ago – and the effects are mostly positive. I’m more energetic, my mood is better,  I save money (though I spend more on pinball now) and I’m losing weight. The downside, is that I’m easily agitated and quite impatient.

I’m starting to feel bored. 

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So, taking psychedelics kind of sounds like a good idea. I’m at the point where I feel like I’ve got my shit sorted (though of course I can always trim away my internet addiction, be a more pleasant person, and generally be more productive), so let’s have an inspiring psychedelic experience?

The context I like to take psychedelics in is at good music festivals. There’s good trippy music, other trippy people, and if that’s too much you can go hang out in nature.

I want to be clear – you don’t need to have drugs to enjoy a festival – but if you want to take drugs – I think a festival is a good place to take them.

Here’s the rub. I live in New Zealand and the police and customs are way too effective at their jobs. New Zealand, being a small country on the corner of the globe makes it easy to police contraband. In recent years there’s been growing discontent about the lack of cannabis at this time of year. Time magazine even wrote an article about it. 

Kiwiburn, the New Zealand equivalent of Burning Man had been on my radar since around November last year. But a combination of misreading the dates, not wanting to go if I didn’t have a big sack of weed to go with, and not having much leave accrued at work meant that I ultimately decided to pass this year.

Until last weekend – when I went to a small outdoor music gathering, enjoyed the music, and really wanting to have a holiday decided to go.

So my decision to go to Kiwiburn is decidedly last minute. I found a ticket, booked and my leave, and now (actually right now as I’m writing this, I feel ok) last night, I’m feeling quite anxious about going. Primarily, I’m concerned that I’m going to go to this festival, and be stuck there, not enjoying myself.

Specifically the concerns I have are:

  • I don’t have a tent. I thought I did, but apparently I’ve lost it. If it rains I’ll be screwed. I can hope/ask for shelter when I get there – but generally I don’t think it’s a good philosophy to rely on the kindness of strangers. I’m a capitalist like that.
  • No drugs. Am I going to be bored/uncomfortable being completely sober in a paddock somewhere?
  • FOMO – Relating to the drugs thing. Feeling like everyone around me is having a good time, and I’m not.
  • Fear of rejection – Because I’m in a situation where I need the help of strangers – I feel like if I’m refused that help that will be confirmation of my unlikableness.
  • I have to hitchhike. Fear of getting stuck in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.

A lot of this comes down to my unpreparedness. Given that I only made the decision to go this week, a lot of these concerns would have been alleviated if I’d made the decision to go months ago – I would have had time to find a crew to go with etc.

And this comes back to impulsiveness – I feel like I may be making myself a victim of my own impulsiveness/second guessing myself. There’s comforting and respectable about being deliberate in your actions.

So that’s where I’m at now. Writing this has served to make me feel a bit more anxious, and I’m otherwise trying every mental trick I can to feel a bit better. At the moment I feel a mix of reasonable concern (‘is it going to rain?, where am I going to sleep?’), and nervous excitement. I guess that’s a good way to be.

See you in three days! 🙂

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The responses of New Zealand politicians to the recent NZ Drug Foundation cannabis survey are frustrating.

The survey commissioned by the NZ Drug Foundation, suggests that the majority of New Zealanders support some form of liberalisation of cannabis laws, though the majority still oppose allow growing for friends, or selling from stores.

poll

The response from the two major party leaders has been head-in-the-sand dogmatic.

Prime Minister John Key said: “My longstanding view, whether you like it or not has been that I think it sends the wrong message to youngsters.”

“I think there are potentially health implications from sustained use,”

 

Labour Leader Andrew Little’s response was similarly lukewarm – suggesting that it’s not a priority for Labour.

 

What’s frustrating is how dismissive the politicians are about the issue. It’s not like either hold strong opinions about the issue, like for example Labour did with asset sales, or the combined, though with some disent, enthusiasm both parties had legalising gay marriage.

 

Instead, because both parties are not deviating from the status quo, there’s no need to take a strong stance. Each party gives a luke warm dismissal of the subject, and there’s no need for a more robust response, because the opposition party is not challenging them on the issue.

 

It’s particularly frustrating that Labour, who see themselves as representing the common man are taking this stance. I wouldn’t suggest that Labour’s demographic* are any more likely to be cannabis smokers than Nationals, but I’m sure that Labour’s demographic are much more likely to be negatively affected by cannabis prohibition than National’s.

To me, refusal to budge on the cannabis issue is another symptom of Labour being out of touch with their voter base – not realising just how important the cannabis issue is to voters, or how dramatically it affects them. The impression I get about Labour’s attitude is that ‘the status of cannabis’s legality has little effect on the lives of people in low socio-economic groups. The real issues are child poverty, access to education, etc’.

Without suggesting that these other issues are not important, I think it’s important to recognise just what effect the illegality of cannabis has on people. One of the main concerns I have, is that causes otherwise law abiding citizens to have a distrust of police and ‘the system’. I think it’s likely that many families won’t report certain crimes, such as domestic violence, for fear of the being busted for the wafts of cannabis coming from the house.

Liberalisation of cannabis laws has been occurring around the world. In the US, according to this resource, four states (Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Colorado) have some form of legalisation for recreational use, almost half the states have legal medical marijuana.

In Australia cannabis is legal nationwide for medical use. In ACT and Western Australia cannabis is decriminalised for personal use/possession, and in other states though still a criminal offence, policy determines a non-criminal penalty.

The legalisation of cannabis in Colorado is generally seen as a success – or at least, the doomsday scenarios have not materialised yet. This article comprehensively covers to impacts of cannabis legalisation in Colorado.

Perhaps this is really what’s going on with the cannabis issue in New Zealand, New Zealand politicians are waiting to see how liberalisation plays out in other countries, before enacting it here.

This is of course, very conservative, and flies in the face of New Zealand’s identity as  an independent pioneer of progressive rights -being the first country in the world to give women the vote for example.

To me, announcing a policy to legalise seems like an obvious political boon for the Labour party – all of a sudden drawing in the non-voting New Zealand public, who now have a reason to get out and vote.

But perhaps this is where I’m naïve. Perhaps the Labour party, being more informed and experienced that me, have calculated that they’ll lose more of the voting elderly, than they’ll gain of the usually non-voting young and uneducated.

Perhaps the best way to make the cannabis issue and election issue, is with a citizens initiated referendum, requiring signatures of 10% of the population.

There are been two such referendums in recent history -the awfully worded one organised by the religious right in opposition to the anti-smacking bill (“Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”), and the another in opposition to the assets sales proposed by National.

With so many people directly having a vested interest in cannabis law reform (ie. users, growers, and family members of those), and overall sentiment supporting law reform, it seems that getting willing signatories would be trivial.

Or is there some truth to the ‘useless stoner’ stereotype, reflecting a lack of ability to come together as a cohesive political force?


*Note I’m careful not to reference voters here. I would argue that Labour especially represents a group of people beyond those who vote. With one third of the eligible voting population not voting, it seems likely that these people’s (the uneducated) interests are more likely represented by Labour than National.