One of the reasons I first got interested in the Greens, before MMP and long before I ever joined the party, was the cannabis policy. It may not be the most important issue in the world but I see it as a kind of litmus test of a party’s integrity. The issue is so politically sensitive that most party’s will, at best, keep silent on the question of law reform, despite knowing that prohibition does infinitely more harm and costs the economy vastly more than cannabis use itself does.
Until now the Greens have been the only party in Parliament, or with any show of getting into Parliament, with a rational drug policy. Until now. Today the Internet Party announced a cannabis policy that is the most progressive and evidence based of any political party likely to be in the next Parliament.
What does it say?
Firstly, the Internet Party would allow cannabis to be prescribed as a medicine – not through legislation but by an administrative amendment. This would take the decision about medical marijuana out of the hands of politicians and give it to doctors, where it belongs. Since there is no legal supply of natural cannabis, they would allow medical users to grow a set amount for themselves or nominate someone to do it for them if they are unable to.
Secondly, they would immediately change the law to allow adults to cultivate and possess cannabis for personal use. While they do not specify how many plants that would be (simply saying that decision should be based on research), they do promise to remove the ‘reverse onus’ provision of the Misuse of Drugs Act. Currently, and contrary to basic principles of justice, if a person is caught with over an ounce of cannabis they have to prove that they are not selling it.
Thirdly the Internet Party would develop a system to regulate and tax the market. This is the best, and most courageous, part of the policy. The reality is that decriminalising cannabis is a good first step, but it can never deal with all of the problems of prohibition. Even if people can grow their own cannabis, most will still want to buy it, just as they prefer to buy beer even though there is no law against brewing it. A market for cannabis will always exist and unless it is properly regulated the problems of sales to underage buyers, organised crime and loss of tax revenue will remain the same. Regulating the cannabis market is not currently supported by the majority of New Zealanders the way that decriminalisation is, but it is the right thing to do.
Finally the Internet Party would use some of the huge financial savings made from taking cannabis users out of the criminal justice system, to resource increased drug education, health promotion and addiction treatment. I worked with Laila Harre when she was Minister of Youth Affairs on a Green initiative to increase funding for drug education. Some Ministers liked to throw money at programmes with charismatic front-people, even when they were ineffective. Laila, in contrast, was focussed on what kinds of approaches actually made a difference to young people’s health outcomes. This was usually programmes that treated young people as intelligent and able to make good decisions for themselves if they had balanced information.
I think this policy is a brave move. No doubt it will lead to some interesting conversations with Mana. It will be controversial. But it is also astute. The Greens still support law reform, and will be important in getting any legislative change through Parliament, but understandably it is a low priority for them. There is now no one in Parliament proactively speaking up for law reform. Thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of votes are looking for somewhere more promising than the ALCP. If Laila Harre is serious about this, she would be the perfect person to take cannabis law reform through Parliament. She is courageous, intelligent and informed – without being vulnerable to the kinds of attacks made on me when I was championing cannabis law reform in Parliament as an “out” cannabis smoker. As the only party seriously pushing for the youth vote, this is sure to be a winner for Internet Mana.
The policy can be found at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1FFXG3tWggczbmzJ1MK7WL0qxJyrmgGMHhtcDZCN6INE/edit