A re­luc­tant out­law

Vet­eran jour­nal­ist, dad and grand­dad Colin Hogg has al­ways been up­front about his mar­i­juana use, and never more so than with his lat­est book. The High Road out­lines the road­trip Hogg took through the United States, stop­ping where pot was le­gal to in­dulge

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Colin Hogg is a fa­ther of six, a grand­dad of seven, and for decades he’s writ­ten about his fam­ily life for The New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, which is the kind of pub­li­ca­tion that cel­e­brates when Camilla, Duchess of Corn­wall, has a birth­day. He also doesn’t want to up­set his mum. So he has un­der­stand­ably ex­pressed a lit­tle ner­vous­ness about his lat­est book in which he speaks out (not for the first time, though never more bla­tantly) as a mar­i­juana smoker – a habit that makes him a crim­i­nal in New Zealand.

Hogg’s trep­i­da­tion seemed to get turned up a notch when I shared the news that our cover was to be a homage to the book jacket of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S Thomp­son’s 1971 clas­sic. I mean, both Hogg and Thomp­son wrote about road trips in the US but let’s be clear: while Thomp­son’s drug tak­ing was epic, Hogg’s is com­par­a­tively mild and now le­gal in all the states he trav­elled to. That’s the point of the book. Mar­i­juana is no longer out­lawed in many places in the US and, in Hogg’s view, that’s how it should be here. He talks to Jeremy Olds

How much weed do you smoke? How much have you got?

Well, how long would it take you to go through an ounce? I don’t like to quan­tify it. I smoke a bit more than I should. It comes and goes, but I don’t know if I want to quan­tify it, re­ally. I just try to keep it un­der con­trol. Some stuff is stronger than oth­ers. It’s get­ting stronger here – very, very strong. It’s also be­com­ing far too ex­pen­sive.

Grow­ing up in In­ver­cargill, did you smoke weed? No, I started when I moved to Auck­land. But they do grow it down there now. It’s very easy to grow. It’s got a very short ger­mi­na­tion, so you bang it in [the soil] in late Au­gust usu­ally and grow it through sum­mer.

In­ad­ver­tently or oth­er­wise, The High Road is a po­lit­i­cal book. You make the case for mar­i­juana law re­form here in New Zealand. Is this the first time you’ve taken that stance pub­licly? Yep. Well, there was a ref­er­ence to the fact that I smoked weed in my last book, Going South. And years and years and years ago, there was a mag­a­zine called Planet, and they did a mar­i­juana is­sue, and I

wrote a piece in that ’fes­s­ing up how I lead a nor­mal life, I’m a func­tion­ing guy, but I smoke weed. How does it feel to come out so brazenly in sup­port of some­thing that’s il­le­gal here? I’m ner­vous. The big­gest is­sue is what I call The Mother Fac­tor.

My mother’s still alive. She’s 91. She liked my last book, but when she got to the bit where I said I smoked weed she threw it across the room. I don’t want her to read this book at all.

There is a prob­lem when you write the sort of books I write, which is that your fam­ily and friends want to be sup­port­ive by lik­ing it and read­ing it, and they’re the last peo­ple I want to read it.

I want to throw it over their heads to the strangers out there. That’s mainly what I’m ner­vous about. If your mother doesn’t like that you smoke weed, how will she re­act to the photo of you smok­ing on the cover? I don’t even re­ally want her to see it. But there is a risk in be­ing pro-mar­i­juana – legally, or to your rep­u­ta­tion. Is that part of your ner­vous­ness? No. I just feel I’m ex­pos­ing my­self. In some ways, I just wish ev­ery­one would come out about it. I feel I’ve come out, like I’ve come out of a closet of some sort. Here I am. I’m not the first per­son, ob­vi­ously, but I wish all of those well-known New Zealan­ders who do im­bibe and don’t see it as a prob­lem and are frus­trated, I wish we would all take a full-page ad in the pa­per and sign it. I’m not going to name any names, but there is a lot of sym­pa­thy for this. Red­necks will be ap­palled. Do you think of the book as a work of ac­tivism or ad­vo­cacy? Not re­ally. I’m not a po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated per­son. I don’t ad­here to a par­tic­u­lar po­lit­i­cal party. I’m prob­a­bly leftof-cen­tre. But I don’t want to get in­volved in ad­vo­cacy. I’m not going to be join­ing any dis­cus­sions about whether it should be le­galised or not. I’m say­ing, it’s fool­ish that our mar­i­juana laws crim­i­nalise peo­ple.

I still don’t un­der­stand why we have mis­han­dled it so badly. The dam­age has been done over the years. Mar­i­juana’s been kept in the dark, and it’s just made things worse. I want it to be de­crim­i­nalised, le­galised, brought into the light, and made small – just an­other part of every­day life. It should be no more than a bot­tle of sherry on a shelf in our lives. There are health is­sues as there are health is­sues with al­co­hol and all of these sorts of things, but only by bring­ing it into the light can we deal with that, while wip­ing out the cur­rent

“I feel I’m ex­pos­ing my­self... I just wish ev­ery­one would come out about it. I’m not going to name any names but there’s a lot of sym­pa­thy for this.”

crim­i­nal in­volve­ment and deal­ing a blow to those gangs. We have a sys­tem at the mo­ment that sup­ports gangs, and I re­ally don’t like it.

It’s so bizarre that we’re so stuffy about weed. I think that we’re afraid of our­selves, on some level. I think there’s some­thing in our psy­che. We are slightly nutty. We drink too much. We’re wilder peo­ple than per­haps we re­alise. So I do think there is a fear the coun­try will go mad. I can’t think of any other rea­son. When you go to the States, where it’s le­gal, you’re not aware of it. You can smell it when you’re ap­proach­ing a shop that sells it, but peo­ple aren’t stag­ger­ing around the streets wav­ing big doo­bies at you.

What was it like to buy weed legally, from a dis­pen­sary? It’s so weird, going into a shop and a young lady comes up to you and says: “Would you like to buy some mar­i­juana?” It was re­ally weird. There were long pauses be­tween their ques­tions and my answers be­cause I couldn’t get my head around it. They’re ask­ing: “Would you like it for recre­ational use? Is it medic­i­nal?” Then they in­tro­duce you to your “bud­ten­der” and she asks you what ef­fects you’re look­ing for.

This book has a tinge of “Baby Boomers Break­ing Bad”. Is that a trope you wanted to avoid or play up? I felt there was some­thing to be said in that area. Just be­cause you’re older, doesn’t mean you’re not still a lit­tle bit wild. It should be part of the fun of get­ting older – that you can still be wild. We were the wildest generation. We over­did it and we were selfish and stupid in lots of ways, but we do know how to have fun. So I hope I in­spire some other Baby Boomers to get a car and hit the road. With a sen­si­ble driver.

You take a road trip in The High Road, as you did in Going South, only that time it was with jour­nal­ist Gor­don McBride. He was too ill to take this trip,

and he died while you were writ­ing the book, but he’s present as you drive through Amer­ica. I was a bit haunted by him. It was such an ex­pe­ri­ence writ­ing Going South, going through it, and be­ing so close to him in the last two years of his life. I’d never been through that be­fore. My dad died, other peo­ple died, but I wasn’t there ev­ery day. I felt it was my duty to be there with him, and I wanted to do it. When he died, he didn’t leave me. We had talked about this trip, so I guess I took him with me. I hadn’t meant to do that but we had talked about it and he was just in my head. Still is.

He felt dif­fer­ently about mar­i­juana to you. I think Gor­don be­lieved it should be de­crim­i­nalised, at least. Gor­don’s a lot more con­ser­va­tive than me. I did a puff with him over the years but it wasn’t his thing. I did give him some while he was sick, not as part of some act or any­thing. He was in a bad way and I thought, any­thing that helps. I rang him and said: “How’d it work?” And he said: “Worked a treat.” But he never smoked it. He was just try­ing to make me feel bet­ter.

You spoke to a High Court judge who thought it was so­cially ir­re­spon­si­ble to write The High Road. Did it ever feel that way? No. But I’ve been on the fringe of so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity all my life. I spent half my life writ­ing about mu­sic some peo­ple thought was so­cially ir­re­spon­si­ble. I don’t give a stuff. I’m proud of this book. But his com­ments touched a nerve end­ing, for sure. I liked him, I could tell he had seen some things. I guess the con­cern is the age re­stric­tion, be­cause in the States ev­ery­thing is R21, and I don’t think there’s any­thing here with that rating. So an ex­cep­tion would have to be made. It isn’t good for kids. If you could re­write New Zealand’s mar­i­juana laws, what would they look like? I like the idea of very lib­eral medic­i­nal sys­tem, al­lied with the right to grow a lim­ited num­ber of plants; have a lim­ited amount of the stuff, and be able to give a lim­ited amount away. Mean­while buy­ing and sell­ing is re­stricted, and punched up in terms of ret­ri­bu­tion for that. I’m not sure we need to build a tourist in­dus­try off the back of cannabis, but in the States it’s seen as a gold mine. Look at Colorado: $1.3 bil­lion in 2016.

You write about le­gal­i­sa­tion as if it’s an in­evitabil­ity. Do you think that will be in your life­time? I hope so. I think it’ll hap­pen quite soon. I think we have a very con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment at the mo­ment. Bill English is a good bloke – he’s from South­land – but he’s a very con­ser­va­tive Catholic gen­tle­man with very stern views about things. I do think there’s a deathly con­ser­vatism across the coun­try that’s do­ing un­told dam­age.

What does your daugh­ter think of the book? I’ll ask her. Maddy! Are you read­ing my book? Maddy: Right now? No, not right now, but I am. Colin: What do you think? Do you think it’s a crazy thing for your fa­ther to have done?

Maddy: Oh. Um, not re­ally. Just be­cause that’s who you are. I think if you were anyone else it would be odd. But it’s not sur­pris­ing. Colin Hogg talks about his book with Rus­sell Brown at 3pm to­day at the Going West Fes­ti­val, Ti­ti­rangi, Auck­land. See go­ing­west­fest.co.nz.

“It’s so bizarre that we’re so stuffy about weed. I think that we’re afraid of our­selves, on some level.”

In some US states, mar­i­juana is le­gal, and a cul­ture and in­dus­try has de­vel­oped around it – from a cam­paign warn­ing young peo­ple off it to pre­scrip­tion doses, celebrity-en­dorsed para­pher­na­lia and weed-friendly tourist at­trac­tions.

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