Legalisation sends the wrong message
After the dilemma of choosing a government for the hard years ahead and voting no to assisted suicide, it will be almost fun to turn to something as frivolous as cannabis.
I will probably vote no because the criminal law sends the clearest possible health message without being rigorously enforced. Legalisation sends completely the wrong message, as we saw with party drugs a few years ago.
When you legalise something you own it — and you pay for the problems.
If drug users are harmed it is selfinflicted harm. I can think of about 100 more worthy calls on my compassion and my taxation.
But worse than criminalisation or legalisation would be a law that is neither one nor the other, that pretends to be legalisation while attempting to restrict a drug more effectively than the criminal law has done.
It implies social approval of the substance while trying to keep it in check.
Part of me hopes this referendum supports the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill because it would be amusing to watch Labour and the Greens trying to fight market forces. They would fail and it wouldn’t matter very much, it’s only cannabis.
Maybe they would learn a lesson that would improve their approach to alcohol and tobacco. Many people wonder why we are being invited to legalise a plant for smoking when we are urged to be smoke- free by 2025.
The reason is that cannabis offers left- wing politicians and public health professionals a blank canvas for their regulatory designs.
The bill being put to the referendum runs to 150 pages of breathtaking defiance of the laws of supply and demand. The legal market for cannabis would be ruled not by consumers, but by a commissariat to be called the Cannabis Regulatory Authority.
It would set an annual cap on the quantity of cannabis permitted to be commercially cultivated. Then it would allocate a quota to each licensed producer. None would be given more than 20 per cent of the total. These legislators hate and fear big business.
They don’t much like profitable business either. Section 88( a) of the bill commands the authority to “prioritise not- for- profit applicants ( for licences) that can demonstrate a commitment to delivering social benefit to the community”.
They sound like liquor trusts that are given a local monopoly and largely internalise their profits.
The authority would award licences for every conceivable activity associated with cannabis at every point in the production chain. It would not be able to give an operation a licence to be both a wholesaler and retailer.
Retail outlets could be dedicated shops or licensed for consumption on site, a cannabis “cafe” that could not sell alcohol as well.
The number and location of outlets would be decided by the authority, which “may” consult residents and groups in the locality. The outlets would not be allowed to draw attention to themselves with signage that gave any hint of their purpose. No pretty leaf on their frontage. They could not advertise their product in any way and must keep it out of sight.
It all begins to sound like the regime that moved party drugs off the counters of novelty stores and confined them to a strictly limited number of licensed outlets.
Surely the regulators remember what happened?
The outlets, allowed no point- ofsale advertising, became dingy, nondescript dives where furtive, hooded youths were coming and going throughout the day. The blight on the community was fiercely resented and the outcry was soon on television, along with the anguish of parents who could suddenly blame the Government for the plight of their offspring who had been popping those pills for years.
You legalise a drug, you own it.
Since legal sales of cannabis would be limited to people over 20, who could buy no more than 14 grams a day, its potency would be controlled and its price would contain tax and levies to pay for its regulation, there would still be a black market.
On potency, the bill contains a curious directive for the authority to “have regard to reducing problematic use of cannabis or cannabis products, especially for Maori”.
And on pricing, the bill says tax can be used to maintain a price if it “drops below the level consistent with the purpose of this act, owing to an oversupply of cannabis or the availability of less expensive cannabis”. Bet on it.
For a long time the case for legalisation was made by cheerful chaps in dreadlocks and beanies who reckoned their drug was fairly harmless. Then the campaign was taken over by the public health industry who told us it was by no means harmless.
The doctors are right, but I miss those characters in dreadlocks and beanies. They weren’t asking for therapy, they just wanted a smoke.