Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on the synthetic drugs ban

May 7th, 2014

Now that synthetic cannabis is no longer legal, we can look back at our history with these products and see it as driven by New Zealand’s inability to implement a sensible drugs policy, overall. The legal highs industry was supposed to provide an acceptable alternative to cannabis use – yet it created an influx of more addictive, more psychologically harmful and more pharmacologically unpredictable products.

Last year’s legislative attempt to minimise the harm failed. Given the difficulty of banning the products via a description of their (ever-changing) components, a testing regime has now been created whereby, as Prime Minister John Key explained on Monday, the only products able to pass it will deliver such minimal effects as to be hardly worth the trouble. Once the existing stockpiles run out, the main outcome of the synthetic cannabis experiment will be that inadvertently, New Zealand has created a demand for a new array of drugs that it is now leaving to criminal elements to supply and satisfy, by illegal means. On that black market, there will be competitive advantages for synthetic drugs: reportedly, they cannot be detected either by workplace drug tests or by airport sniffer dogs.

Meanwhile, the far larger problems of our drug policy to do with (a) the lack of sensible policies on cannabis and (b) the government’s reluctance to antagonise the liquor industry lobby by raising the price and restricting the marketing of alcohol to the young, are deliberately being left untouched. For the government, the moral panic over synthetic cannabis has been a useful diversion over a real but relatively minor issue. Along the way, the generational aspect of the conflict has been unpleasant to watch. Drugs used almost exclusively by the young have been banned, by politicians unwilling to take any substantial steps to raise the price of their own drug of choice, or limit its availability. Logically, the outcome of this latest debacle should be that the legalisation of cannabis use and the management of cannabis supply are put back on the table. Unfortunately though, the hysteria whipped up about synthetic cannabis now makes it less likely – not more likely – that our drugs policy will evolve in a rational fashion.

The Lady Vanishes
The quiet, polite incarnation of Justice Minister Judith Collins that we saw in Parliament yesterday (when taken together with her withdrawal from Twitter and her rest & recuperation leave) shows the government’s strategy: Make Judith Disappear. If the government can’t make the Oravida scandal go away immediately, at least it can make its architect as invisible as possible…until the media tires from the lack of fresh stimulus, and shuts down its coverage. From now on, Oravida is to be put on starvation rations.

So it seems that in the Key administration, a Minister can get away with
(a) the diversion of an official, taxpayer-funded trip abroad to the sole financial advantage of a firm in which their spouse has a direct interest
(b) misleading the Prime Minister and Parliament about the nature and circumstances of this favouritism and
(c) earning two large donations to the National Party from Oravida – one before, and one after the official trip to China and the Minister’s apparent intercession on Oravida’s behalf with Chinese border officials.

At the very least, the firms seeking to compete with Oravida in exports to China must be wondering what they have to do – and how much they have to pay – to win similar support from the Key government.


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