Despite the difficulties caused by the breaking of the news of his affair with Bevan Chuang and the attendant fire storm that erupted mayor Len Brown has kept the Auckland Council functioning during this term and it has come through the disruption reasonably well. If there is one person he can thank it is Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse. She performs a very important function. She has maintained relationships with all of the Councillors, built coalitions on all issues, and has generally kept the Council functioning reasonably well. There has been the occasional act of belligerence by Cameron Brewer and regular episodes of stupidity by Dick Quax but otherwise the business of Council is being done. Len has a lot to thank Penny for.
Interestingly I hear that Brewer is no longer the preferred Super City Mayoral candidate for the centre right and they are considering a woman who is not a current Councillor as their next candidate. And John Palino has popped up again and says that he would have another go. He also still asserts that he knew nothing of the attempted extortion of Len Brown and claims that Brown sympathisers in his camp undermined him. The sense of unreality is strong here.
One particular issue the Council has had to deal with is the sale of synthetic cannabis. Peter Dunne was in the habit of saying that it was a local government issue, whereas the reality was that all councils had been given rather limited tools allowing them to regulate where stores selling synthetic cannabis were located. There has been a growing expectation amongst communities that Local Government should sort the issue out even though its powers are limited.
Peter Dunne’s and the Government’s backflip has created new problems such as stockpiling, dealing with withdrawal and managing the black market that was almost instantly created and this is something that Dunne and the Government need to wear. For political reasons they decided to usurp Labour’s announced policy on the issue and the problems are all theirs to deal with.
There is an organic form of synthetic cannabis that does not have the same psychotic or habit forming qualities of the just banned stuff and my personal belief is that it is high time that this alternative was considered. Yes ladies and gentlemen it is time to have a civilised debate about whether the decriminalisation of good old home grown cannabis should occur.
Penny Hulse said publicly that now is the time for this debate to occur. From the Herald this week:
Auckland Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse says it is time to decriminalise natural cannabis because it is safer than the synthetic versions that were banned last week.
The veteran councillor and former industrial laboratory technician said she had always opposed decriminalisation, but changed her mind after reading scientific papers about the dangers of synthetic cannabis.
Yesterday, she told an Auckland Council committee drawing up a policy on “legal highs” that it made no sense to regulate when synthetic cannabis could be sold without considering safer alternatives.
“I think we need to take a deep breath in this conversation and say, ‘What are we trying to achieve? Are we going to deal with the issue that people are going to make choices to smoke things that get them stoned? Have we been able to stop people doing that?’ Absolutely we haven’t.”
Ms Hulse stressed she was speaking personally and not for the council …
[She] said she was speaking as “someone from a scientific background” with “a deep and abiding passion for science”. She personally loathed cannabis.
“I have two grandchildren. The idea that they would choose to smoke cannabis or any legal highs breaks my heart,” she said.
But toxicologists had shown that natural cannabis contained several compounds with an anti-psychotic effect to balance the psychoactive effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), so it was less dangerous than synthetic products designed to match exactly receptors in the brain.
This is hardly a new proposal and Hulse’s description of the issue is a realistic one. The issue is not whether or not drugs are bad for us, it is whether or not prohibition is working. It may be time for society to treat it as a health issue and not a law and order issue. Prohibition and criminalisation of possession always made me think that our drug laws are the ultimate example of Nanny State.
It is not as if decriminalisation is a radical proposal. Throughout the western world nations and states have been exploring how to deal with issues caused by drug use and decriminalisation is a method that is being used more and more often.
It will be interesting to see how the parties of the left handle this issue during the election campaign. Labour has always been cautious. Its policy platform contains the following passage:
8.29 We will adopt the following evidence-supported measures to protect our communities from crime.
… Recognise that the problem of personal drug use is primarily a health issue and that the criminal justice system, especially prisons, only makes the problem worse. Labour will reform drug policy so it is evidence based and has harm reduction as its focus.
The Greens have always been more supportive of discrimination. Their current policy requires them to “monitor and evaluate the effects of the removal of personal penalties for cannabis use, drug education programmes, drug addiction treatment programmes, and pharmaceutical controls” presumably with a view to lessening harm.
Given the chaotic nature of politics currently and the hunt for headlines that occurs in election years this may be an issue we hear of more this year. But respect to Penny Hulse for bravely speaking her mind on the issue.