Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Referendum Approach To Cannabis Law Reform - An Idea Whose Time Has Come

A #Reeferendum represents the best way forward for cannabis law reform at this point in time. We should therefore all be pleased that it's no longer just New Zealand First advocating on behalf of one. Thank you Helen Kelly for helping to lend legitimacy to the Reformist side of this debate.

But why a referendum? Why not go with the tried and tested previous approaches of Private Members' Bills or voting for the Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party?

Because, frankly put, these simply don't work.

It's arguably something of a travesty that the ALCP at the last Election scored nearly double the support of the "party" which brought us legalized synthetic cannabis, yet doesn't similarly possess a seat in Parliament with which to advance its cause. But that's the electoral system for you.

Meanwhile, there's a lack of serious political will on the part of our MPs to get even the best-thought-through legalization, decriminalization, or medicinal marijuana bill over the line.

To be fair, both the Parliamentary climate and broader political terrain are changing. No doubt inspired by successful US experiments in this area, popular support for the reform of cannabis laws continues to wax strong. MPs and Party Spokespeople have responded to this trend, and are softening (or strengthening, depending on side) their languageor even actively campaigning on the issue.

But we have some ways to go before enough MPs are prepared to get up, stand up, and be counted with their votes to change the law.

Opting for a referendum instead, however, represents something of a 'softer' option. Putting forward a Private Member's Bill to give effect to or enact a referendum is viewed in a rather different light to acting directly to change the law.

After all, it's merely giving effect to the pre-standing Will of the People on the issue.

And popular opinion seems to be fairly squarely on the side of law reform.

This is particularly the case in the wake of the synthetic cannabinoid "dairy dak" debacle, which not only demonstrated that legitimate selling of drugs is within the realms of possibility (and, for that matter, that it's something the government's quite prepared to countenance) - but more importantly conclusively demonstrated to many New Zealanders that the continued illegality of regular weed is allowing far more damaging trades to flourish.

Numerous examples from the United States and further afield have also proven time and time again that successful drug law reform isn't just a pipe-dream, but instead a viable - even desirable - way forward.

The trouble is, in the absence of a mechanism to turn popular will into political reality, the feelings and opinions of the electorate on this matter remain impotent.

They're roadblocked by the seeming fear many politicians have of being seen to make a change.

A referendum is therefore the logical way forward, as once enacted it removes politicians from the process by allowing us to go around them in order to get our voices heard.

We finally get to have our say.

It's also the mechanism by which a number of US states successfully secured their own pathways to cannabis law reform both last year and earlier, proving (albeit in a number of foreign contexts) its efficacy as a change-vector for this issue.

Now to be fair, there are a number of potential issues and obstacles with pursuing this avenue to law-change here in New Zealand.

First and foremost is finding an MP or MPs prepared to stump up and sign their names to a Private Members' Bill. It doesn't matter whether the referendum process used is the Citizens Initiated Referendum one or a Parliamentary-initiated binding proposal. If we want our result to count like the Flag Referendum rather than being ignored like the Asset Sales Referendum, we need an enactment of Parliament to make it so.

And while I have no doubt whatsoever that there are more than a few MPs in Parliament right now who'd be prepared to support a cannabis referendum bill once it was already submitted, I regrettably suspect that there might be some difficulty to be had in finding an errant MP brave enough to sign their name to and put forward the bill in question.

The next obstacle will be ensuring sufficient MP support for the putative bill to make it through Parliament.

Assuming no abstentions (which reduce the numbers necessary for victory), this requires 61 votes.

This is a tall order, but not necessarily an insurmountable one. A clear and decisive majority of Parliamentarians, after all, voted for the Psychoactive Substances Act and its commitment to nominally evidence-based drug policy last term, while the number of staunch 'moral conservatives' in both National and Labour appears to have decreased somewhat in the interim.

So the obvious question is: "where to from here?"

At the moment, Concerned Citizens and cannabis crusaders need to be asking the strategic political questions.

What MPs to target for lobbying? What arguments to use in swaying swinging Parliamentarian consciences - and more importantly, the predominantly greying voters said politicians seem inordinately to listen to.

How, in a nutshell, do we turn the sadly extant quagmire of political intransigence on this issue into resolute and galvanized popular/parliamentary political action.

Because ultimately - whether you support a broader use of medicinal cannabis, less restrictive decriminalization, or full-blown legalization ... this is an idea whose time has come. And who can argue against the greater use of the fruits of democracy.

With the tool of the #Reeferendum, we finally have the ability to make meaningful progress on this issue.

Let's make the best possible use of this opportunity.

No comments:

Post a Comment