EDITORIAL

It's not surprising that the views of an American anti-cannabis lobby group - and Christian to boot! - are not welcomed here by some as we prepare to decide whether cannabis should be legalised.

This is the natural order of things these days. Those who have firm views one way or the other can be relied upon to publicly abhor any outside interference, but surely there's a gaping double standard here.

Justice Minister Andrew Little, who has less trouble than most in reaching a state of incandescence, was particularly aggrieved last week when an American outfit had the temerity to stick its beak in, suggesting that we should not vote for legalisation.

He went as far as to label SAM (Sense About Marijuana's) contribution to the debate as interfering in another country's electoral process, which it wasn't, and made it very clear that they should bugger off.

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How different his reaction would have been had an outfit called, say, Americans for Legalising Marijuana, had piped up, recommending that we vote in favour of legalisation. Would he then have been quite so precious about the sanctity of New Zealand politics? Not likely. Dollars to doughnuts he would have been pointing to ALM as the voice of reason, an organisation well worth listening to.

We're going to hear a lot of rubbish between now and September 19, and amongst that rubbish will almost certainly be more facts and figures than you can poke a stick at regarding the experience of other countries that have legalised cannabis.

We will be told that crime rates have fallen, that gangs have gone out of business, that road crashes have reduced, that millions upon millions of whatever the local currency might be have been generated in taxes.

It is inconceivable inconceivable we will navigate the pre-referendum weeks without being bombarded with foreign information. Photo / File
It is inconceivable inconceivable we will navigate the pre-referendum weeks without being bombarded with foreign information. Photo / File

We will be told that those countries have legalised cannabis and the sky has not fallen. Nor will it fall here.

It is utterly inconceivable that we will navigate the pre-referendum weeks without being bombarded with foreign information designed to encourage us to follow suit. Will that be interfering in our electoral system? Some might think so, but you won't hear Andrew Little saying it.

But that's the way of the world these days, isn't it? If someone agrees with our point of view they are invariably sound of mind with a valuable contribution to make, and should be heeded. If they disagree they are labelled as anything from misguided to malevolent, and whatever end of that spectrum they might be occupying, whoever disagrees with them will say they have no right to interfere.

It's not unlike the phenomenon that is displayed on a daily basis, and not just here, where those who demand tolerance for their religion, their lifestyle, whatever, can be counted upon to display no tolerance whatsoever for those with opposing views.

This becomes more marked the further left one looks. Some might not have noticed, but conservatives generally tend to be more tolerant than the more liberal among them.

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Perhaps that's why the reaction to the Drug Foundation's outrageous campaign designed to persuade us to vote in favour of legalising cannabis was relatively mute.

We can guess how Andrew Little feels about the foundation's bid to shore up support for the referendum, because he doesn't seem to have felt the need to comment. Why would he? It's pushing the same views that he obviously believes in, and he is, after all, clearly less interested in those who have to make up their minds being spared any kind of brainwashing than he is in getting this particular baby over the line.

The Drug Foundation's advertising has offended some, however, in large part over the perception that it deliberately confuses the issue of legalising cannabis for recreational use with access to medicinal cannabis. That was considered by the Advertising Standards Authority, which, the foundation was not slow to point out, found that the ads passed scrutiny, and could continue to be broadcast.

What it didn't tell us was that the ASA had rejected the complaints via a split decision. We don't know how wide the split was because the ASA won't tell us. That's not the way it operates, apparently. The US Supreme Court does, but not the New Zealand ASA. The vote to reject the complaints might have been 5-4, or it might have been 8-1. Whatever it was, those who were affronted by the advertisement can take some comfort that at least one, possibly four, of those whose job it is to ensure advertising meets a high ethical standard agreed with them.

Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, some comic relief has been provided by the Ministry of Justice, whose role in the cannabis and euthanasia referenda, at this early stage at least, was the relatively uncomplicated (one would have thought) task of printing 'voter communications,' a fancy term for brochures.

This didn't turn out to be as simple as the uninitiated might have expected. In some copies of the End of Life Choice brochure, which will be included in the enrolment packs that will be sent to voters, one of the answers to the question 'Do you support the End of Life Choice Act 2019 coming into force?' was printed bold. It was not like the others. That, the ministry decided, very wisely, could have been interpreted by some as giving a not especially nudge towards answering in a particular way.

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So the brochures are to be reprinted, which it seems has had "an impact" on the Electoral Commission's enrolment update campaign. It seems that the dodgy brochures were part of the ministry's print run in Auckland, but had been sent to various sites, where they were packed together with other material, including the cannabis referendum brochure, ready to be mailed.

Given that it wasn't feasible to identify with certainty where the affected brochures were, so they could be "extracted" and replaced, it was decided to destroy all 2.5 million collated enrolment update packs, and the other three million referendum brochures, to prevent any affected material potentially distracting voters in their decision-making.

"Having one of the answers to the referendum question highlighted bold could unduly influence a voter one way or the other," Secretary for Justice Andrew Kibblewhite said. Indeed it could. And what a mess that would have been, especially if the majority vote had supported the bold option.

There would have had to be a second vote, and we would have had to go through all the argey bargey once again, probably for another three years.

How this happened we don't know, but surely we would have been told if it was a plot on the part of some overseas faction hoping to sway the vote. Someone like Bolivia Reckons Euthanasia Works.

That would be an unabashed attempt to interfere in our electoral system, and we can be sure that Andrew Little would have alerted us to that, if it was true.

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