On Wednesday this week, Mike Hosking invited Chloe Swarbrick on to his Newstalk ZB radio show to talk about the cannabis referendum. He introduced her as "part of the pro-pot brigade", to which she quickly retorted, "I am in the sensible regulation brigade." Touch, pause, engage.
It was an entirely predictable encounter. Mike Hosking and Chloe Swarbrick are polar opposites. If he is down, she is up. There's likely very little they'd agree upon – not necessarily because one is wrong and the other is right (though on the issue of cannabis law reform, I'd argue – from a solid base of scientific evidence – that Hosking is wrong and Swarbrick is right) but because they view the world from entirely different angles.
Which is all fine and good. The world would be a boring place if we all agreed. Hosking and Swarbrick clashing on the radio is nothing new, but the dismissive language used to brush Swarbrick off gave me pause. Mike Hosking is far from the only man of his age and stage to dismiss a young woman he disagrees with as "naive", but the tactic does little to encourage robust and intellectually rigorous debate.
"Come back to me when you're 54 and have lived a bit of life and understand, and have been through a bit and know what you're talking about," Hosking told Swarbrick. "With the greatest of respect, at the age of 24 or 25, you're naive. You don't have kids, haven't raised a family, don't know what teenagers get up to," he added, missing the point that at "24 or 25", Swarbrick likely has a better idea of "what teenagers get up to" than Hosking at age 54, given she was one a mere five years ago.
Naive, silly, wide-eyed, little, gullible… there are plenty of words perfectly crafted to belittle young women who dare to voice an opinion. I've heard most of them. I'm saddled with at least one of them on a weekly basis. To be honest, I've been called worse by better. It doesn't stop me from rolling my eyes when I witness a young woman being belittled due to her age when she's voiced a dissenting view, however. It's tedious. And frustrating.
Cannabis regulation may always have been one of those issues that divided people along generational lines, but it's such an important discussion that it deserves a better standard of public discourse than branding people either young and naive or old and stale. Countless studies tell us that people both young and old have tried and use cannabis, whether for recreation, to aid sleep or for pain relief. If those in Hosking's age bracket were honest with themselves, they'd acknowledge that cannabis use is so widespread that there are likely people in their immediate circles who may have found themselves on the wrong side of the law had they been unfortunate enough to be caught.
I know people of all ages (and political persuasions) who have either tried or still use cannabis. Particularly among groups of upwardly mobile, urban, high-earning professionals, Cannabis use is seen as so mild and minor it barely warrants a raised eyebrow. It's in other strata of society that cannabis causes the most harm – and the status quo, under which cannabis use and production remains a crime, has done little to deter those vulnerable people from getting involved in cannabis, and has made it difficult for them to seek help.
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Regulation would change that. The public health model that the Government has proposed would improve quality and reliability of products, cut out the black market, make it easier for people to seek help, and may even reduce the supply of cannabis. Cannabis, like alcohol, may have harmful side effects for some people, but shutting down discussion by invalidating the opinions of whole groups of the population won't allow for reasonable debate on the best ways to reduce harm.
And then there's the disqualification of non-parents from any debate even tangentially related to children and young people. Never mind younger brothers and sisters, stepchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins, students, friends' children, godchildren and the like; if you haven't personally been involved in spawning and/or raising a child, your view is rendered irrelevant and obsolete.
I shouldn't have to point out that many parents actually have no idea what their children are getting up to. Though I'll be dropping myself in hot water here, as my parents sometimes read my column, I can remember things I did as a teenager that my parents never found out about. And won't ever find out about, in case you're reading, Mum.
The debate around cannabis law reform will affect many New Zealanders, whether they're for or against regulation. Given the widespread impact of the legislation surrounding drug use, surely every viewpoint should be given a fair hearing in the court of public opinion.
Whether you're 24 or 54, your viewpoint on drug legislation is equally valid. There are plenty of 24-year-olds who have never touched cannabis and plenty of 54-year-olds with regular cannabis habits. That's the funny thing about democracy – adults of all different ages, with differing viewpoints, politics and lived experiences will all get an equal say in the referendum.