This summer the Chronicle is bringing you another look at some of the best content of 2019. This story originally ran on January 08, 2019

The announcement by the Government that it would hold a referendum in 2020 on both the legalisation of cannabis and the End of Life Choice bill was, I felt, a mixed blessing.

On the one hand this apparent faith in the pure democracy of giving the people choice in how they live their lives, what adults take in their bodies or their ultimate expressions of dignity at its ending, represents a step back from the arrogance of intrusion into personal privacy. Long in coming, it feels as if reason might have come back to the legislative chamber.

The downside, given the recognition that our representatives are too fearful for their own electoral chances to take a stand in these controversial issues, is that we can expect that subtle and not-so-subtle disinformation from opponents to legalisation and/or the ELOC will more and more emerge as the time for voting approaches.


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We've already had evidence of the scaremongering by the far right clique as the original ELOC bill went to Select Committee. Legalising cannabis may give that same crowd a field day for trolling us.

In the US state of New York, following the December 18 announcement by Governor Andrew Cuomo that he plans to propose legislation legalising cannabis in 2019, opponents began to campaign almost immediately. Beginning on December 26, three articles have appeared in the New York Times, the paper of influence, declaiming some negative aspects of cannabis, each successively more tendentious.

First was a story claiming California residents in Sonoma objected to the smell of growing marijuana plants. Next was a purported evaluation of CBD (Cannabidiol), a derivative of cannabis with no psychoactive properties, reportedly beneficial as an ointment for joint pain.

The writer, a professor of psychopharmacology, claims CBD is a placebo. He did acknowledge that US government restrictions on marijuana research meant there were very few studies. The professor's own potential conflict of interest was not addressed.

This week an ex-reporter turned CIA spy novelist wrote an op-ed on the "untold dangers" of legalisation that seemed straight out of Reefer Madness. One of his more flagrant distortions was the claim that cannabis use leads to opioid abuse, when the opposite is true.

Three major public health studies, one funded by the Pentagon, show that the death rate from opioids (a measure of prevalence), declined by 25 per cent in those states that legalised medicinal cannabis. This suggests that people who used cannabis were less likely to turn to opioids.

The trend is clear. We can expect this stuff here as voting time draws near. Unlike the debate over vaping, which was conducted in whispers, opponents like our local MP, Harete Hipango, will be increasingly heard, demanding delay until further studies of cannabis' safety can be done.


They know such studies can't be done while cannabis is illegal.
My position is that justice delayed is justice denied. That's why I'm with Chester Borrows on this one.

If only one single good result could come from legalisation, it would be the one expressed by Chester Borrows. Borrows, our former MP, now free from the toxic vapours of the Beehive, but with decades of experience as a cop, a lawyer, and as Minister of the Courts, has changed his outlook on cannabis.

Previously, like many in the National Party he was a "law and order" guy. Now "I have become convinced that the unlawfulness of smoking cannabis creates far more evil than it prevents."

The evil that Borrows references is the social destructiveness imposed by the criminalisation of cannabis, its waste of police resources on essentially victimless crimes, its application of the laws in a manner reflective of institutional bias on the basis of money and race — the poor and darker-skinned people are more likely apprehended and more likely punished — and the damage to families losing fathers and mothers to prison.

Then there's the cost to taxpayers of $108,000 per annum per prisoner.

If one referendum could end this evil, it would be virtue indeed.

Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.