It’s two years to the referendum and the weed debate is already insufferable

In a foreshadowing of the excruciating debate to come, FamilyFirst have gone head-to-head with an actual scientist on the issue of marijuana. But there’s an agenda on both sides, writes Don Rowe. 

In one of the many not at all unhinged conversations in our Twitter mentions yesterday, FamilyFirstNZ went head to head with another user over the issue of marijuana in Colorado.

Replying to user @reidwicks, who pointed out that despite being illegal, weed is grown in neighbourhoods all across New Zealand, FamilyFirst argued a change of policy will mean we’ll have weed coming out of our ears, with dealers on every corner, hashtagging #askColoradoresidents for emphasis.

And then, like Beetlejuice himself, a resident of the mountain state appeared. Mike MacFarrin, PhD, is a glaciologist aka science genius at the University of Colorado.

“Since legalization in our state, cannabis isn’t used at higher rates than it was already before,” he wrote. “But now, it’s non-criminalized, regulated, and brings in tax revenue to our school districts, while not attracting drug cartels. You’re welcome.”

“#Fakenews” said FamilyFirst, pointing to their own website. Real news, said MacFarrin, pointing to actual paper of record the Washington Post.

Not to be dissuaded, FamilyFirst doubled down, mistaking the venerable Washington Post for right-wing crackpots the Washington Times in the process:

Of course, this being 2018, MacFarrin went on to question whether FamilyFirst are a Kiev based disinfo machine. Elsewhere FamilyFirst demanded pictures of Twitter users’ gardens. 

The state of Colorado itself, in a report released in October, said actually things have been pretty good. There has been no evidence of an increase of youth usage. In fact, youth marijuana rate was the lowest since 2007/08. The proportion of high school students reporting past 30-day use hasn’t changed in more than a decade. And the proportion of students trying marijuana before age 13 went down from 9.2% to 5.6% from 2015-17. In short, graduation rates are up and drop-out rates are down since 2012.

Meanwhile, over on the Herald this morning, Mike Hosking is again at odds with reality, decrying the actually very good policy pivot that will see drug use treated as a health issue rather than a criminal one in New Zealand.

“The level of stupidity and naivety in that is gob smacking,” he said, in the face of all common sense and proven good practice.

“If we’re happy to have kids turned into zombies from a bit much dope, why on earth do we complain about the cost of diabetes treatment, or fat kids, or liver cancer.”

Really makes you think, doesn’t it?

And yet. On the other side of the debate, Pharma-bros Helius Therapeutics have taken out titanic billboards across the country as they look to continue their campaign of fixing weed’s PR problem. Curiously, they are yet to finish their sprawling Auckland facilities, and openly admit they have no inventory either.

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“We have no products to sell right now, but it is our responsibility to use the resources we have to provide education,”  said executive director Paul Manning. “Cannabis needs a rebrand.”

There is absolutely no doubt that Helius Therapeutics wish to be to weed what Glad Wrap is to cling film. And they’re not alone. This week I received no less than three different press releases for medicinal cannabis companies. Start-up weed, East Coast weed, sustainable crowdfunded weed grown by a lake with hydropower – a hugely profitable market is in play, and serious money is being spent on positioning and messaging. It is naive to think this is about altruism – should a recreational market emerge, whoever captures it will make a shitload of money. Companies including Helius are already lobbying government for a say in the way regulations are written. 

As we careen towards the 2020 referendum, it is imperative New Zealanders stay informed and sceptical. If this hell planet makes it that far, we will have been subject to more than a year of impassioned debate and influence, with mountains of cash burned in an effort to sway voters one way or the other. There are legitimate concerns about who you should trust, but it pays to lean towards the people who have done the research.

Crying fake news, arguing with scientists and moaning about proven policy is being clueless, not careful.


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