I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist, at least when it comes to the New Zealand Government. I know it's hard to avoid the conclusion that there is more than meets the eye to 9/11, and yes there is pretty good evidence that the CIA has been complicit in the trafficking of hard drugs at least since the Vietnam war, but this isn't America. In New Zealand, bungling is often a more likely explanation than corruption.
That's why I have to reject the suggestion that the current crackdown on the cannabis culture is designed to boost organised crime. That may be the result, but I just don't believe it is the intent. Drug policy is highly complex, very political and driven by a great deal of smug self righteousness. A better candidate for frenzied counterproductive activity would be hard to find, hence these latest moves. Someone in Government clearly thinks that we have gone too far. Cannabis use has become common-place. It is widely accepted even by those who do not partake. The police often turn a blind eye, and that staid body the Law Commission, in its own tentative way, has suggested easing criminal penalties for pot. Clearly it is time we were stamped on.
After the shambles of Operation Lime (Operation Lemon?) which busted the Switched On Gardener chain of grow shops, the authorities moved quickly to try to close down the NORML News last week. This has been the mouthpiece of the cannabis law reform movement for twenty years and is likely to be an important rallying point. The magazine is also an astonishing source of scientific information on the latest research findings around cannabis – the stuff that never gets reported in mainstream media. It is an excellent source of legal and political information, and offers a range of harm minimisation techniques for cannabis users. It also provides tips for the home grower, which was the excuse used to send it to the censors. Growing advice is not the primary purpose of the magazine. What is the primary purpose (and growing advice is a part of that) is to inform people about their rights and responsibilities as citizens, to get them active in changing the law and to encourage them to take responsibility for themselves. The Government should be sponsoring it, not attempting to destroy it.
Even if it was a grow magazine, taking it out of circulation would be a huge mistake, unless the objective was to increase gang drug profits and give a boost to the P distribution networks. There is no way that the Government can police the cannabis market out of existence, except perhaps with the most draconian excesses, and even this has not worked in the USA. The problem with policing is that any genuinely successful operation drives down supply, which drives up the price, which creates more incentive for people to get into the business. One way to seriously dent the illegal market, although not destroy it, is for more cannabis users to grow their own. A more effective way is to tax and license its sale. Either way means less money goes to the gangs and fewer cannabis users come into contact with P through the tinny houses. It’s a win / win. Of course it means accepting that responsible adults, for very good reasons, will continue to have a quiet toot when they feel like it, just as they have always done.
The raids on Switched On Gardener have had the opposite effect. I'm sure that the police officers behind the two year stake out thought they were on to something big, at least at the beginning, but by the time they realised that they were wasting their time and our money it was too late. They had to make arrests in order to justify the sunk costs and they have been inflating their results ever since. Deputy Police Commissioner Rob Pope says that the arrests will "break the cornerstone of the illicit cannabis cultivation industry". I just hope for the police's sake that he actually knows that he is talking rubbish. Serious commercial cannabis operators don't buy their gear from Switched On Gardener. Think about it. If you were a large scale commercial grower would you buy your lights there? Any cannabis growers that do buy from there are most likely to be small time personal growers, people who just want to grow for themselves and a few friends so they don't have to buy it from gangs.
Any attempt to clamp down on the cannabis culture is a wasted effort that is doomed to fail. It's part of being Kiwi now. A better idea would be to follow the examples of Holland and Portugal during the Euro 2000 and 2004 football championships. The official tolerance of cannabis use noticeably reduced incidents of violence around the games. Police spokesman Johann Beelan said that cannabis “was part of the conditions which meant everyone had a good time". NORML NZ President Phil Saxby has suggested something similar for the Rugby World Cup next year. Thoughtful, stoned punters instead of loud, drunk and aggressive? What a delightful idea.