Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Sparking up

Over at indymedia, Norml National President Chris Fowlie has replied to the post I made recently about the fight against Kiwi drug laws:

um, where exactly did we say that? You're putting words in our mouths. We don't kidd ourselves that merely smoking a joint will end prohibition. NZ has the highest joint-smoking rate in the world so if that were true the law would have changed years ago. J Day is a day of protest and civil disobedience. Supporters can make their feelings known, become informed and get active. It's a day where people who would otherwise be secretive and paranoid realise they are not alone, can become empowered and hopefully take further action.

I agree that Venezuela does have perhaps one of the best laws around, but because it is not English speaking nor Western it's domestic policies will have little influence here in New Zealand. Sad but true.

You have made some good points and sparked some internal discussion of our strategies, which is always good.

I disagree with your assessment, however, of how "little" has been acheieved here, and with how much influence the US has on our policies. For a start, cannabis arrests have dropped by more than 10% in each of the past 4 years. In part this is a result of NORML's work educating people about their civil rights, and in part it shows the public taste for arresting drug users is waning. We came *very* close to changing the law in 2001-3, and anyone who followed that inquiry knows that in the end politics overrode the evidence but that is hardly NORML's fault.

I also take issue with your assertion that Marc Ellis was "crucified"; if anything the opposite occured. He is still on TV, still has his endorsements and sponsorships and is stills the lovable rogue.

You also overstated the influence of the P hikoi, which was poorly attended and hardly represented any sort of ground swell against drug users.

I don't think the US has had *any* influence over Labour's decision to go into coalition with Peter Dunne. This is purely domestic politics and unfortunately cannabis laws are not as important to Clark et al as being in power. They can get votes from the Greens whenever they want - a consequence of the Greens painting themselves as more left than Labour. It was more important to Labour to pick up the centrist votes of NZ First and United Future, thereby shifting the coalition government further to the centre/right with the aim of picking up the votes that had migrated to National so specatacularly last election.

I also have to disagree that ending prohibition is exclusively the domain of the left. Right-wingers tend to suppport individual rights, the freedom to choose, freedom of beliefs, right to privacy etc. These values are consistant with drug law reform and we would be naive and simplistic to ignore this side of the political spectrum. Having said that, it is true that most of our support has come from the left, the disadvantaged and the marginalised. I think this has more to with the repressing effect of drug criminalisation, in that people who work or have families or reputations they care about will be less likely to out themselves by coming to J Day or being involved at all. Those with less to lose, such as the young (and rebellious), students, etc, will be more open to getting involved. This creates a difficult situation, whereby the power elite excuse themselves from the debate, leaving it up to hippies, lefties and students, who tend to have the least influence in society. This is the real reason so "little" has been acheived.


Chris Fowlie
National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) NZ Inc.

Here's the reply I made to Fowlie on indymedia:

Hi Chris,

the phrase I quoted came from the message under the Norml poster for J Day that appeared on indymedia last week.

I agree with you that there are right-wingers who would like to see the drug laws changed - right-wingers smoke pot too, after all! Of course it would be silly to try to exclude right-wingers from Norml and from Norml protests. But having a few ordinary right-wing supporters does not mean that you have a chance of winning the right-wing parties to the cause of drug law reform.

Even if, say, Rodney Hide, agrees in principle with the decriminalisation of marijuana, the desire of his party to improve relations with the US will always over-ride the desire to reform drug laws. Act was prepared to junk its nuclear free policy and support the invasion of Iraq in an effort to suck up to the US - it is hardly going to draw the line at pot prohibition.

National and Labour are also desperate to suck up to the US and win a 'free' trade deal. This Labour government has already antagonised the Bush administration by maintaining the ban on nuke ships and siding with 'Old Europe' over Iraq; it is not going to risk angering the Americans over the relatively trivial issue of drugs.

Of course the US didn't pressure Labour into taking Peter Dunne rather than the Greens as a coalition partner. But Dunne is not the reason for Labour's lack of interest in drug law reform, and even a Greens-Labour government would be silent on the issue. The Greens recognise that the reform of drug laws is off the agenda: in recent years they have been playing down their advocacy of reform, and they failed to make it a bottom line demand for any coalition deal with Labour.

The real bottom line is that drug law reform can only come if New Zealand breaks out of the economic and diplomatic orbit of the US, in the way that Venezuela has done in recent years. But such a break from imperialism can only occur if there is radical change in New Zealand society, change that makes us economically independent of the US. That's why Norml should support the campaigns of the left, like the movement against the War of Terror and the occupation of Iraq, the movement to shut down US bases in New Zealand, the movement against a 'free' trade deal with the US, and the fight by unions like the Service and Food Workers and Unite against the exploitation of Kiwi workers by US multinationals. To put it bluntly, Norml members should become anti-imperialists and socialists.



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