Going up in smoke?

So, Don Brash has come out in favour of the decriminalisation of cannabis. I haven’t had time to post about this earlier, so by now most things that can be said about it have been said by others. But I’ll add my two cents anyway.

Brash apparently didn’t coordinate his musing on the subject with the rest of the party, which has been the source of some mirth. It’s a bizarre situation. As Eric Crampton and Peter Cresswell have pointed out, ACT’s guiding principles state that “individuals are the rightful owners of their own lives and therefore have inherent rights and responsibilities” and “the proper purpose of government is to protect such rights and not to assume such responsibilities”. What could be more in line with those principles than ceasing and desisting from criminalising individuals for imbibing a substance that hurts no-one but themselves. But the party’s ticket back into Parliament, and the party’s president evidently fell over themselves in their rush to contradict their leader.

Lindsay Mitchell and Eric Crampton have pointed out that the informal polls show a high level of support for decriminalisation. And most of what I’ve been reading over the last couple of days indicates a high level of support amongst the blogging community.

Moreover, there’s a strong case to be made from a policy perspective. The Economist, hardly a lunatic fringe publication, have long been in favour of full legalisation as “the least bad option”.

So, the leader of ACT “the Liberal Party”, announces that he thinks he might endorse a policy which recognises that individuals are the owners of their own lives, and which probably has the potential to win broad support at a time when they’re polling below the margin of error, and is probably good policy. And the party president doesn’t even pause for breath before announcing that it’ll never be party policy.

All of this makes ACT look totally amateurish. But it doesn’t seem to have dented their stocks on iPredict, which is interesting. If anything they’re trading higher than they were beforehand.

Certainly it’s gotten ACT and Brash a lot more press than they have been getting, and perhaps when you’re polling at 1% or 2% there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

On the other hand, it has been pointed out that the minor party votes on iPredict can be quite cheaply manipulated (I think it was Eric Crampton who did the math on that, but I can’t find the post) and so the fact that iPredict has ACT on 5% may mean almost nothing. And others (including Eric) are predicting that this latest debacle may well spell doom for ACT. It would be a shame if this episode ended up taking this issue of the table for another decade or more. It’s an idea that deserves serious debate.


5 comments on “Going up in smoke?

  1. I don’t fully trust the VS market. But for ACT, you can look at the Epsom contracts and the contract on one ACT MP returning to Parliament. The last one at least hasn’t moved. You’re definitely right to look to that contract as a measure of whether this is hurting ACT.

    A good chunk of ACT’s activists though are liberal, not conservative. And the party president essentially has told them to piss off. That combined with Banks holding the anchor spot…

    I’m shorting ACT at current prices, but not taking any big stake on it. ACT still better than even to get back in this time around. But the conservative side of the party, previously just ascendant, now is happy to spit on the liberals by ruling out even the possibility of policy change. And so they’re most likely to wind up a conservative market-oriented rump to National of little potential consequence.

  2. Adolf Fiinkensein says:

    The real issue here is Dr Brash’s inept leadership He simply doesn’t know how to ‘lead.’

    One has the impression he thinks he ‘owns’ the party and can just make up policy on a whim. He is the epitomy of the political dork.

    My prediction is he will be ‘given the arse’ quick smart on or about November 27th.

    And hey! Welcome to the blogosphere.

  3. Act leader Don Brash wants to decriminalise cannabis. On TVNZ’s Q+A programme this week he said: “Thousands of New Zealanders use cannabis on a fairly regular basis, 6,000 are prosecuted every year, and a $100 million of tax payers’ money is spent to police this law. The Law Commission says (prohibition) isn’t working and the Global Commission on Drug Policy says it isn’t working”.

    Brash understated it. Over 400,000 Kiwis smoke cannabis, 100,000 every day. The number of prosecutions for cannabis offences is rising and in 2008, there were 9,500 convictions. Enforcement and social costs have gone up accordingly. In 2001, the black market for cannabis in New Zealand was estimated at $190 million; in 2006 the social costs, which includes the cost of police, the courts and Corrections to enforce cannabis laws, were estimated at $430 million. This is a massive waste of money.

    Brash’s willingness to face this issue is rare among politicians. Most MPs ignore the research and continue to support the war on drugs. Portugal is one of the few countries where common sense has prevailed. In 2001, the Portuguese decriminalised all drugs including heroin and methamphetamine. Instead of punishing users, the new laws pushed them into treatment.
    As a result, Portugal now has the lowest rates of marijuana use in the European Union. Hard drug use declined and the number of people getting into treatment doubled. At the same time there’s also been a fall in levels of petty crime associated with addicts stealing to buy drugs, and a drop in HIV among IV drug users. The results have been truly remarkable – decriminalisation works.

    There are a number of studies which suggest that the regulated decriminalisation of drugs also has major benefits for taxpayers, victims of crime, the safety of local communities and the criminal justice system. In 2009 a British study found that if drugs were decriminalised there, a legalised, regulated market could save Britain around £14 billion a year.

    A US study came to a similar conclusion. Harvard University economist Dr Jeffrey Miron found that decriminalising cannabis would save the government $7.7 billion. If it were regulated and taxed as well, the revenue could be as much as $6.2 billion a year – making a net economic gain of about $14 billion a year. Dr Miron’s paper, The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition, was endorsed by over 500 economists.

    These studies suggest that the financial gain from regulating the sale of cannabis is roughly twice what is spent on enforcement. So if enforcing cannabis laws in New Zealand costs between $200 and $430 million (which isn’t entirely clear from the available data), this would be the minimum saving to the taxpayer. If it was regulated and taxed, the net benefit would be $400 to $860 million.
    If National was also brave enough to implement the Law Commission’s recommendation to raise levies on alcohol, that would inject another $350 million into the coffers. In other words, there’s nearly $1 billion dollars waiting in the wings for any government with the courage to adopt evidenced-based solutions to alcohol and drug policy.

    The addiction sector is grossly under funded. Roger Brooking argues in Flying Blind that 80% of crime occurs under the influence of alcohol and drugs affecting over 80,000 offenders; altogether, crime costs New Zealand over $12 billion a year. But Government provides only $100 million to the treatment sector enabling only 30,000 people a year to attend.

    So another couple of hundred million from the deregulation of cannabis would help. So would additional levies on alcohol. The increased funding could even be used to address the ‘drivers of crime’ and provide half-way houses for ex-prisoners needing support in the community. Brooking argues that the lack of housing and support currently available to ex-prisoners is a major factor contributing to relapse to drug and alcohol abuse.

    In other words – the money is readily available. It’s just that most politicians are so wrapped up in their punitive strait-jackets, they’re too afraid to use evidence- based policy to grab it. Instead the money goes to criminal gangs engaged in drug dealing – and the corporate gangs in the liquor industry.

  4. […] “a policy which recognises that individuals are the owners of their own lives, and which probably has the potential to win broad support at a time when they’re polling below the margin of error” NZ Classic Liberal […]

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