Now that the New Zealand Parliament has officially apologised to Kiwis convicted of historic homosexuality offences, the day when they apologise to medicinal cannabis users draws ever closer. So in much the same way that there are calls for gay men convicted for homosexuality offences to be compensated, there will also be calls for people convicted of medicinal cannabis offences to be compensated.
This isn’t necessarily a brand new idea – Article D of the twenty-six point plan in the Cannabis Activist’s Handbook calls for compensation on the grounds that a criminal record for a medicinal cannabis offence severely impacts the sufferer’s social and financial standing.
It’s easy for most to agree that a person’s rights to cultivate a herbal medicine are in the same category as their rights to have sex with another man. There is no good reason to sic the Police on people who do either, because neither action causes harm to anyone else.
And so it’s straightforward to accept that there is a genuine case for compensation for harm done to the victims of the Police and Justice systems. After all, putting someone in a cage for an action that harms no-one is itself a crime.
There are life-long consequences to getting a criminal conviction, such as extreme difficulty in finding a job, getting a loan or being accepted to an academic course. The financial losses to these three consequences alone might add up to half a million dollars or more over the course of a lifetime.
So most of us can accept that it’s fair that the Government pays money to put right the damage that it caused to its own people by effectively conducting a war on them without their consent.
If a person wants to make the argument that compensation should be denied because the offences were technically crimes at the time they were committed, they ought to ask themselves if they would be happy with a criminal conviction for reading this VJM Publishing article in a dystopic future where websites without state approval were considered pirate media.
Because it’s very easy to dismiss the psychological damage caused by arbitrary misapplications of judicial power when it doesn’t happen to oneself.
What ought to happen is, first, that it be written into the New Zealand Bill of Rights that actions that do not have victims cannot be crimes. This will not only entrench the legality of both homosexual activity and medicinal cannabis use, but it will also make it impossible for any future offence in this category (i.e. victimless ones) to be pushed into law.
What needs to happen, second, is that a commission is put together to calculate – using the same evidence-based methodology that is being pushed by some with regards to cannabis law reform – an accurate dollar figure corresponding to the amount of suffering caused by being persecuted by this law.
Possibly the fairest way would be to declare a set sum of compensation per conviction and per day in jail if there was a custodial sentence.
For example, we might say that the amount of personal damage inflicted on a person by giving them a criminal conviction was equal to $25,000, with a further $250 for each day spent in prison.
And third we need to decide if we’re actually going to pay this compensation or if we’re going to just say “Fuck ’em”.