After the reign of Graham Capill, Peter Dunne vied with Colin Craig and Nick Smith for the title of “New Zealand Politician Considered Most Likely To Get Sent Down For Kiddy Fiddling”, as Dunne is also a highly narcissistic, sexually repressed, out-of-touch Bible thumper – the prime demographic. But in the cold light of day, not even a dozen Beasts of Blenheim could have done as much damage to Aotearoa New Zealand as Peter Dunne.
This article limits itself to calculating the amount of financial damage Peter Dunne did to New Zealand through his one-man campaign to prevent even the possibility of reform to our expensive, vicious and counterproductive cannabis laws.
After the 2002 General Election, called in the wake of the collapse of the Alliance Party, Labour Leader Helen Clark had three possible options to help her stitch together a Government: New Zealand First, who wanted no immigration; the Greens, who wanted no genetic engineering; and United Future, who wanted no reform on social issues.
In the end it was apparent that big business strongly supported both mass immigration and genetic engineering, so cannabis users and gays and lesbians wishing to marry got thrown under the bus for the $$$$$. Helen Clark signed on the Wormrider’s bottom line for the support of his 8 MPs and the rest is history.
After the 2005 General Election things were slightly different. United Future had less influence on account of voters not being so easily tricked by a television gimmick this time around, so Labour was in a position to try and unfuck the country.
Dunne was able to get a cabinet position, cementing his reputation as “Hemhorroid of the House” by resisting all progress.
He continued to oppose progress on social issues by voting against the Civil Unions Bill, a half-arsed attempt at a gay marriage bill sold as an ingenious compromise with New Zealand’s legion of elderly Christian bigots, and, of course, by not allowing so much as a discussion about cannabis.
After 2008 the conservative National Government took power, and naturally they did not repeal cannabis prohibition as it directly serves major capitalist interests to have a competitor to the alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical industries crushed.
Dunne managed to worm his way into the position of Associate Minister of Health, from where he was able to garrote all attempts at cannabis law reform in their infancy, most notably by skillful and successful actions in dividing the cannabis law reform movement.
The two most notable examples of this were declaring the grossly unsuitable fraudster Toni-Marie Matich to be the public face of cannabis law reform, thus damaging the credibility of the movement, and the Orwellian Psychoactive Substances Act, which made everything illegal and divided the movement into people who had read it and people who hadn’t.
So, aside from the couple of million that Dunne has leeched from the public funds in the form of an MP’s salary and perks, how much has he cost the country?
There is no simple calculation because it depends on the extent of the cannabis law reform that was prevented in the last window of opportunity presented by the Fifth Labour Government.
We know that full, Colorado-style reform would save New Zealand $500,000,000 per year in Police costs, court costs, prison costs, and lost tax revenue. Multiplying this by the 14 years since 2002, when Dunne first had his influence in preventing reform, gives us a figure of $7,000,000,000.
In reality, the Clark Administration would have likely brought in some kind of medicinal cannabis and/or decriminalisation in 2003/4, with full legalisation coming later, so the immediate savings might have been a third to a half of their final value, increasing as time went on.
This suggests a figure for the total wastage of Kiwi labour and resources due to Peter Dunne’s actions of between $3 and $7 billion.
This thought experiment ought to be a sobering one for anyone worried about Maori beneficiaries having too many kids and Chinese restaurants not paying taxes. If one politician can cost the country $3,000,000,000 because of moral and intellectual incompetence, all of our scrutiny ought to be directed at the ruling classes, and not on each other.
Violence is the scourge of our society. The long-term cumulative psychological damage from all the various acts of violence committed by New Zealanders is atrocious. For the most part, we all agree that violence is something that ought to be dealt to strictly, but we can’t agree on how.
This is the standard pattern of social interaction in New Zealand: Monday to Friday afternoon – work. Friday afternoon to Saturday night/Sunday morning – consume alcohol. Sunday – recover from the effects of the alcohol.
This pattern has served us for over a century.
Back in the day, life was cheap, and we didn’t care. Of course the working men who loaded up in the six o’clock swill went home and beat the shit out of their wives, but Abrahamic morality held way and women were considered the property of their menfolk.
New Zealand loves violence, but not in the way it’s usually portrayed. The All Blacks aren’t really violent because they play against consenting adult men. Rugby is sport, not violence. Kieran Read has never done anything on a sports field even one percent as violent as arresting and caging a medicinal cannabis user.
However, our culture is violent. We take people who create drugs that make people less violent and put them in cages, and we take people who create drugs that make people more violent and give them knighthoods.
Why do we do this?
Probably the main reason is a cultural artifact relating to the strategic considerations that led to New Zealand existing in the first place.
New Zealand was, after all, founded as a military colony, once British colonial planners came to appreciate that whoever controlled the Aotearoan archipelago could easily project power upon the poorly defended, but by now reasonably populated, Australian East Coast. Whoever controlled that controlled the continent.
Being founded as a military colony, it was natural for the ruling class to encourage a warrior culture among the New Zealanders, in case it was ever necessary to send them overseas to die for the Empire. This meant that New Zealanders had to be molded into a hard, cruel people, and that meant violence, and that meant alcohol.
So the booze flowed, and New Zealand bestowed all manner of honourable titles upon the men who kept the booze flowing and the fists flying. After all, if New Zealanders were given free access to a peaceful drug like cannabis, they’d be much less willing to go overseas to kill the enemies of the ruling classes of the Empire.
Some people will counter that no-one is forced to drink alcohol. Usually people making this argument are some kind of puritan or wowser who never does any drug because they hate themselves and are terrified of what they might find in their souls if they were compelled to take a look.
But the counterargument is that people are compelled to drink alcohol in New Zealand if they want to meet their natural social needs, because all attempts to build a recreational drug culture around anything other than alcohol are crushed by the Police.
Let’s not pretend that these social needs are not needs. Humans cannot survive alone – not for want of intelligence, adaptability or ingenuity but for mental health reasons. A total lack of social interaction will result in a oxytocin deficit which will lead to terminal depression.
Of course, cannabis users are just meeting up anyway, only in private and in smaller groups. This is perhaps a win for those who profit from the continuation of alcohol culture, such as shareholders in breweries and wineries. But it’s a massive loss for New Zealand.
One of the reasons for keeping cannabis illegal is known as the Gateway Drug Effect (or Gateway Drug Story, for the cynical). The logic goes like this: people who try cannabis will like it and, in doing so, come to reason that drugs are awesome, and will then inevitably try heroin and die.
Apparently this happens with such tragic predictability that the phenomenon has taken the name the Gateway Effect – namely, that cannabis serves as a gateway to the wider world of drugs.
This reasoning, wrong as it may be, is almost logical. There is a Gateway Drug Effect, only – the gateway drug is alcohol. There is also a gateway effect related to cannabis, but it’s not what the Government claims it is.
The real gateway effect usually kicks in the morning after one has tried cannabis for the first time. Invariably one has already tried alcohol and discovered what a hangover is. Waking up after having smoking weed for the first time the night before is often accompanied by a sense of relief, as one might have been expecting an alcohol-style hangover only to find the cannabis one is very different.
So that next morning, and that next day, it sinks in that you have been lied to the whole time about cannabis. That evening, you start wondering what else the Government has lied to you about.
And then you’re on a journey down the rabbit hole.
That rabbit hole can take the neophyte psychonaut to some paranoid places. This is natural when one realises that the police officers who came to your high school to tell you that cannabis causes violence and mental illness were lying. They came to you as if they were pillars of the community, and they lied to your face about a medicine that you might have found beneficial.
Did they know they were lying? Probably some of them did and some of them didn’t. The ones that didn’t know were lied to by someone else – but who are these people?
It soon comes to appear that the lying comes from the very top – from the political class itself.
This lying and forcing other people to lie has the effect of devastating the social fabric.
If I go to see a doctor about pills I’ve ordered off the Internet, I don’t know if I can trust them or not. I already know that doctors will quite happily repeat lies told to them by authority figures, whether those figures are in government or the pharmaceutical industry.
A doctor will look you right in the eyes and tell you that cannabis causes depression if their paycheck is provided by a pharmaceutical company who sells an antidepressant that makes more money than cannabis could.
Does it have to be this way?
Teenagers are going through a rite of passage nowadays that is very common. It involves smoking your first joint and realising that you’ve been lied to, and then following the same reasoning described in this article. This rite of passage (Eleusinian Mysteries aside) is a modern thing – people in the recent past were generally more than happy to march into a meat grinder if an authority figure said it was to their benefit.
The astute reader might have observed the paradoxical benefit here – this exact cynicism about the government is what makes it harder for English-speaking people to follow dictators.
Still, there’s surely a better way to shock people awake then by putting an unlucky minority of them in prison and leaving their friends and family to rue the butcher’s bill.
The Government’s strategy of lying about cannabis to the detriment of the people it governs, and then refusing to stop telling lies even when it’s obvious to almost everyone that they are lying, has devastated confidence in authority figures for an entire generation of Westerners.
When I was working a cannabis law reform booth at a hippie festival in Nelson about eight years ago, I had an unpleasant encounter with a local hysteric. She approached us like she would have approached two fellows who were advocating to legalise child molestation and launched into a rant about the “twelves” who would inevitably get hold of cannabis if it was legal.
Before either of us could respond, she was dragged off by her embarrassed husband. If we had had the chance, we would have responded with an argument out of the Cannabis Activist’s Handbook: that a repeal of cannabis prohibition would actually make it harder for teenagers to get hold of cannabis.
Now there is evidence that this counterargument was correct. The stupid thing is that, if one puts the hysteria aside for ten seconds, it’s quite obvious that legal cannabis is safer for teenagers than New Zealand’s current black market model.
It was found that in Colorado, where cannabis was legalised in 2012, legal cannabis stores generally don’t sell weed to minors. In a study similar to the Liquor Board stings in New Zealand, 19 out of 20 Colorado cannabis retailers refused to sell cannabis to a person who looked under 21 and who could not produce ID.
As can be imagined, a 19 out of 20 rejection rate is much better than what it would have been had the 20 stooges gone to tinnie houses instead.
Even though American teenagers are consuming less alcohol and tobacco than previously, rates of cannabis use among teenagers remains constant. Why?
It’s probably because, as centuries of relentless cultural brainwashing has ever less of an effect thanks to the Internet spreading truth about forbidden subjects, people naturally come to realise that they enjoy smoking cannabis more than getting drunk and smoking cancer sticks.
A short history lesson: the Greatest and Silent Generations survived the Great Depression and World War Two and incurred severe psychological trauma in doing so. This trauma was passed down to the Baby Boomers, many of who were fed into the meat grinder of Vietnam. Generation X, who followed, mostly escaped direct trauma but there are many who suffered secondary trauma as a consequence of being raised by mentally damaged Boomers. Now there are the Millennials, who are mostly okay.
It is not a coincidence that, as the generations get younger, they seem to naturally prefer smoking cannabis over using alcohol and tobacco.
This is probably because the less traumatised a person is, the less they desire the brutal sledgehammer effect on consciousness that alcohol has, and the less they desire the serenity-at-all-costs mentality that accompanies a tobacco habit. Alcohol is a brutal drug for a brutal age, and legal tobacco might prove to be an anachronism from a time when considerations like human life weighed far lighter than profit.
The desire to alter consciousness, however, also occurs frequently in people who have not been severely traumatised – and these people appear to prefer cannabis.
Cannabis tends to have the effect of making the user more, not less, sensitive. This means that people tend to avoid using it unless they are around people they like in a setting they find comfortable or in a mindstate where some cognitive enhancement, not destruction, is desired.
There is no good reason to limit the freedom of young people to alter consciousness to using alcohol and tobacco.
It may have made sense in an era when the life expectancy of humans was so low that few had the fortune to live long enough to die of alcohol or tobacco-related illnesses, but in the current age denying young people the use of recreational cannabis has the cruel effect of pushing them towards an early death from cancer or heart disease.
With the repeal of cannabis prohibition rising higher and higher in the national consciousness, it seems like a good time to assess the economic impact of a change. The figure of $180,000,000 per year has been touted as the potential savings from a repeal, but how much tax revenue would it bring in?
The paper linked above suggests that the figure ought to be around $150,000,000 per year, but an argument can easily be made that it ought to be more.
In the first ten months of 2016, Colorado sold over USD1,100,000,000 of cannabis. This figure was so high that the total tax receipts for 2016 on cannabis sales in Colorado look set to be more than those for 2014 and 2015 combined.
USD1,100,000,000 over ten months works out to USD1,320,000,000 over twelve months or NZD1,830,000,000 at the current exchange rate. Colorado has a population of 5,400,000 compared to New Zealand’s 4,700,000, which means that New Zealand is 87% as populous as Colorado. Assuming that the total cannabis sales per person is equivalent in New Zealand and Colorado, we can assume from this that the market in New Zealand would be 87% of the Colorado one, or $1,592,100,000 per year.
Rounding this to $1.6 billion, we come to the figure of about $340 per person per annum. Hardened stoners might scoff at this figure, as it represents about one ounce per year, and New Zealand very likely has more hardened stoners than Colorado, but let’s assume this represents a conservative lower figure.
Simply taking 15% GST on this volume gives us $240,000,000 per year. So it’s fair to say that the $150,000,000 touted above is a very, very conservative figure.
This figure of $240 million is assuming that cannabis is not subject to some kind of vice tax in the way that alcohol and tobacco are. In Washington, the State Government took a 40% cut of the total sales.
The Washington market is not as well developed or planned as the Colorado one, and is thus much smaller. But if the New Zealand market developed like Colorado, a 40% tax would (even allowing for a 10% reduction in total sales on account of the tax) reap $500,000,000 per annum.
The likelihood is that someone on the Government side will end up making the argument that legal cannabis will reduce legal alcohol sales and thus alcohol tax income, and therefore a vice tax will have to be placed on legal cannabis to make up for the shortfall.
The majority of the country will find this logic entirely reasonable, which is in fact regrettable but this is outside the scope of this article. It will probably get pushed through.
In any case, the chances of a cannabis tax up to or even exceeding Washington’s 40% are very real, as New Zealand has a lot more inbred, out-of-touch, sanctimonious wowsers than Washington.
Realistically, then, we could count on tax money from a mature legal recreational cannabis market bringing in half a billion to Government coffers every year. This figure would be considerably higher if we did so now and got the jump on Australia, as there are legions of Aussies who would happily fly a few hours to New Zealand for a weed holiday.
Some people wonder which is the more transformative out of psychedelic sacraments or meditation. The apparent forced choice comes from the proscription against intoxication that can be found in many spiritual traditions. This article suggests that a skilled synergistic approach is better still.
Psychedelics can be transformative in an extremely dramatic way. It’s possible for someone who takes a powerful psychedelic to permanently change into an entirely different person in the space of an hour.
One drawback with the psychedelic experience is that, because the new impressions come so overwhelmingly fast and intensely they are mostly forgotten the next day (a similar but less dramatic phenomenon can be observed with naive cannabis users).
This can lead to a sense that one is forever grasping for a truth that remains, ghost-like, just out of reach. One is haunted by the idea that perhaps everything one knows is wrong, perhaps the world is entirely upside-down, and that, no matter how much sense it seemed to make at any one time, it could potentially be tipped upside-down again at any moment.
Such an experience can be unsettling, to say the least.
Meditation is the opposite in many ways. One cannot count on an immediate, life-shattering breakthough within an hour of sitting down to meditate for the first time, but one can usually count on some kind of permanent insight once one gets it right.
Some people take a long time to feel anything pleasant from meditation at all. Certain people have been lurching from one attachment to another for so long with so little questioning that their habits are far too deeply ingrained to simply quit.
Related to this, often it isn’t the actual meditation itself that brings a change but a secondary insight that comes from meditating upon the meditation. After one has had the experience of sitting down meditating and coming away feeling really good, it is only a small cognitive step to the insight that one doesn’t actually need external stimulation in order to feel at peace.
This insight is the beginning of liberation from identification with the contents of consciousness.
This column will resist the temptation to declare that meditation is somehow more ‘natural’ or ‘wholesome’ than taking a psychedelic. For one thing, much of the pleasure that comes from meditation is because the act facilitates the release of the neurotransmitter 5-hydroxytryptomine, which results in the familiar feelings of peace and serenity that accompany it (the main reason is that the topic has been discussed at length here).
In retrospect, a good way to explore the world within might be this. Take a psychedelic in the correct set and setting and let your thoughts flow freely as they do. Allow your mind to be expanded. Allow yourself to become awestruck by the infinitude of psychic impressions, allow yourself to become terrified, allow yourself to feel like God.
Then, meditate upon it all. Meditate upon the question of why ordinary life is not usually as awesome as it appears to be on psychedelics, and on the question of what is ultimately terrifying about the contents of consciousness, and on the question of what, if anything, is the difference between you and God anyway.
Allowing yourself to be shocked by psychedelic insights and then to take the fear out of them by making sense of why they occur is part of the shamanism of the 21st century. It is how modern shamans travel to the spirit world and wrestle demons for the benefit of their loved ones back in the material world.
A great and famous observation in philosophy is known as Hume’s guillotine, and it can be found “In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with” (Hume’s words). This observation is that people aren’t very good at describing reality as it is, but rather seem to prefer to describe it as it ought to be.
This general confusion of how things are and how they ought to be has led to all manner of incorrect thinking. One assumption, when applied to drugs in general (not just drug law in particular) seems to be that the human mind works most rationally and correctly when not under the influence of any external drugs – which is, as this reasoning glibly assumes, its ‘natural’ state.
An implication of this assumption is that any person under the influence of a psychoactive drug is ‘high’ or ‘intoxicated’ and thus cannot be trusted to do anything at all competently, perhaps not even verbally describe reality or their own will.
As any psychonaut can tell you, this is complete shit.
For one thing, we are almost always under the effects of one psychoactive drug or another. At any one point in time, close to half of us are either somewhat drunk or somewhat hungover, most of us have a least a buzz going from a solid dose of caffeine at some point in the morning or a haze going from a sleeping pill at some point in the evening, about a quarter of us smoke tobacco, and over a third of us are under the effects of psychoactive medicine prescribed by a doctor.
We’re never clean – so how do we know it’s better?
Secondly, there are already powerful psychoactives that are natural, and our brains are full of them. Our brains are naturally a store of psychoactive chemicals called neurotransmitters, of which there are over 100 known.
Some of them are well known, such as adrenaline. Yes, the rush you get from fighting or from nearly being killed is literally just a drug rush: adrenaline binds to adrenergic receptors, which causes the blood flow to heart and lungs to increase and the muscles to surge with energy in preparation for possible mortal combat.
Few would argue that this burst of manic energy, which often brings with it cerebral haemorrhages and heart attacks, could possibly be more healthy than smoking some Northern Lights and relaxing for the evening. But some will.
Thirdly, there are many ways of altering consciousness that don’t even involve psychoactive drugs. There is music, meditation, physical exercise, and if one has never altered consciousness from making love one simply hasn’t done it right.
If it’s possible to significantly alter consciousness by ‘natural’ means then it can hardly be argued that sobriety is itself natural. Indeed, the idea that humanity’s natural state is to wallow in mind-rotting tedium is probably a masochistic artifact of Abrahamic influence or a consequence of the brainwashing that was done to condition people to industrial era labour.
A fourth and final point is that in some cases the human mind demonstrably works better when influenced from the outside. When a child is born, the act of nursing and being nursed releases oxytocin in both mother and baby.
Oxytocin is known as the “love drug.” Large doses of it in the brains of females while making love will induce them to favour a monogamous pair bond with their partner. This neurotransmitter appears to play a role in all kinds of emotional bonding and interpersonal solidarity, as it is released by pleasant physical contact like being caressed or stroked and brings with it a reduction in anxiety and fear.
The baby needs this release of oxytocin in order to be healthy, because, without it, they tend to develop to be suspicious and cold, probably because they have internalised a moral value that the world is a place where no-one really cares about each other.
Thus it can be seen that, in some cases, a drug that requires an external influence is a natural part of the human experience as a consequence of humans evolving as a mammalian, and thus social, species.
All of these arguments taken together suggest that the received wisdom of “Drugs bad no drugs good” is not only far from the truth but could be dangerously counterproductive.
There is actually a lot of merit to the counterargument. Looking at the drug intake of most of our greatest cultural icons demonstrates clearly that the unique and original thoughts common to many drug experiences is a powerful facilitator of creative achievement.
With the news that the Greens have more or less adopted the ALCP policy from the 2014 Election, there is a sudden interest in the sort of person who might be attracted to vote Green on the basis of this policy. In this specific instance, there’s one obvious and decent-sized demographic: actual ALCP voters from 2014, who were 10,961 in number.
So who are they? Well, they’re very clearly not the same sort of person who would vote National. The correlation betwen voting ALCP in 2014 and voting National in 2014 is -0.70. This is not at all surprising as the entire point of the war on drugs was to destroy the enemies of the conservative establishment.
Neither are they likely to vote ACT (-0.45) or Conservative (-0.54). These three correlations are fairly hefty, which tells us that the average cannabis law reform voter has a considerable level of apathy for conservatism and for right-wing politics in general.
Naturally, these correlations are the opposite on the left. Voting for the ALCP in 2014 and voting Labour in 2014 had a correlation of 0.38. For Internet MANA it was 0.76 and for the Maori Party it was 0.85.
Two correlations stand out against this easy narrative of ALCP voters primarily being leftists. They are the correlation between voting ALCP in 2014 and voting Green in 2014 (0.02) and with voting New Zealand First in 2014 (0.57).
The lack of a significant correlation with the Green Party vote might surprise many. It seems to be a natural assumption that, because the ALCP policy in 2014 was always more likely to be picked up in the future by the Greens than any other party, that a strong correlation ought to exist. The reality, however, is that the Greens and the ALCP have hitherto appealed to very different demographics.
The Greens have, since at least a decade ago, deprioritised their cannabis policy in favour of all kinds of trendy issues that appeal mostly to middle-class urban elites. This explains why the correlation between voting Green and Net Personal Income is 0.31, so much more positive than the correlation between voting ALCP and Net Personal Income, which is -0.40.
Not only do ALCP voters come from the other side of the socioeconomic spectrum to Green voters, but they are also much browner. The correlation between voting Green in 2014 and being Maori is (an insignificant) -0.09; for voting ALCP in 2014 and being Maori it is a whopping 0.89, one of the strongest correlations in this entire dataset.
This also explains much of the high correlation betwen voting ALCP and voting New Zealand First. The correlation between voting New Zealand First and being Maori is 0.66. Everyone who has ever met more than a few Maoris will have caught on to the popularity of cannabis within Maori culture, and it’s not surprising given the differential in how hard the law hits them that Maori are much more likely to cast a vote for cannabis law reform.
Few will be suprised that voting ALCP has a very strong negative correlation with turnout rate in 2014: -0.68. This is, however, only slightly worse than Labour’s correlation with voting of -0.67. So it’s less to do with lazy stoners and more to do with the general disenfranchisement of those who the system does not represent.
Cannabis voters have a moderate tendency to not be religious: correlations with voting ALCP in 2014 and being Christian, Buddhist or Hindu were -0.41, -0.52 and -0.40 respectively. Mirroring this was a correlation of 0.34 with having no religion. The odd statistic here was the sizable correlation between voting ALCP and having Spiritualism for a religion: this was 0.36.
If cannabis voters are poor, Maori and non-religious, it’s probably not surprising that they’re also young. Voting ALCP in 2014 had a hefty correlation of -0.55 with Median Age, which suggests that most of the people voting on the basis of this policy are young.
Perhaps the most interesting idea from all of these statistics is that the Greens might be winning votes with their new cannabis policy at the expense of New Zealand First voters. It’s apparent that many young Maori vote ALCP out of levity in their first election and then, as they age and become less radical, come to see the merit in voting New Zealand First. The Greens would be chiefly targeting these voters with their new cannabis policy.
If the Greens are making a serious push for cannabis voters again they may find that the demographics have changed since the last time they tried it, in 1999.
This article is an excerpt from Understanding New Zealand, by Dan McGlashan, published by VJM Publishing in the winter of 2017.