Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Three examples this week demonstrate the point. First, is the continuing saga of the name of Wellington’s Victoria University. Next is the Radio New Zealand Concert debacle, and third is the ongoing drama over the New Zealand First Foundation.

Take Victoria University first. The Vice-Chancellor’s obsession with renaming the university the University of Wellington is well-known and unbounded. It appears most of the University’s alumni; its staff and benefactors are strongly opposed to any such change. (I am none of those, so have no direct interest here.) When the University applied, after a fractious and bitter internal debate, to the Minister of Education for approval to change its name, that approval was declined.

That should have been the end of the matter, and the Vice-Chancellor should have got back to his day job of promoting the University’s role as a centre of academic excellence, quality teaching and research. But no, with the densest of tin-ears, he has persisted with his dream, defying his critics and the Minister in the process. Revelations this week that the University has spent almost half a million dollars rebranding itself as Wellington’s University, or the Wellington University and the like, are the ultimate two-finger salute to the Minister of Education.

By standing by quietly, the Minister is not only angering the many critics of the renaming strategy but also demonstrating his impotence. Some may argue that for reasons of the protection of the principle of academic freedom the Minister cannot intervene, but this is not a matter that has anything to do with academic freedom. The Minister has every reason to be concerned about how the University is spending public money on non-core activities.

Therefore, he should call in the University’s Chancellor and make it very clear that the Vice-Chancellor’s ongoing actions do not meet his expectations following his earlier decision to decline the name change.  Moreover, if the University Council will not bring the Vice Chancellor to heel, he will replace it with a Council that will. He may not choose to go this far, but the more he sits idly by and lets the Vice Chancellor get away with it and carry on regardless, the weaker he looks.

The still unfolding Radio New Zealand Concert saga is just as puzzling. On the face of it, it appears that Radio New Zealand went ahead with announcing a plan to shift Concert off the FM platform in favour of a youth centred station, even after the government had asked it to hold off, pending further discussion. The Prime Minister’s remarkable decision to step in and decide previously unallocated FM spectrum could be made available to keep Radio New Zealand Concert on air won plaudits and should have been the end of the matter.

However, it seems that Radio New Zealand is still struggling to come to grips with being put in its place so emphatically. All it will admit to is a “miscommunication” over the original announcement – whatever that means – and that it now needs a few days to absorb the impact of the Prime Minister’s intervention. Moreover, it is not prepared to give any guarantees about the future of Concert’s current staff. Yet the public’s expectation (and one suspects, the Prime Minister’s as well) is less ambiguous, that Radio New Zealand Concert will now be retained as it is currently, staff and all.

The remarkable silence throughout of the Minister of Broadcasting to whom the Radio New Zealand board reports is telling. Does he not realise he has been run rough-shod over by them, and made to look quite inadequate by the intervention of his Prime Minister? Even while Radio New Zealand continued equivocating about what this week’s Cabinet decision actually meant, the Minister was still keeping his head well down. Instead, to prove he is still worth his job and that his government is still in charge, he needs to be calling in the Board and leaving them in no doubt of both his displeasure at the way all this has unfolded, and his clear expectation there will be no similar repeat in  the future. Otherwise, he will be left looking just as weak as his colleague the Minister of Education.

But the biggest example of the timidity of current leadership looks likely to be the way the Deputy Prime Minister is treated over the New Zealand First Foundation investigations. This is not the place to express any judgment on the allegations that have come to light – they are now matters for the Serious Fraud Office. However, where there have been previous cases of allegations being made against Ministers being investigated by either the Police or other law enforcement agencies, the practice under successive governments has normally been for the Minister to stand aside until the matter has been resolved. Under the Helen Clark Labour-led government, for example, this happened to Ministers Samuels, Field, Dalziel, Dyson, Parker, and even Peters at various stages.

Based on that precedent, it would not be unreasonable to expect it to now apply to the Deputy Prime Minister pending the outcome of the Serious Fraud Office investigation. However, the current Prime Minister is no Helen Clark, so will not act. Indeed, she has gone so far as to express, albeit after some media prodding, confidence in the Deputy Prime Minister, and to reject all calls for her intervention. Of course, it would be extremely politically difficult for her to do so, given the threat potentially posed to the maintenance of her coalition. But it is inevitable that any stench of taint that lingers from the New Zealand First Foundation investigations will eventually envelope her as well, her current distancing and inaction notwithstanding.

The overall impression left by each of these cases is that while Labour talks big about transparency and accountability it quickly retreats into its shell whenever challenged to match the rhetoric with action.


Wednesday, 5 February 2020

A perennial undercurrent of recent general election campaigns has been the issue of party fundraising. With the emerging controversies this year over the shadowy role of the New Zealand First Foundation and the Serious Fraud Office’s decision to prosecute four individuals over the way in which a since returned donation to the National Party was accounted for, this year’s election campaign promises to be no different.

The Electoral Act contains a number of very specific provisions about how political parties and candidates are to account for the funds they raise, and the Electoral Commission has played a role in policing those. However, their specificity and the petty nature of many of the requirements has led parties and candidates over the years to explore various imaginative ways of getting around them or minimising their impact.

At the same time, parliamentary parties have similarly sought to maximise their electioneering opportunities from their Parliamentary funding to supplement whatever funds they raised externally. And they have become equally inventive and skilled in this regard. Over the latest summer, for example, Labour MPs ran billboards sporting large smiling photos of themselves promoting a banal and obvious message to drive safely over the holidays. This had nothing to do with road safety at all, but everything to do with promotion of the MPs concerned at the start of election year, and all within the rules at the taxpayers’ expense. National MPs have been no less diligent – the glossy electorate newsletters featuring a series of awkwardly staged photographs, and even more trite questionnaires “to find out what you think” are just as much about promoting the  MPs they feature, as are the Labour billboards. The implicit notion that through these devices both Labour and National are “communicating” with those they seek to represent is as facile as it is fatuous.

In 2006, after the uproar over Labour’s taxpayer funded “Pledge Card” at the 2005 election the then Auditor-General conducted an investigation into expenditure of public funds by Parliamentary parties and concluded that most parties were spending their public funding improperly. That was ultimately self-defeating. While it led to a further arbitrary tightening of the rules, it also set off a new round of devices being employed by MPs to get around them.

Now I am not arguing against the corny billboards or the trite newsletters, per se – MPs must be able to promote themselves, their activities and their views to their constituents to enable a fair assessment of their worth come election time. But I am saying that the current plethora of Parliamentary and electoral rules are a nonsense that do more to encourage developments like the creation of institutions like the New Zealand First Foundation, or the breaking up of donations into smaller amounts to stay below a legislative threshold, than they do to eliminate them. While the rules may be a bureaucrat’s dream, giving more power than could ever be considered reasonable to petty non-elected officials like those who populate the Electoral Commission, they simply do not work, as current events show.

There is an obvious and simple solution to this that politicians who love preaching personal responsibility for others should be prepared to adopt for themselves. Scrap all the rules regarding the use of their allocated Parliamentary funding by individual MPs and their parties and replace them with a simple requirement for every MP and their party to file an annual audited return of their specific Parliamentary expenditure. The public would quickly prove to be far better monitors of what was reasonable use of public funds by politicians than any set of confusing, ambiguous and often contradictory Parliamentary rules could ever be.

At the same time, all the financing provisions of the Electoral Act could be abolished and replaced with one simple overarching provision: every donation made to a candidate or a political party, whether in kind or cash, from overseas or within New Zealand, whether it be $1 or $1,000,000, should be fully disclosable.  This would place the onus fairly and squarely on the party or candidate to be absolutely transparent about whom and where they were receiving contributions from, while at the same time protecting their freedom of choice and association.

The chances of this happening are close to zero, as no party, however much it might like to lecture others on the subject, would ever submit to that level of transparency.  Nor could the electoral officials and associated academic and legal fusspots who love nit-picking over these issues even tolerate the notion that people other than them could ever be trusted to be accountable in this way. Their whole careers have been built after all on their smug self-belief they know what is best for others.

So, the more the rules are tightened and tinkered with, the more bureaucratic checks that are imposed, the one certainty is the more politicians and political parties will simply engage in even more elaborate ways of getting around them. And the more we should come to expect election years being clouded by the types of funding controversies we are seeing already this year.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

The 5th World Holocaust Forum was convened in Jerusalem by the World Holocaust Forum Foundation under the auspices of the President of Israel, to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in Nazi occupied Poland. It took place against a backdrop of rising racial intolerance and xenophobia-inspired terrorism in Europe in particular, where anti-Semitism is on the rise.
More than 50 Heads of State from around the world attended the commemorations. Among them were the Governors-General of Australia and Canada. Yet one of the first excuses offered by our Foreign Minister was that that the organisers had a "mistaken impression" of New Zealand's constitution, so sending the Governor-General to represent us was never an option. However, the same "mistaken impression" applied to both Canada and Australia but had not put their governments off from sending their respective Governors-General to represent them.
When that excuse fell flat, the Foreign Minister’s next line was to say that New Zealand had offered to send the Speaker of the House of Representatives to represent this country, but that offer had been rejected because the organisers said they could not  guarantee security for him. Well, if sending the Governor-General could not be justified because of a "mistaken impression" of her constitutional position, how on earth could that have been rectified by sending someone further down the line of precedence in her place? That was simply a nonsense argument.
By this point, the Foreign Minister was looking more like an international bumbler than even many of his detractors had dared to imagine. What was to follow shifted the argument from Ministerial incompetence and bungling to something far more sinister. The Minister’s third excuse for New Zealand’s non-attendance was that even though the invitation had been received by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in September last year, it had not been passed on to him to consider until earlier this month, leaving little time for it to be properly considered.
That is a very serious charge to make. If it is true, it raises important questions about the relationship between the Minister and his Ministry. Why did the Ministry keep this matter from the Minister for some months, and what other important foreign policy issues have been or are being similarly kept from the Minister? What are the Ministry’s reasons for doing so? Is it that distrusting of its Minister, and has their working relationship become that dysfunctional? Do the diplomats, who can be very over-bearing and “we know best” on foreign policy issues at the best of times, have so little confidence in their Minister, as to not only bypass him on an important international issue, but also embarrass him in the process? Or is this latest line just one more in the series of fabrications to justify non-participation in this significant international event?
However, whatever the reality, it pales behind the Leader of the Opposition’s reported response. National had been making good ground raising questions about New Zealand’s absence from the Forum before its leader tried to link it to the current anti-Semitism controversy dogging the British Labour Party. "I hope none of that is part of the Labour Party's calculus - that has no place in New Zealand society," he told Magic Talk Radio, in reality strongly implying the very opposite to what he was saying. The linkage was as irrelevant as it was cheap and despicable. It was also utterly unbecoming of his office.
Moreover, the timing was appalling, coming shortly after a report the incidence of hate speech in New Zealand has been rising since last year’s March 15 Mosque shootings. Just as we had never really imagined that a major terrorist attack could take place on our shores, until it happened, we have also never really considered ourselves racially intolerant like other countries, but international trends seem to be being replicated here. The pixie dust of tolerance that was sprinkled on the country after the Christchurch tragedy has now well and truly evaporated, leaving new, hard questions to be confronted and resolved. Our challenge now is to do so.
Attendance at the World Holocaust Forum would have sent a signal that New Zealand is concerned and is not just all talk about combatting racism and intolerance but does take these issues seriously. Instead, our response has left us looking pretty half-hearted and ambivalent.
All these events were a time for the Leader of the Opposition to seize the vacant moral high ground; to assert strongly New Zealand’s commitment to supporting diversity and upholding tolerance; and, to lead the charge in supporting moves to eliminate  racially inspired hate speech in our society.
It is to his shame that he instead chose to respond to one slur, with a slur of his own.  As a country, we deserve so much better.  

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

When a Minister dismisses the criticisms of a high-powered group of citizens as just “political” one knows immediately the criticisms being made both have more substance than that and are probably pretty accurate. So it is with the case of Whanau Ora Minister Peeni Henare and the group of distinguished Maori women led by Dame Tariana Turia who have spoken out strongly against the government’s management of the Whanau Ora programme.

In my view, Whanau Ora, the brainchild of Dame Tariana and the Maori Party, is one of the most innovative and potentially effective social intervention programmes initiated by any government in recent years. Whanau Ora unashamedly places the family at the centre of resolving the issues affecting families, recognising that flourishing families lie at the heart of the nation’s wellbeing, and that when they flourish, the country flourishes. It aligned very closely with UnitedFuture’s family-centred focus which was why we were keen supporters of it.

One of the keys to Whanau Ora’s success is its flexibility, recognising that no two families are the same, and that different responses will be required in so many cases. Implicit in this is an understanding that services need to be nimble, flexible and participatory. Support for families is not just something passive – to be done to them at their time of need – but an active process requiring full participation. Families are much more than just recipients of help – Whanau Ora works with them to overcome their challenges together. Its constancy and tailored hands-on approach to specific circumstances was and remains Whanau Ora’s strength, but, by its very nature, it was almost inevitable that it would run into conflict with the Labour-led Government.

The is not because of Labour’s churlishness towards the Maori Party, which its insensitivity had spawned originally, but because of a much more fundamental difference of view about the best way to make social interventions of this type. There is probably no less concern within the ranks of the Labour Party than among Dame Tariana and her colleagues, or the Maori Party at the time Whanau Ora was introduced, about the negative social impacts of dysfunctional families and the need to break those cycles. Rather, the difference lies in the way of going about it.

Labour is still wedded solidly to its historic principles that the state knows best when it comes to the welfare of its citizens, and that, therefore, it is not only the prime role of the state to look after them, but ipso facto, only the state is capable of looking after them. I was astounded to hear from the head of a community-based welfare support programme just before the last election that the now Prime Minister and Finance Minister, still in Opposition at that point, had visited their programme and while full of praise for the work they were doing, had left them flabbergasted by going on to say in no uncertain terms  that they should not be doing such community work, because that was the responsibility of the government. 
In office, Labour has taken a similar approach to programmes like Whanau Ora. Rather than fund a range of innovative providers to provide an agreed range of services and be held accountable for them against an approved range of targets, Labour not only quickly abolished all the targets, but decided that all services would henceforth be provided by central government agencies. The nimble, flexible, family-centric, highly individualised approach of Whanau Ora quickly gave way to the return of the rigid, awkward, one-size-fits-all, only the public sector can deliver help approach that had characterised the provision of social services previously. The breath of fresh air and focused, practical help and support Whanau Ora is all about, with its attendant risks of failure from to time, was simply too much for Labour to contemplate. It really believes its own propaganda that it is the party that has historically cared for the disadvantaged. It just cannot bring itself to believe that anyone else could have a similar concern, let alone a more successful way of dealing with it, or that there are people out there who might like a more different, personally centred approach. In its mind, Whanau Ora is an affront to all Labour stands for, not an innovative approach to the resolution of hitherto intractable social problems.

Against that backdrop, the criticisms of Dame Tariana (who has committed the other cardinal sin in the Labour book of daring to attack the Prime Minister as “not up to it” on this issue) and her colleagues are hardly surprising. Particularly at a time when family deprivation, homelessness, child poverty and overall dependence levels are rising sharply, all on Labour’s watch. The party’s long self-proclaimed mortgage on concern for the disadvantaged is looking more than a little tatty, and the last thing Labour wants now is a distinguished group, like the Maori women leaders Dame Tariana has brought together, to point that out.

In dismissing them in the brusque way he has, Minister Henare is the one playing politics – and badly at that.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

The new just announced regulatory scheme for cannabis based medicines is generally positive. But the government may be significantly underestimating the demand for licenses, raising the spectre of an underfunded industry regulator.

What is good about the new regime is the requirement that medicinal cannabis producers meet Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) quality thresholds. This will ensure cannabis-based medicines meet the same high standards as all other pharmaceutical products. That high quality standard will be good news for patients. Provisions allowing  the rapidly developing industry to access the vast knowledge and cannabis cultivars that already reside in the underground medical cannabis community are both positive and sensible. And the licence fee structure being proposed is broadly supportive of the industry and should not inhibit its development.

The Ministry of Health says its expects to issue 110 medicinal cannabis licences in the first year, while at the same acknowledging the inherent difficulty in estimating the number of industry participants in what is an emerging NZ industry. There has to be some concern, therefore, that the Ministry of Health may not be able to cope any unexpected surge in licence applications. Moreover, there is the additional risk the Ministry may have underestimated the time and cost of monitoring - especially planned and unplanned surveillance audits – and subsequent enforcement action where breaches and/or illegal activities are identified. It would be a major concern if the implentation of the new regime were to fall down or become subject to substantial delay because the regulator’s office was inadequately resourced.

However, so long as long as the government remains committed to quickly resourcing the new regulatory agency to meet actual demand, then the regime should be introduced relatively smoothly. But, the absence of appropriate resourcing would likely create a significant bottleneck to industry growth, especially if the numbers of applications are consistent with market expectations and not the Ministry’s more conservative estimates.
If there are bottlenecks which lead to significant delays New Zealand patients will be the loser. At best, this will mean local patients will be paying more for relatively expensive overseas products. At worst, patients with limited financial means may continue to suffer unnecessarily or turn to the black or grey market,which is precisely what the Ministry is trying to avoid.

Overall, the new scheme will open the door to offering many New Zealanders relief from chronic pain and other symptoms, with non-addictive cannabis-based medicines. Cost-efficient New Zealand medicinal cannabis producers should enjoy a strong cost advantage and, in some cases, quality advantage relative to offshore-based providers of these cannabis-based medicines.

While the potential is there to establish a quality cannabis based medicines industry in New Zealand, progress could still be frustrated if the government does not put in place the appropriate infrastructure and oversight to allow medicinal cannabis products to be developed and brought to market in a timely manner. It has already taken two years to achieve regulatory certainty, and there is no excuse for further delay or uncertainty.

By way of disclaimer, I am Chair of SETEK Therapeutics, one of the new companies becoming involved in this market. SETEK is a New Zealand owned bioscience company looking to cultivate, process and manufacture pharmaceutical grade, pure organic, cannabis-based medicines and cannabis-infused skincare and wellbeing products for New Zealand, Australia, the Asia Pacific region and beyond.

My comments, however, are made from the perspective of someone with a long interest in this issue, who began the process of making access to cannabis based medicines more available to New Zealanders over five years ago (including declassifying CBD under the Misuse of Drugs Act), and who is generally pleased with the progress made subsequently. Interest, tolerance and understanding, both within government and the public, have grown considerably in that time, and the opportunity now exists to establish a viable cannabis based medicines sector in New Zealand.

On that note, Dunne Speaks takes its leave for 2019. Best wishes to everyone for a safe, and happy Christmas with family, friends, and those dearest to you. 2020 will offer a whole fresh set of challenges and opportunities, and Dunne Speaks will be back in a few weeks to comment on those as the year unfolds. Meantime, Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Britain votes today in an election brought on by the ongoing failure of the House of Commons to approve any of the Brexit deals put before it over the last couple of years by successive Prime Ministers, Theresa May and now Boris Johnson. Mr Johnson will be hoping his gamble to call an early election will pay off and that he will be able to honour his latest commitment to the British people to leave the European Union by the end of the coming January. But whether even a decisive election outcome will help heal the divisions that have exploded in Britain since the 2016 referendum, and now threaten the very survival of the United Kingdom, is doubtful.

There has been another aspect to this election that has been significant. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has been campaigning to end what it describes as the austerity of the last decade by promoting the most left-wing manifesto published by Labour since 1945. It even surpasses Michael Foot’s 1983 effort, now remembered as “the longest suicide note in history” which contributed to Labour’s landslide defeat by a Margaret Thatcher rampant after recapturing the Falklands Islands a year earlier. Time will tell whether Mr Corbyn can buck history, or whether a similar fate awaits him this election.

The relevance of this to New Zealand was highlighted by the Greens’ announcement earlier this week that they will no longer be bound by the Budget Responsibility Rules they agreed with Labour before the last election to stave off allegations that they were too profligate to be trusted in government. The Rules were designed to show that both Labour and the Greens could act responsibly in office, and to pacify sympathetic but edgy voters that they would mismanage the economy, if put in charge.

Now, the Greens say the rules are too restrictive, stopping the government at a time of record surpluses from investing the amounts they see as required to overcome local rising social and infrastructure deficits – from increasing child poverty levels to upgraded schools and hospitals. As well, even Labour, after a similar two years of criticism from its core supporters that it is being too stringent, is looking to loosen its purse strings and considerably soften the self-imposed Budget Responsibility Rules.

In so doing, both parties will be hoping to regain some momentum towards becoming the “transformational” government they jointly pledged to become at the last election. But the Finance Minister will not abandon fiscal restraint altogether, as, like Finance Ministers before him, he has developed the acute sense of parsimony that goes with the job. Nevertheless, as Labour enters election year it can be expected to become considerably freer with its spending promises than it has been so far. Even more freed of the restraint of the Budget Responsibility Rules the Greens can be expected to go full Corbyn now when it comes to spending promises. Between them, both look like offering a veritable cornucopia of expensive election goodies for voters to drool over.

National will be rubbing its hands in glee at the prospect of at last facing unashamed real tax and spend parties at the election, but they may need to tread a little carefully. If, as Jeremy Corbyn is so obviously hoping in Britain, the public reaction against government restraint has built up to the extent that voters are now prepared to indulge in a splurge of public spending and mounting debt, based on selective discriminatory tax increases on others, National may quickly find that being the harbinger of fiscal responsibility is not the winning card it once was. After a decade of relative stability and steady although modest income growth, voters may indeed be willing to kick back their heels somewhat come election time. In such circumstances, it will without hesitation and quickly and shamelessly seek to outspend Labour and the Greens. And we will end up with potentially the biggest election auction of recent times, possibly even since 1957 and Labour’s infamous final campaign advertisement “Do you want 100 pounds or not?”.

With the ongoing international economic uncertainty caused by Britain’s dithering over Brexit, through to having to pay for yet another visit here by a member of its Royal Family, New Zealand has not had much to be grateful to Britain for in recent years. It may have even less to be pleased about should Mr Corbyn emerge as its next Prime Minister and the contagion he unleashes spread to our shores.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

There is an element of the proverbial curate’s egg in the government’s proposed recreational cannabis regime. It is good in parts, and not so good in others, but overall leaves a somewhat underdone impression.

For a start, it is good that the government has spelled out the basis of a comprehensive regime to govern a recreational cannabis market, should New Zealanders vote for it at next year’s referendum.

But herein lies the first problem. Although the government has attempted to spell out a recreational cannabis regime in detail to provide certainty and clarity in advance of the referendum vote, the legislation it is proposing will not be introduced to Parliament until and unless there is a positive vote for change in the referendum. That means there is no guarantee, whatever government is in power in 2021, that the legislation will be introduced as announced now, or immediately after the election, or even at all. Nor does it ensure that it will not be substantially amended as a result of a select committee process. So, the final outcome may end up nothing like what people thought they were voting for.

A more practical problem is what happens between the referendum and the passage of the legislation a few months later? It will be a messy hiatus. Will the Police apply the current law during that time, or just ignore it? How will those currently enjoying a puff in the park or at the beach react when they realise they will not will be able to do so under the new law? That proposes making smoking cannabis in public places illegal. So it will actually be more restrictive than what they are used to. How will the Police react to the new law? Whatever happens, it is likely to be a very messy interlude.

A preferable, clearer and far more certain outcome would have been for the government to have legislated all the details of the recreational cannabis scheme before the referendum, so that people know exactly what they were voting for. If the referendum passes, the new law could take effect immediately. That way, there would be no messy transition, and everyone would know exactly where they stand from the day after the referendum. It is hard to fathom why the government did not pursue this option, unless New Zealand First had made it clear it did not want to be seen as supporting a recreational cannabis regime by voting for enabling legislation before the referendum. If that is the case, then it is hard to see that party – should it still be in Parliament after 2020 – supporting the relevant legislation then, thus adding more uncertainty.

On the whole, the actual regulatory regime proposed is surprisingly conservative, which should assuage some of the likely public concern. However, it is not without some problems.
The first is one of context. The cannabis regime is harsher than that for alcohol, tobacco and vaping. For example, it is currently legal to purchase alcohol, tobacco or vaping products at the age of 18, yet the government is proposing, for what it says are sound public health reasons, an age limit of 20 years for cannabis. In so doing, is it, undoubtedly unwittingly, risking making drinking, smoking and vaping more attractive to 18-20year olds than cannabis consumption, and is that a sensible move?

Then there are the issues around the amounts of cannabis one can possess. The 14gram daily purchase limit, allegedly the equivalent of 42 cannabis joints, seems extremely high, and listening to the Justice Minister’s explanations of how the limit was arrived at, to be based on pretty flimsy evidence. Presumably this matter will be tidied up and the figure reduced as a result of the round of inter-party discussions now getting underway. If not, it risks becoming a major distracting point of controversy during the coming debate.

Associated with this is the issue of quality control for cannabis plants grown for personal use. The Minister says that the new Cannabis Regulatory Authority will set quality standards as to potency and risk for manufactured products to protect the public safety. That is a good and sensible move, to be applauded, but how will the same standards be applied to plants grown at home? Unless the origin of every single plant grown at home is checked and verified, which is absolutely impossible to achieve, there can be no guarantee on this score.
Our drug laws are past their use-by date. Significant change is required, and the referendum process provides the opportunity to initiate that. But the heavy weather the government has gone through so far raises concerns that this could be yet another instance where its bold plans fall down on the implementation details.

It seems to be placing all its hopes on the referendum passing. But what if it does not? We also need to know what the government’s plans are should the referendum fail. Will, the current unsatisfactory situation be allowed to just drift on; or, does the government have something else altogether in mind? Whatever, the public needs to know both sides of the equation, so that it can weigh up all the options and make a balanced decision, come the referendum.

The government deserves credit for taking a serious approach to the issue and seeking to engage the public in its resolution. However, its ponderous approach so far means there can as yet sadly be only limited confidence that it will succeed.