Julian Buchanan

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Oral Presentation on New Zealand Medicinal Cannabis Bill


Address to Health Select Committee:
Urging human rights amendments 
to the Medicinal Cannabis Bill

Last week the 2018 London Marathon was started a 71-year-old American Katherine Switzer.

50yrs ago she became the first woman to run a marathon.

Male runners pushed and barracked her.

A race official chased after her yelling:

 “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!”

The official tried to pull the race number off her vest.

Afterwards a committee, like this one, met to decide whether it was appropriate for a woman to run the marathon.

The committee disqualified Katherine Switzer from the race, and from the US Athletics Federation because:

a) she had run with men

b) ran without a chaperone

c) ran more than 1.5miles

and they accused of fraudulently entering the race.

In the 1950/60s Anglophile countries adopted some shameful and oppressive laws – policies that infringed human rights and individual liberties.

Not only directing what woman can and cant do – Anglophile countries also had laws against:

– Gay and lesbian people who were criminalised and sent to prison

– Indigenous people whose children were rounded up and taken into care

– Black and Minority Ethnic communities who were forcibly segregated & excluded.

Laws that made drugs, homosexuality, suicide and abortion serious criminal offences.

By 2018 in most Anglophile countries these laws have been exposed, challenged & repealed.

But shockingly laws concerning drug policies have hardly changed at all.

The 1950s fear of the ‘Other’ (the Chinese, the Mexican, the Jamaican and people from BME communities ) and the different drug they used – led to an arbitrary list called ‘drugs’.

That list became the backbone of the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

This list of ‘controlled’ substances was then incorporated in our NZ MDA 1975.

The MDA rooted in 1950s fallacy and misinformation was comprehensively reviewed by the NZ Law Commission in 2011

The first recommendation of the Law Commission was that the 40yr old MDA should be repealed:

“The Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 should be repealed and replaced by a new Act, which should be administered by the Ministry of Health” (R1 p.23)

But here we are 30th April 2018 and the MDA remains unaltered.

In respect of drugs we continue to be conned and coerced by the same 1950s policy propaganda that protects & promotes state approved drugs (alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and sugar) and encourages us to look with fear and disdain towards drugs on the 1961 UN list.

This distinction between government approved drugs and drugs banned by the state is based on political agendas and fallacy.

It’s not based upon science, pharmacology or evidence.

Today we have the opportunity to make a small, but significant, contribution to remove some of the harms caused by our archaic and draconian drug policies.

We can make minor amendments to allow people with chronic debilitating conditions to self medicate with a herbal plant that’s only been outlawed because in 1961 it was arbitrarily listed as a so called ‘dangerous narcotic drugs’.

This committee has an opportunity to be on the right side of history, as Aotearoa NZ has on so many other matters of human rights.

As a parent, for years I watched helplessly as my son had repeated life threatening grand-mal seizures. Seizures that were rarely controlled by anti-epileptic drugs – we tried everything.

But we were denied the chance of seeing if cannabis might control his epilepsy.

I was working as a probation officer at the time. I felt it was too risky for me to break law.

Maybe I made the wrong decision.

But I felt I couldn’t risk a drug conviction, I might have lost my job, it might have ruined my career, I could have been denied entry to the USA (where my sister and nephew live), and my application for employment and emigration to New Zealand may have been declined.

So I urge you, for people like my son, to extend the present remit beyond terminal illness and ensure anyone diagnosed with a chronic or debilitating conditions such as Epilepsy, PSTD, MS, Alzheimers, Parkinson’s etc are allowed access to pharmaceutical cannabis AND allowed to self medicate with home grown cannabis.

These patients should not be convicted or punished for trying to make their untreatable condition more bearable by self medicating with cannabis.

Most patients cannot afford expensive pharmaceutical cannabis products – even if they are subsequently made legally available.

They must be allowed to self medicate and grow their own cannabis – removing their need to engage in criminal networks.

Allowing these patients statutory defence, offers compassion,  but it also adds stress and uncertainty.  It risks dragging chronically sick people through the criminal justice system on drug charges with the possibility of reprieve.

A CJS which is more likely to disproportionately target poor people and the Māori population.

So we must, if we can, find a way to make it completely legal for these patients with chronic debilitating conditions to possess, grow and consume cannabis for medicinal use.

Thank you for reading my written submission, listening today and considering these important issues.

Julian Buchanan
30th April 201


Power, Democracy and Drug Reform: Challenging the ‘War on Drugs’


The so called ‘War on Drugs’ never existed. The idea that there is or has been a war against drugs is a lie,  it’s classic prohibition propaganda. There has never been a campaign against drugs. Let me explain. Society and governments have always appreciated the wide ranging benefits and pleasures derived from drugs. Drugs have never been as popular as they are now. The availability, promotion and use of pharmaceutical and legally approved drugs such as caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and sugar, has never been greater. However, prohibition propaganda has conveniently resulted in these drugs escaping under the radar of the prohibitionist drug discourse, and these substances are incorrectly, not perceived as drugs.

Rather than a War on Drugs, what we have is a Drug War, a hostile war waged by the proponents of approved drugs against anyone using unapproved drugs. More accurately, a process better conceptualised as a politically driven Drug Apartheid; an arbitrary and illogical separation, not of people, but of drugs. This distinction between these two sets of drugs has no rational basis, it has no science or evidence to support it, neither is it based on the risk of harm. Under the strictly enforced Drug Apartheid alcohol, sugar, tobacco and caffeine enjoy privilege, power and promotion, while unapproved drugs are outlawed and anyone found involved in possession, production or supply risks stigma, criminalisation and punishment, including life imprisonment and the death penalty. This brutal, inhumane and damaging system that impacts negatively on individuals, families, communities and nations, is perpetuated because society has been successfully indoctrinated (at a personal, cultural and institutional level), to believe a social construction of ‘drugs’.

Nutt, Legalisation, harm reduction, Drug reform, decriminalisation, addict, addiction, regulation, stigma

Anyone seeking to expose or challenge the drug apartheid, risks being ridiculed, and is vulnerable to public humiliation, as experienced by Professor David Nutt. The unwarranted and ill-founded attack on David Nutt was no isolated incident. Further, to deter any association with outlawed drugs, armed forces, customs officials, and police invest massive energy and resources, while magistrates and Judges impose some of the severest sentences available to the courts for drug violations. Such is the power of the drug apartheid, that a criminal conviction for using the ‘wrong drug’ results in life-long consequences for travel, employment, housing, relationship and opportunities. The ever increasing business opportunities and technologies, spawned from the drug apartheid, drug testing (urine, blood, hair, sweat, saliva, and waste water!), has enabled the oppressive regime to extend beyond law enforcement agencies, to the civil arena, so that surveillance, monitoring and sanctions to maintain the drug apartheid are now carried out by employers, benefit agencies, schools, colleges and even in homes by parents on their children.

This untenable and indefensible position, of outlawing some drugs and privileging others, was enshrined in the 1961 UN Single Convention, a law that is rooted in moral and politically ideology from the 1930s, 40s & 50s. The decision to isolate a group of substances was never based upon science, reason or evidence. Yet ironically, since it’s inception, drug reformers have tried to end this drug war by engaging ideologically driven politicians, governments and UN bodies with endless streams of evidence, inquiries, research, reports and debates.

This considerable drug reform effort, has for five decades (1960-2010), resulted in no significant drug law or policy change by any major advanced western capitalist country, – apart from some US state privileging cannabis for entirely different reasons. The vast array of campaigns, reports, research, presentations, inquiries, reviews, and publications have for decades been consigned to a vacuum, while the increasingly wealthy and all powerful multi-national companies with a vested interest in maintaining the drug apartheid, have worked closely alongside politicians and government agencies, to maintain drug policy inertia through propaganda, procrastination, misinformation and distortion. Indeed prohibition benefits many groups and organisations.

marijuana, weed, cannabis, legalisation, harm reduction, reform, drugs

A recent US opinion poll (the General Social Survey), that explores support for cannabis legalisation, indicates that for almost 40 years (1970-2007) public interest in legalising cannabis changed little, fluctuating between 16% and 33% during that period. However,  in the seven year period since 2007, support for legalisation has risen rapidly from 31% to 52%. How do we make sense of this dramatic shift?

One influential contributing factor over this period, has been the global and widespread increased access to the internet, and the mass engagement with social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Scoop.it, LinkenIn and YouTube. Social media provides an alternative source to information, evidence and peer exchange, and has I believe, played a significant part in enabling the wider public to gain access to independent, research based knowledge and reason, necessary to critically consider and question the basis of the Drug Policy Sham. In particular, the widespread dissemination of research evidence, facts and case stories (such as Charlotte Figi), about cannabis to the public, has resulted in long overdue, and much needed calls for decriminalisation and legalisation, to allow people suffering with life limiting illnesses, that fail to respond to medicine, to explore possible benefits from cannabis, and sensibly too, to allow recreational use of cannabis. Personal possession of cannabis should never have been outlawed, but neither should personal possession of any substance. Every person should in principle have totally rights over their own body and what they consume without threat of harassment, punishment or incarceration. The risks associated with personal consumption of any substance is a health and social care issue, not a law enforcement issue (if it’s an issue at all!).

The public acceptance of cannabis is a very significant shift, indeed, it could mark the ’tipping point’ – the start of the process that could see the end of the drug apartheid. But let’s be clear here, cannabis reform in the US is not occurring because fifty years of research, evidence and debate has finally persuaded politicians the drug war was a mistake, and the politicians are seeking legislative change. No, cannabis is being embraced, essentially because public insight and awareness has significantly increased since 2007, and there has been a shift in public opinion, that has resulted in serious electoral pressure upon politicians to enact cannabis law reform. The drive is coming from the grassroots, it’s not being led by politicians,  instead governments are being forced to change by the public and ballot box.

In an era where the interests and activities of multi-national companies and politicians are becoming increasingly enmeshed. An era where democracy seems unresponsive to the needs of the vulnerable, and shows little interest in the protection of the common good, another four decades of inquiries, reports, reviews towards incremental change, would be a grave strategic mistake. The leverage for drug reform will be found, not in trying to persuade politicians or the INCB, UNODC, UNGASS, CND to lead the way on incremental changes which fail to address the underlying fallacies, but rather, by winning over mass public support, by utilising social media to distribute evidence, developing well-informed community movements, regularly disseminating accurate information, sharing influential case studies and rallying a huge social movement and public outcry that demands political change and transformation. The Drug War fallacies spawned by UN, have created a global system of propaganda and prohibition. This system needs exposing and ending, it is misguided to imagine it can provide foundations that can be adjusted  and reformed incrementally to deliver drug legalisation.

drug reform, legalisation, decriminalisation, harm reduction, human rights

Human Rights and Harm Reduction must be central in all reform.

Despite this encouraging drug law reform development, in respect of cannabis, the attempts towards genuine global drug reform could easily be thwarted. If, as drug reformers, we are not clear in our arguments and strategies for reform, which should be firmly rooted in protecting human rights and promoting harm reduction, cannabis will simply be invited to join the other privileged legal drugs in the drug apartheid. This could be a positive outcome for: big business, who can extend their repertoire and profit from the commercial sale of cannabis; for the state, who can profit from taxes, as well as continue to utilise drug laws as a key control mechanism for stopping, searching, arresting and punishing the poor, indigenous and minority ethnic groups; and the business enterprises spawned from the drug wars, (the industrial penal complex, the drug testing industry and the drug treatment industries). In this pivotal period for drug reform, simply privileging cannabis and failing to address the fundamentally flawed system of drug control would amount to colluding with a corrupt system.

Some drug reform entrepreneurs may attempt to hail privileging cannabis as an incremental step in the right direction, but the widespread and growing public support for decriminalisation, (and ultimately the regulation of all drugs), could be dissipated by this tokenistic gesture to invite cannabis to sit around the table of the powerful. While alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and maybe cannabis enjoy privileged status, the scourge, oppression and madness of a drug apartheid, remains an affront to human rights, a system of punishment and control that will continue to haunt this generation and future generations to come, one that will be remembered shamefully in history. The international system of drug control is deeply flawed and damaging to individuals, communities and countries. There is no ‘World Drugs Problem’ what we have is a UN led World Drug Policy Problem. It needs naming, exposing and dismantling. There can be no minor adjustments, or so-called incremental steps to accommodate the status quo, abolition is what is required not compromise.

This period of history will be recalled for the needless self-inflicted harm, imposed across the globe by a drug apartheid, in which drug laws and drug policy have caused considerably more harm than the drugs ever could.

by Julian Buchanan, Associate Professor, Institute of Criminology, Victoria University of Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand, 7th March 2015 (updated 26th April 2016)

New Zealand’s Progressive Drug Policy Spin


Delighted that Aotearoa New Zealand looks set to regulate new legal highs – in theory – but don’t led that mislead you about drug policy here in NZ – the drug policy is anything but progressive! And indeed regulation is only regulation if the principle can be put into practice. I hope it will be, but I fear that the requirements to test drugs will be so stringent, and the threshold to prove the drug is ‘safe’ too high that no legal highs will be approved. Can anything we eat or drink prove to be totally safe?

This much hailed progressive move in New Zealand drug policy needs to be seen in the wider context. The same NZ government who are apparently progressive on drug policy are also introducing legislation to stop benefits for people who repeatedly test positive for any illicit drugs, have rolled out a five year US styled abstinence based Drug Court, stepping up workplace drug testing, have rejected a Bill to allow people with life limiting illnesses to self medicate with marihuana, and it has one of the highest prison populations in the world – incarcerating lots of people for drug defined (possession/supply) crime. 11% of young people convicted for possession of illicit drugs/utilensils go to prison.

So called regulation will be little different to prohibition if the standards required to become ‘regulated’ are unreasonably and prohibited high. The principle of regulation is great – but it needs to be genuinely delivered in good faith – and it’s hard to see (given other drug policy developments) this move here in NZ as an act in good faith towards regulation.

The NZ Law Commission carried out a major review of the 1975 Misuse of Drugs Act and that was published in 2011 but the minister Peter Dunne has strongly rejected the Law Commission proposal to introduce cautioning for drug possession and most of the other recommendations have been sidelined, so abstinence and prohibition continue.

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