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News (Media Awareness Project) - New Zealand: Editorial: Brash's Dope Idea Misguided And
Title:New Zealand: Editorial: Brash's Dope Idea Misguided And
Published On:2011-09-27
Source:New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
Fetched On:2011-09-27 06:02:07

When Don Brash seized the leadership of Act, it was expected to be the
prelude to a return to the party's founding principles. A raft of
policies emphasising individual freedom, personal responsibility,
lower taxes and limited government spending was anticipated. Indeed,
as much is needed if Act is to have a chance of winning back many
disillusioned voters and returning anything like its current crop of
five MPs at the general election. Nothing like this has happened,
however. Instead, there has been a policy initiative from Dr Brash
that smacks more of opportunism than principle.

In a speech at the weekend, the Act leader said he wanted the use of
cannabis decriminalised because too much valuable police time was
spent enforcing a law that was flouted by about 400,000 people a year.
"All those police resources could be better deployed in actually
keeping us safe from real criminals intent on harming us," he said. Dr
Brash said this was his personal view. Its inclusion in a speech on
law and order conveyed its own message, however. He must have known it
would create headlines, not least because of his party's record of
being tough on crime.

It is difficult, therefore, to see what Dr Brash was trying to
achieve. If this was indeed a grab for votes, there are few for the
picking. The decriminalisation of the personal use of cannabis has
long been the preserve of the Greens. Worse, a call to soften drug
laws was never about to go down well in Epsom, the conservative seat
that will determine Act's future. Understandably, John Banks, the
party's candidate in the electorate, has been quick to dissociate
himself from Dr Brash's notion.

It could be argued that, tangentially at least, the decriminalisation
of cannabis accords with Act's founding principles. Dr Brash pointed
out that those flouting the current law were harming no one except,
arguably, themselves, "which is their prerogative in a free society".
This is also an issue that successive governments have been too keen
to shut down. More, for example, should have been made of a Law
Commission report that was released last year.

It concluded that drug policy should focus on dealing with problem
users, rather than the many people whose drug use posed no serious
risk to their wellbeing or to others. In response, Simon Power
effectively terminated debate by pronouncing "there's not a single,
solitary chance that as long as I'm the Minister of Justice we'll be
relaxing drug laws". He did not deem it worthwhile to comment on the
current disconnection between the law on drugs and those for tobacco
and liquor, or how this country is creeping towards de facto

Yet it is hard to see how Dr Brash's statement will help him gain the
sort of traction that has been so noticeably missing since he unseated
Rodney Hide. The expected lift in Act's dismal polling has failed to
eventuate. Now, the party's fortunes have suffered a fresh blow with
the surprise decision by its deputy leader, John Boscawen, to retire
at the election. That means none of the five MPs elected to Parliament
three years ago will return. Mr Boscawen's departure is the more
unfortunate in that he was the only one of that group to steer clear
of the self-inflicted blundering, misjudgment, infighting and purging
that have so besmirched the party.

In that context, Dr Brash's statement on cannabis reform appears to be
as desperate as it is miscalculated. He and Mr Banks have been in
Parliament before, as National MPs, but Act is, otherwise, asking
voters to place their faith in inexperienced candidates. If the party
is to survive, it will need policies that resonate with, rather than
repel, its potential niche constituency.
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