2 min read

Psychoactive substances and Peter Dunne

New Zealand, like a lot of places, has a problem with illegal sales of potent synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (aka ‘synthetic cannabis’, ‘synthetic marijuana’, ‘Spice’, ‘K2′, etc, etc). Peter Dunne, as the responsible Minister, is getting a lot of criticism. 

I don’t think Peter Dunne should be an MP. His party got 0.22% of the vote at the last election. In theory it’s conceivable he got in because he provides astonishingly good constituency service to Ohariu rather than as an edge case in the MMP voting system, but I find that hard to believe. On the other hand, I cannot think of anyone else in Parliament who has done as much to try to prevent the current drug situation.

The Psychoactive Substances Act provided a mechanism for lower-risk ‘legal highs’ to be approved, something that didn’t exist anywhere else in the world. You could argue that just legalising cannabis and MDMA would have been better, and I would totally agree, but the law was a genuine step away from the whack-a-mole serial banning paradigm that NZ and other countries had used. When the law was being proposed I was skeptical about whether it would work, and cynical about Mr Dunne’s motives.  In hindsight I was right to be skeptical, but I think I was wrong to be cynical. 

What killed the new approach was controversy over animal testing.  John Banks, of the ACT Party, wasn’t willing to support a law that killed rabbits to protect drug users.  As a result, the government couldn’t force the law through and gave up on it, allowing it to be killed by an amendment that most of Parliament then voted to support. The Green Party gets an honourable mention for abstaining on the vote. The law wouldn’t have been a magical fix for the drug problem (and neither would legalisation) but it would have helped. You could also argue that a better minister would have gone down with his ship and voted against the amendment, and ok, maybe yes – but it likely wouldn’t have helped.

The people who, often literally and explicitly, wanted drug users to die rather than rabbits have got what they wanted. Peter Dunne wasn’t one of them.