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Wednesday 08 October 2008

Proclamations of the Red Queen

31st May 2008

Pot, Off the Boil: When Social Movements Stall, II

Posted by: Craig Young

If there’s one political tragedy that has continued throughout this decade, it has been the question of cannabis law reform - and the ineptitude of the decriminalisation lobby established to fight for it.

It’s not because there’s insufficient evidence that pot’s effect on health is questionable- the decriminalisation lobby does tend to be quite good at pulling apart and questioning prohibitionist research that shows that pot per se is a cause of harm. Moreover, it is prepared to observe feasible safeguards- it is willing to canvass for an age limit, although its proponents may also need to do some more homework when it comes to the question of ‘cannabis psychosis’ and people who experience schizophrenia.

Trouble is, the cannabis decriminalisation lobby itself is a patchwork of interests. On the one hand, there are the Greens, one of whose most promising members, Nandor Tanczos, will be quitting Parliament at the next election. Throughout the Noughties, though, cannabis decriminalisation has been an issue of contention for the Greens. Added to which, the Labour/Green relationship itself hasn’t always been straightforward, which further delayed opportunities for cannabis reform.

In 2002, the Greens should have had a clear run at becoming Labour’s preferred coalition partner, but instead pursued a hardline stance against genetically modified crops as their bottom line, leading to concerns about the stability of any arrangement where the two were in coalition, and providing an opportunity for the resurgence of prohibitionist MPs within the New Zealand First and United Future caucuses. By the end of that term, there were clearly forced grins on the faces of Labour MPs, and fortunately, the Greens had resolved their outstanding differences with Labour. Then, enter the Exclusive Brethren, but that wasn’t all.

Even given the closeness of polls which suggested the Greens might not clear MMP’s five per cent threshold, the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party decided to run, siphoning off a percentage of the decriminalisation vote that was wasted (…) on that single-issue party, but which might have buttressed the Greens chances in any future Labour-led coalition.  In that instance, the decriminalisation lobby were architects of their own defeat. If they’d been able to sufficiently mobilise its adherents to vote Green, then it might have had enough members of Parliament to force the government into taking it more seriously.

Added to that, there’s the frustrating question of medicinal cannabis derivative reform. At a time when New South Wales is about to press ahead with medicinal cannabis derivative trials, it is beyond belief that the decriminalisation lobby cannot marshall enough support, or is too disorganised to do so, when it comes to an issue where no one disputes the utility of cannabis derived chemicals for alleviating some of the more traumatic consequences of terminal or chronic disease, including HIV/AIDS. 

Reluctantly, then, I must conclude sadly that the cannabis decriminalisation lobby will remain a romantic cause celebre for many social liberals, until its allied social movement gets disciplined enough to unify itself, and insist on the need for palliative cannabis derivative decriminalisation, and then safeguarded decriminalisation of cannabis itself.

I’m sorry, Nandor, but you’re wrong- both the decriminalisation lobby and the Greens need to be held accountable for the frustration of reform objectives for that particular movement. Strategic disunity frustrates social movement cohesion and diminishes its ability to plan and deliver its objectives.

Tags: Politics

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