Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Q: What’s the difference between decriminalisation & legalisation? A: Gangs. One funds them, one doesn’t. [Updated]


The Herald’s sensational poll on Monday has put ending the War on Drugs in Enzed right back on the agenda. The shackles of prohibition have been coming off around the world, and the poll says most New Zealanders (whether they imbibe or not) would like to see that new dawn here too.

CannabisBut the poll shows some confusion.

It shows almost 65 per cent of NZers want personal possession of cannabis either decriminalised or made legal. While a similar proportion think selling cannabis should still be illegal.

Here’s a quick question for everyone: if you can legally possess but not legally buy, will this encourage or discourage those who supply illegally?

Yes, right answer: it will hand certain profits over to every outlaw who suppies outside the law.

So bad news then.

A similar confusion exists between those who favour decriminalisation instead of simple legalisation.

They see it as a peaceful halfway house instead of the recipe for gang funding it really is.

So what’s the difference between decriminalisation and legalisation?

Legalisation means it’s legal to enjoy, sell and (perish the thought but pass the peaceful joint) even tax the blessed weed. Whereas decriminalisation means it’s legal to enjoy drugs but still illegal to sell them. Spot the contradiction a gang truck can drive through.

Portugal, for example decriminalised every imaginable drug, from marijuana, to cocaine, to heroin in 2001, to discover that to discover that drug use went down rather than up, that the drugs being consumed were far safer than they were before, and most importantly Portugal now enjoys the second-lowest death rate from recreational drugs in all of Europe (after experiencing one of the worst rates with prohibition)

Almost all good news then.

But because the selling of those drugs in Portugal is still illegal (drugs were only decriminalised, not legalised), it is still largely in the hands of gangs – who are certainly being nicer than they were, but are still at heart just gangsters. “Decriminalisation’s flaw,” notes the Economist (which even our Prime Minister is known to read),

is that it does nothing to undermine the criminal monopoly on the multi-billion-dollar drugs industry. The decriminalised cocaine consumed without criminal consequences in Portugal is still supplied by the gangs who cut off heads in Colombia. Washington, DC’s version of legalisation is similarly flawed: although possession has been legalised, Congress has prevented the city from legalising the buying and selling of the drug. The capital’s pot business will therefore remain a criminal monopoly. [Decriminalisation] is good news for the people who harmlessly get high. But unless it is followed up eventually by legalisation of the supply-side of the business, it is [still] good news for the crooks who sell it.

So remember Richard Branson’s observation that drug legalisation is pretty much the worst thing that could happen to organised crime. Still true. But only legalisation, not merely decriminalisation.

Remind your MP. And don’t forget to suggest they pass a copy of that Economist to the PM.

UPDATE: The support and the facts supporting legalisation being so clear, the Prime Minister has resorted to fear-mongering in response. “Obviously, this wild scaremongering is intended to attempt to defuse popular momentum and support for a law change. And the manifestly fact-free nature of Key’s rhetorical stabs are revealed by the logical contradictions between them.”

In other words, says Curwen Rolinson, Key is Being Disingenuous on Dope Decriminalisation.



  1. Yes good. This social issue is not going so well in NZ. Nat and Lab against change. There is a trigger level of possession where you become a supplier I think. Your favourite people PC, NZF would hold a referendum on this. Yes, I know, remedy for irredeemable confusion.

  2. This cannabis debate has been going on for 50 years or more. They should know by now the facts around the use of cannabis. It is time they made a decision on whether or not they should legalize it or not. The gov't needs to stop mucking around, take action and legalize it. Anything else is a waste of time. John Key says no to legalizing cannabis. What gives him the right to decide on what people do. If people do decide to use cannabis, they should be made to accept the consequences for their actions, or is that too politically correct these days.

  3. When did someone sensible last get nicked for having a small bit of dope for their own use? I would also like to see some science around the medicinal use issue. Quadrant did an interesting item on dope last issue that included looking at getting it prescribed to avoid sales tax. The prescribing Dr didn't ask anything but happily pocketed the $ for a scribble. Is he a gang in a white coat?

    '... they should be made to accept the consequences for their actions ...' That's the crunch issue really but as a concept its so old fashioned.



1. Commenters are welcome and invited.
2. All comments are moderated. Off-topic grandstanding, spam, and gibberish will be ignored. Tu quoque will be moderated.
3. Read the post before you comment. Challenge facts, but don't simply ignore them.
4. Use a name. If it's important enough to say, it's important enough to put a name to.
5. Above all: Act with honour. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.