New Zealand votes Nope to dope, and Yes to assisted dying

For better or worse, New Zealanders have cast their votes in a referendum in favour of assisted dying for terminally ill people, but not in favour of legalising recreational marijuana use. There’s a lot of upset people around right now. The ‘yes’ voters for recreational marijuana use are mightily pissed off with the ‘no’ voters, and the ‘no’ voters for assisted dying are mightily pissed off with the ‘yes’ voters. In other words, situation normal.

I voted ‘yes’ for assisted dying, because I can see that I might possibly want that sometime in the future, although it’s not just the elderly who will benefit from it, so there was a humane element to my vote, as well. I surprised myself, however, by having a last minute change of mind and voting ‘no’ to recreational marijuana use. Having been a recreational toker in my youth, I always though that voting ‘yes’ to legalising it was a no-brainer for me. I do like how we can keep on surprising ourselves, and those around us, right us to the time we (assisted) die.

Two things changed my mind about the recreational marijuana use, and I’m not saying that I’m right or wrong with them, because I don’t know if I’ll ever really decide on that. The first hesitation came about upon chatting to the young Polynesian man who came to change the filter on my home HRV system. He asked me what I thought about legalising marijuana for recreational use, and I blithely said that I was going to vote in favour of it. At that time it was true, and anticipated earning myself some ‘cool’ points from this young Polynesian man. I waited to see the admiration in eyes for this older whitey person being down there with the kids. However, he screwed up his face a little, and then said he didn’t think he would be voting ‘yes’. So much for getting ‘cool’ points. Upon further discussion, he revealed that he’d seen too much drug abuse amongst his wider family and community, and didn’t want to make it easier. That was the first pause in my conviction, although it didn’t press the stop button.

The next pause came when I read an article in the weekly magazine, The Listener, which generally has good journalism. The article, titled Smoke Signals, gave the pros and cons of legislation. It didn’t really sway me one way or the other right then, although I was interested to read that research suggests that compounds in marijuana may be useful in delaying the onset of dementia. Now, it might be starting to sound that I’m taking this getting older business a bit seriously, but in reality I haven’t got too much to worry about right now. Perhaps that’s helped along by my vegan diet, perhaps I’m lucky, or perhaps it’s a combo of both. However, I looked after my elderly parents for eight years, and I’m aware that real old age does come to us all eventually – if we’re fortunate – and not thinking about it doesn’t stop it.

The Listener article was a good read. It gave me a different perspective from it, as did my young HRV man. As is always the case, there’s more to the matter than my casual “what’s the big deal” attitude. I won’t go into what the article said, because it’s a fairly long read (12 mins), and the links to it are above and below if you want to read it for yourself. I still didn’t know which way I was going to vote, though, until my pen ticked the ‘No’ option in the voting booth. I’m pretty sure there will be at least one person, whom I know well but who shall remain nameless, who will have something to say to me about that if they find out.

When I heard the results of the referendums, my first thought was that it was probably older people who voted for assisted dying, and against marijuana use. However, the sad fact is that cannabis use here in NZ is most widespread in areas of deprivation, and Maori – 16% of the total population – consume nearly a quarter of it. And I wondered if there were more Maori and Polynesian than we may think, who, tired of seeing what drug abuse is doing to their people, also voted against it.

I still don’t know whether legalising recreational marijuana use is a good, bad or indifferent thing. Either way, it won’t affect me directly, so from that point of view I don’t care too much. I’ve heard the arguments from both camps, but in the end I just don’t know enough about the wider social ramifications. That’s why I voted ‘no’ – but I’m not saying that I’m either right or wrong to have done so.

The Listener article ‘Smoke Signal’ https://www.scribd.com/article/479209436/Smoke-Signals

Header pic by Michael Fischer https://www.pexels.com/@mfi97

8 thoughts on “New Zealand votes Nope to dope, and Yes to assisted dying

  1. Katrina, awesome original and thoughtful analysis as always. 🙂 Love your blogs. I voted not to legalise cannabis as I am a sad old scientist and I just think there are not enough studies to prove that cannabis, whatever it is, in all its manifestations, is safe. And it is the French bull dog of garden plants, litter after litter of plants being highly modified in an unregulated way only for money in gardens over many generations, all over Aotearoa. But I voted against legalised euthanasia for the reasons your HRV man did not want cannabis legalised. We have a two tier health care system in NZ. I think rich white people with education and friends in high places, of similar beliefs, will always be able to end their own life easily and peacefully if they really want to. But realistically, those people also have access to the very best of palliative care and they probably get comfort from knowing they can, but never do. I think euthanasia is a social justice issue, and the people who will, at the coal face , ask for it, are those people in our society who fall through the cracks, who do not have access to incredible palliative care, who’ve never felt valued by society and no one loves them, no one cares, they have no one to fight for them, feel lost and choose death because no one else values their life. They are the poor, the fringe, Maori and Polynesian, immigrants, women, the mentally ill, any marginalised person subject to societal disapproval. Politically to me it looks like a licence to kill off the inconvenient and costly unpowerful and voiceless. Very sad day for me.

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    1. Yes, The Listener article touched on the much higher levels of THC in cannabis now, compared to the cannabis I toked on in my youth. Who knows what other modifications have been made, as well? I wavered over the aspect of how legalising it would reduce the gangs’ grip on it, but couldn’t see that it would reduce it in the areas that really mattered.

      Re: the euthanasia bill, I agree that there’s always room for mis-use with it, like everything, but I know that if I was terminally ill and in chronic and/or escalating pain, I would want the option to end it all. I couldn’t get past that point, even though I’m aware of the other risks.

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    1. I think it’s really hard to know what the right answer is with marijuana, and that’s why it was clever of the government to put to a referendum. With alcohol, the negative aspects are much more widely known, perhaps because it’s legal and easier to study? With marijuana, there’s much less known about it amongst the general public. I think that it was once a lot more harmless than it is now. The THC levels in it are way higher now than the stuff I smoked in my youth, and who knows what other modifications have been done to it, or are in the pipeline (pardon the pun 🙂 ) to be done to it. Having said that, I don’t know if the harms are greater than booze, either. If the referendum had been a month previous to what it was, I would have voted ‘yes’ as well. Maybe one day, if more information and knowledge about it comes to light, I’ll be more certain of whether I voted the ‘right’ way or ‘wrong’ way.

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  2. Legalized recreational and medicinal use in California has been a mixed bag. On the one hand, the local police aren’t burdened with having to chase down the occasional joint smoker or the person with a one-ounce baggie in the kitchen drawer. (I think the amount you can have at home is still restricted, as is growing cannabis plants at home. There have been too many people who’ve turned their houses into cannabis farms, with the resulting odors—cannabis stinks, at least some varieties do—excessive use of water and energy, and unfriendly sorts hanging around.) On the other hand, there has been an uptick of health problems stemming from excessive smoking of cannabis—it’s still smoke, and hard on the pulmonary system—which include auto collisions caused by people too inebriated to drive. My own doctor feels the research doesn’t support cannabis as an effective treatment for pain or emotional ailments like anxiety: he’s seen cannabis users become paranoid and delusional after excessive use. It’s also ridiculously expensive for something that’s not that hard to grow, which makes me wonder if the shops are gouging people based on demand. I voted ‘yes’ to legalize recreational cannabis years ago, and I guess I would still vote ‘yes’ only because I know so many who smoke it now. But for all the discussion about its benefits, I think it’s been oversold to the public.

    I want a peaceful, painless death as well, and certainly don’t want to burden my kids with my care should I become demented, I just hope they don’t kill me because they’re tired of grumpy, blathering Grandma!

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    1. They’re interesting comments on your experience with legalised cannabis use. We haven’t heard much about some of those issues you raise, because I guess you have to have first-hand experience of them to know. I would definitely agree on the observation of heavy cannabis users becoming paranoid, and their bad moods when they can’t get it. That would be where being able to legally get it may help, but the other side of the coin is that there’s clearly an addiction problem when moods noticeably alter without it. Maybe it’s not effective on all pain, but I have heard of others who swear by it. I’m happy for those who find it effective for pain to have it.

      I think you have to be compis mentis to be eligible for assisted dying 🙂 If you’ve lost your marbles, and are considered unable to make a fully informed decision, you’re out of luck. So if you ever get a painful terminal illness, make sure you ask to have the plug pulled before your brain breaks completely 🙂

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  3. lettersquash

    How nice to live in a country that has such important and intelligent referrendums instead of the UK, which just has ones about dislocating ourselves from the most progressive part of the hemisphere and sailing West to shackle ourselves to a bunch of nutjobs on a religious suicide mission. I wonder how fair the campaigning was on those – that was of course the problem with Brexit, it was just a political stitch-up.

    I’m firmly of the opinion that the problems we see associated with cannabis stem from two main things: the fact that it’s illegal, and the fact that drugs are misused largely as self-medication due to dismpowerment. If we had fairer societies, fewer people would fall into the trap of drug addiction or the temptation of criminal gain. Making something illegal causes it to be used – and then overused – as a rebellion against social norms…and drives its excesses in concentration of active substances too. I don’t think the arguments against legalizing it stand up to scrutiny. The USA’s experience of alcohol prohibition ought to teach us that, as well as the unconscionable number of people incarcerated in its prisons for having a bit of weed. Arguing that people cause accidents driving stoned suggests you need to outlaw alcohol on the same grounds, and glues with psychoactive solvents, and any medication that could make you drowsy…or we could just prosecute incapacitated drivers, as we already do. And the odorous houses where cannabis is grown, attracting “unfriendly sorts”, is precisely because we can’t buy it in the shops.

    I think I’d vote for assisted suicide too. I suspect if the UK ever had such referrendums put to us, they might go the same way, the freedom to die, but not to get high.

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  4. I have read that the cannabis I (we?) smoked in my youth was a much more harmless type of weed than it is now. I really don’t know what the right answer is, as far as legalising it goes. I agree with both the pros and the cons 🙂 The most compelling argument for me in favour of legalising it was to reduce the control that gangs have over it. Apparently, gangs are known for pretending that there’s no cannabis for sale from time to time, so they can encourage users to try something harder “in the meantime” – i.e. meth. However, as The Listener article says, the shops which sell it legally are probably likely to have mostly middle to upper class customers, as the prices will be higher than black market prices due to more compliance legislation, so the gangs may well keep their markets in the low socio-economic and deprived areas, anyway.

    Even though I’ve cast my vote, I guess I’ll always waver about it. Yes, we have the right to die, but not to get high – lol!

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