2013-14 Strategy Paper

Adopted at the NORML 2013 AGM and Conference, held at Turangi, Friday/Saturday, 8/9 March 2013

This strategy paper is presented in three parts.

  • Part One asks the question, what needs to be done to achieve meaningful marijuana law reform in New Zealand? How close is reform? After campaigning for 30 years, where has NORML NZ got to, and what general strategy should it follow at this stage?
  • Part Two is a review of the three core policies adopted in 2011 by NORML.
  • Part Three presents an organisational strategy for NORML NZ. It assumes that a more decentralised operation of NORML is both necessary and desirable, in the current world of the Internet and social media.

Part One – General

New Zealand is often described or perceived as a very conservative place. Yet, in earlier times NZ had a reputation for leading the world, granting women the vote and passing a range of social legislation. More recently, we established ACC, adopted MMP and passed legislation on homosexual law reform, prostitution and civil unions.

After campaigning since 1979 for cannabis law reform, how close are we to success?

We need to assess what progress has been made, before we decide on what needs to be done now, to get law reform.

Summary of previous campaign strategies and tactics:

In the 1990s NORML focused on civil disobedience, with J Day’s, Court Support, the Revolutionary Tea Train and BustBusterBus tours. The introduction of MMP led to NORML activists setting up the ALCP in 1996. Another long term strategy was to convince MPs via submissions and F2F meetings to support law reform.  Another has been to give support to an umbrella group (CCLR) to draw in a wide spectrum of law reformers to campaign for law change.  All through, there have been efforts to change public opinion on cannabis, using the news media to question the merits of prohibition policies (with rallies, speaking tours, protests, media briefings and other means of attracting attention), and efforts to inspire and recruit users, especially young and keen users to become activists or campaigners – by providing high-quality material on a website, in web forums and in NORML News as well as holding J Days and similar events.  More recently, The Daktory strategy of “live like its legal”, with the vision of forcing the State to cave in to legalisation pressure, was tried.

Our activities have led to some successes:

  • Public opinion, as measured by polls, is fairly evenly divided over the legal status of cannabis, and strongly supports medicinal use. Back in 2000, a poll showed 60% favouring either legalisation or decriminalisation. Public acceptance of cannabis use is increasing – demographic change is cannabis-friendly.
  • Two Health Select Committees have recommended law changes.
  • The NZ Law Commission has done the first comprehensive review of the Misuse of Drugs Act, and proposed significant changes in its final report in 2011.
  • The international reaction against the “War on Drugs” is affecting New Zealanders, opening up new ideas especially since the votes in Washington and Colorado.

So, what is the hold up? Why are we still waiting for cannabis law reform?

  • All drug law reform, but especially cannabis law reform, is often treated as a joke by the news media, with the Don Brash interview in 2011 being a case in point.
  • Politicians like Helen Clark who once supported law reform become cautious when in office, for fear of being labelled “soft on drugs”.

A possible reforming government in 2001 was never formed as the combined Labour+Greens tally was short of a workable majority.

Forcing Change? Two Alternatives:

In recent years, two strategies have been followed to apply pressure on Parliament, so that the resistance to change is broken down.

  • The Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party aims to get enough MPs elected to force the other parties to support law changes to legalise cannabis.
  • The Daktory tried to mobilise support for legal cannabis by inspiring users to “live like its legal”.

NORML NZ members have been involved in supporting both these strategies, and a huge effort has been made over many years to have them succeed.

Previous strategies have included:

  • Parliament rallies or White Flag meetings.
  • J Day a day to bring people together in public, for morale boosting rather than for political activism.
  • Dunedin continues with public 4.20 meetings twice weekly.
  • Stalls at events and places like Farmers markets – can be cheap and some funds are available to help groups run stalls. Good for public presence.
  • Bus tours – increase visibility.
  • Court support –– stop people doing the Police’s work for them!

Campaigning for political change

Last election, NORML NZ tried campaigning to put drug law reform on the political agenda, proposing “safe, legal”, medicinal cannabis, treatment of use as “a health issue not a crime”, and calling for a “regulated, taxable market” for cannabis and other low-risk drugs.  In 2011, that campaign achieved very little traction despite the media interest in Dr Brash’s ideas! Cannabis law reform did not become an election issue.

The campaign was based on the idea that somehow, we need to get drug law reform, or even just cannabis law reform, on the political agenda. It was assumed that the news media would not do the job for us, and that visible public support for law reform would be needed before the main political parties would take up this controversial issue.

Public support and support from professional sectors (eg health) is vital to law reform. NORML should be active in the news media with credible spokespeople, willing to promote its policies for drug law reform.

Part Two – review

The origin of our three core policy planks was a NORML activists meeting held in March 2011, in preparation for the 2011 election campaign. We knew we needed a highly focussed message if we were going to be pro-active in setting the agenda for drug law reform in New Zealand.

NORML has always been able to agree on what it is opposed to, but not always clear on what should replace the current Misuse of Drugs Act. Our submission leaflet for the 2010 Law Commission review offered 11 tick-boxes for 11 separate drug policies! We needed to reduce that to 3 or 4 simple policy principles.

The Whanganui workshop held 2 years ago assessed each of the following slogans in terms of its presumed appeal to a range of key “stakeholder” groups – young people; parents; the news media; Maori and so on:

  • Live Like its Legal
  • There’s no need for more debate, legalize and regulate
  • Coffee shops – not tinnie shops
  • Freedom is NORML
  • A Regulated, Adults-only, Taxable Market
  • NZ: Highest Teen Cannabis use in World – time for a change?
  • 400 000 Cannabis Smokers – Too Many To Arrest
  • It’s a Health Issue, not a Crime
  • Because Tinny Houses don’t ask for I.D.

We found that the activists present liked some slogans, such as “Freedom is NORML” but they recognised this slogan would have little appeal outside the committed NORML supporters. Some of the slogans seemed too cumbersome. Ultimately, the Board ended up using one of the slogans as the name of our 2011 NORML campaign “Too Many Smokers to Arrest”. Three other slogans emerged: “Safe, Legal Medicine”, which was not in the test list; “A Regulated Taxable Market”; and “It’s a Health Issue, not a Crime”. Placards, billboards and leaflets were used to drive the campaign home, especially at election meetings, televised debates and so on. These resources are still available for NORML campaigns and continue to be used.

Safe, Legal Medicine.

  • Advantages: Used with a cannabis leaf, the meaning is clear! Instantly conveys our message – that cannabis is widely used for medical and therapeutic reasons, and users have a right to a safe (uncontaminated, quality-controlled) version of their medicine. It’s persuasive – users need this medicine and should be able to use it while staying inside the law. Opinion polls show high levels of support already for this policy. Credibility – many jurisdictions allow regulated, medicinal use. NZ’s health select committee will hold hearings this year on a petition supporting safe access to medicinal cannabis.
  • Possible problems with this policy: its most effective advocates are sick people, mostly unable to deal with media attention even if willing. Many of our NORML supporters don’t identify with this campaign and give it little support.

In the USA, the money has been spent on winnable campaigns – and the MMJ issue has proven to be the most winnable, allowing development of more comprehensive reform campaigns in states where MMJ has become established.

Israel is a good example to promote, as there is fully regulated access arising partly from the large number (6000?) of ex-soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), many using cannabis. The strong military vote in Colorado State may have helped the vote there, too.

MMJ has about 65% support in New Zealand according to opinion polls. It needs a strong campaign in support, exposing the limitations of Sativex. NORML should involve other groups in an effort to get full hearings by the Select Committee on the MMJ petition of William Rea (eg. Auckland Greencross). Need people all over NZ to ask to be heard in their area. Need to find out the timetable under which the petition will be considered.

It’s a Health Issue, not a Crime.

  • Advantages: Easy to understand and hard to argue against – starting with the point that we don’t treat alcoholics as criminals! Of course, most users don’t have significant problems (are not addicts) and so don’t need health treatment (and indeed may be offended by the possible implication that all drug users are sick people). The power of the argument is deceptive – once opponents concede that those hard core addicts who DO need help should not be punished and treated as criminals, it must follow that punishing those remaining users (who aren’t experiencing significant harm) would be even more unjust!
  • Treating cannabis use (and other drug use) as a health issue, not a crime, is consistent with NZ’s official National Drug Policy, and it’s an argument widely accepted and used by our supporters in the health sector. These are powerful allies who would not be so willing to advocate “decriminalisation” even though the meaning is the same. (“Decriminalisation” carries a lot of baggage after 30 years of debate. We should avoid this word.)
  • Possible disadvantage of this policy: the principle clearly applies to other drugs, not just cannabis. Yet, while there may be a downside to this, there are possible advantages if this policy helps people re-frame the issue of drug use. Seen in a health context, prohibition and its punishments are obviously unjust, and anything that undermines the idea of prohibition is good for us.

It seems a paradox that cannabis use is treated as a crime but all questions about the law are referred to the associate health minister, Peter Dunne.

It is tempting to think Dunne should be the main target for NORML given his role in 2001. However, behind Dunne stands the whole government, of which he is just one member in a party with no other MPs. We should not over-rate his power.

A Regulated, Taxable Market (for cannabis and other low-risk drugs)

  • This policy is a re-formulation of the expression “Regulated Sales”, using the example of Dutch coffee shops, that appeared in our 2006 NORML leaflet “Half of all New Zealanders are criminals…” In the USA, the formula widely used is “Tax and Regulate” or “Regulate marijuana like alcohol”.
  • Advantages: Regulation of drugs will be in the headlines this year with the Psychoactive Substances Bill here, as well as Washington and Colorado enacting legalization. New Zealanders are comfortable with the idea of regulating access to alcohol, tobacco and gambling (at least in some forms). Regulation is meant to protect those under-age, and help protect people from themselves. There are many arguments in favour of this regulated approach: Excise taxes plus GST would provide income instead of cannabis being a drain on State funds; Experience shows that use does not increase much (maybe 20%) when law changes; Regulated access in states like California show teenage use declines, suicides and other harms decline and even road deaths are reduced.
  • In a situation where the government is proposing to regulate access to some approved substances – “legal highs” – one can ask, why not regulate cannabis too?
  • The policy draws attention to the potential tax revenue to be gained from legalising cannabis and other low risk drugs. However, the tax argument will not appeal to anyone who thinks that prohibition saves lives and is therefore a necessary evil, even if expensive! This point should remind us that any form of legalised access to cannabis (or party pills, or other drugs) will be unattractive to those who assume that prohibition actually does work, and does save lives.
  • Possible disadvantages of this policy: It’s a new idea for most New Zealanders, even though the wide discussion of the Colorado and Washington referenda continues to help educate the public. Being new, it needs more advocacy work from us. Therefore we recommend:
    • Keep it simple. We note the success of the USA slogan in Colorado, “Regulate Cannabis like alcohol”.
    • Widen our appeal. Need to interest food industry in potential for cannabis products as healthy food – cannabis health –food bars in gyms, etc.
    • Bring in the experts. It may be possible to bring Colorado organizer Mason Tvert to NZ for a tour, perhaps to coincide with the Select Committee hearings process. (Chris Fowlie is meeting Sensible Colorado’s Brian Vincente in Denver on 19 April.)

Part Three

There are some hopeful signs that NORML can re-invent itself as a 21st Century organisation – call it “New NORML” or “iNORML”. There is a foundation to build on, but NORML needs to upgrade to make good use of its opportunities. The principles would be:

A two-tier system

People join their local branch, or National NORML, or both. Joining a local branch does not automatically mean a person is a member of NORML New Zealand Inc, and vice versa. This is already standard practice.

  • Members are either Activists or Supporters (or both). Activists do work. Supporters give money. While NORML knows who gives it money, Activists need to inform NORML New Zealand Inc of their work if we are to make them a member.
  • We should recruit Activists via the website, Facebook, leaflets and the Cannabus. Activists may not pay any money to NORML, but so long as they work at DLR for a few hours a month that’s OK. These people need to be able to contact us easily to offer help or get our advice on what to do.
  • Our Supporters are those who will not or cannot be active but will send a donation. We have lots of supporters and need to make it easy for them to give us money. They need a reason to help us, and an easy means of doing so. Some of them will become activists.

Local groups acting locally

Organised via local email groups and face-to-face (F2F) meetings. Some examples here are Otago NORML, Wellington and the emerging branches. We should be able to foster this development with help from the Facebook networks, Daktory etc, and with a clear programme for 2013-14 based on a well thought-out strategy.

  • Membership should be local, with local activists recruiting local members (both Supporters and Activists) and keeping their funds ideally in sub-accounts within the main NORML account. Branches will need a minimum of 2-3 activists to be viable. If a local group is active it is not crucial to have paid-up members. However having no paid-up members would mean that group would have little say in how NORML is run, and communication lines may not be ideal. We recommend every local group has at least 2-3 paid up members of NORML NZ Inc.
  • There would be incentives to form proper NORML branches, such as (a) the local branch keeps its membership fees;; (b) provision of campaign materials at cost or even below cost; (c) priority treatment for training, campaign visits, etc. To make it easy to form a branch, any group of 5 members would be allowed to form a branch. (The current rule says 15). The term “NAG” (Norml Action Group) should be dropped.
  • A women’s network of supporters is being formed. This is still at early stage but may develop into a national network run by a collective of women. NORML should support this development with website access/promotion for the network, when ready.

Recruitment and Training

Our strategy should be focused on making our support more visible, especially in the run up to the election next year, but does not require a cast of thousands.

  • It is evident that many NZers (over one million) support some, at least, NORMLs objectives. Yet for most of them, becoming a NORML member is almost unthinkable. Recent events including legalization in the USA have created a chance for us to recruit many new people who chose “not to get involved” before. All of us should be thinking about how we can recruit good new people who are capable of useful action. F2F recruitment is most powerful, but the NORML website should be the second most useful source of new activists.
  • NORML needs to get serious about its outreach activity. NORML needs to rebuild itself by recruitment of talented people, who are inspired by a clear, practical and achievable NORML vision.
  • There should be better training for new members who are interested in being active, especially young people. Training should be F2F and there needs to be regular opportunities for seniors to pass on skills and knowledge to new people.

Board activities

Whatever strategy we adopt, we need a Board that is able to build up the organisation to achieve target goals. As the organization grows, we will spread the workload of national activities to non-Board members. Priority actions:

  1. Appoint a media team, with skilled spokespersons, who actively follow a Board-approved media strategy and promote (only) the agreed NORML policies. Spokespersons could be non-Board members.
  2. Set goals for the NORML website, our principle face to the world. Agree at Board level what should be the role(s) of the website, and delegate the management to an approved person or group, while retaining Board oversight.
  3. Sort out the membership issue – local members, or a “national” database, or both? Or a mix of (paying) members and supporters who may or may not make a financial contribution? The crux is deciding what is acceptable or to be encouraged at the local level where NORML supporters operate at the flax roots to promote NORML’s vision of law reform, whether it be protest activity (Court protests etc) or campaign activity (letter writing, stalls, J Day etc).
  4. A paid national organiser or national coordinator, working for the Board out of a suitable office (probably in either Auckland or Wellington) to help the Board implement its agreed strategy – such as by engaging in outreach activity.
  5. After setting realistic goals for its activities, the Board should adopt a realistic plan to finance those activities, which should include regular Board meetings by Skype and ideally some face to face meetings as well.
  6. Supported a national hui of community groups to fully discuss NZ drug law, after being exposed to alternative drug policies, and make recommendations on changes that have broad community support.
  7. In preparation for any such broad conference, NORML should continue to promote cannabis law reform, in the wider context of NZ drug policy, by all the usual means – media releases, letters, information stalls and similar activities. A speakers tour by someone like Mason Tvert would be a good way of raising the issue in provincial NZ, and developing support there.


Updated 10 April 2013

Feedback, suggestions and comments should be forwarded to
Phil Saxby: secretary@norml.org.nz