Recently, the state government in Victoria, Australia, passed the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021. The government of Victoria is committed to banning practices that seek to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. In particular, they had in their sights the practice colloquially called “gay conversion therapy”, which was and is a damaging practice that forcibly tries to change an individual’s sexual orientation from gay or bisexual to heterosexual using psychological, physical, or spiritual interventions. I think most people, regardless of their opinions on human sexuality, can agree that trying to force someone to change their sexual orientation against their will, especially through abusive practices, is wrong and harmful. If that was all this Act sought to do, I suspect it would be rather uncontroversial. But that is not all that it seeks to do.
Section 5.1 of the Act states that any attempt to change or suppress someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity will be illegal, whether with or without the person’s consent. In section 5.3, it states that attempting to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender by “carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer based practice…” is also considered a violation of this Act. Meanwhile, Section 10.1 states that the maximum penalty for violating the Act is up to ten years in prison, as well as a substantial fine.
This Act goes into incredibly dangerous territory, violating freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, as well as freedom of sexual expression. This is worrying, as the current NZ government has already stated that it wants to pass similar legislation here.
Now, there is already plenty written on how this Act violates freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, and I imagine the NZCN will have much more to say on those violations of religious freedoms in the future. But in this particular article, I want to focus on just one aspect: how this Act actually violates freedom of sexual expression, a freedom which has in recent times become sacrosanct in our New Zealand context.
So how does this Act violate freedom of sexual expression? Remember, the Act states “whether with or without the person’s consent” no attempt may be made, in consultation with others, to change how one expresses their sexuality. With that in mind, consider this hypothetical scenario: if I, as an adult heterosexual man, wanted to get counselling on how I could add gay sex to my life because I am questioning my current sexual identity, and I asked somebody to help me in that pursuit: would that be considered conversion therapy? Given how this legislation is written, yes it would! But I doubt the government would ever enforce it for a questioning heterosexual person. Meanwhile, if a gay man wants advice on how to change his sexual practices, this new Act rules that he isn’t allowed to talk to anyone, even if he wants to! The Victorian government is dictating that by law gay people must remain in their gay sexual practices, even if they feel that is not how they want to express their sexual identity. What an inconsistency! I thought the whole point of giving sexual freedom and choice to consenting adults was so that they could pursue any sexual practice or expression they wanted, as long as everyone consented?
It seems to me that, in this talk about “gay conversion”, what is really happening is we once again have an example of a largely heterosexual majority deciding the sexual practices of gay people in the name of “their protection”. This appears wrong to me, quite apart from the implications for freedom of religion for Muslims, Orthodox and Conservative Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians, and for freedom of conscience for other traditional cultures. The progressive Canadian Prime Minister, the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau, made the salient point, “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”
It is my hope that the New Zealand government passes a much more careful law than the Victorian one, a law which takes all New Zealanders’ rights into consideration, protecting all individuals, those in the LGBTQ+ community as well as those in various religious traditions or from traditional cultures. For sure, LGBTQ+ individuals should feel safe and free to live in our society, and should be protected from any abusive and coercive conversion therapy against their wishes. But they shouldn’t be forced to adopt or remain in particular ways of living either, especially if they are actually wanting to explore other forms of sexual expression. Gay people should have the same freedom as heterosexual people to pursue or not pursue the sexual practices they desire. Finally, that same freedom should be extended to all those who want to base their sexual expression on their religious, cultural, or philosophical tradition.
I’ve received some great feedback from my last article, ‘Is the legalisation of cannabis racist?’ One reader in particular pushed back on my argument, which I have paraphrased as follows (to make good sense of this, I recommend you also re-read my article).
Thank you, Mark, for your article.
I believe you argue in good faith, but I think there is a deep flaw in your argument. Currently, cannabis IS sold in low-income neighbourhoods through gang-run tinny houses, and other places of wider criminality. No amount of policing has ever changed this. The involvement of gangs in the cannabis trade increases the likelihood that users are also turned towards other drugs, like methamphetamine. But by legalising cannabis and taking this market away from gangs, there is the potential to dramatically reduce harm in these neighbourhoods, even if legal shops move in.
Thank you for your email and counter-argument. I really appreciate it. You raise a great question. This sort of interaction helps move the discussion forward.
First, I want to acknowledge that your argument is one of the better reasons to support legalisation. I think most people can agree that it would be better to buy cannabis from a government-regulated business than from a seedy criminal organization or gang. I think we can all agree that buying from a regulated business would be better than buying from a gang.
Unfortunately, just because people would have the option to buy from a reputable business doesn’t mean that they will. It appears that in places such as the USA and Canada where cannabis has been legalised, the black-market cannabis industry continues to thrive. Why? Because it is not subject to government regulations, and thus can provide cheaper and stronger forms of cannabis. Given that other nations and states that have legalised cannabis have seen a marked increase in usage, I don’t think it’s a far stretch to imagine there will also be an increase in people wanting stronger forms of cannabis.
Secondly, my intention in writing the article was to respond to the claims that the argument against legalisation was racist. My main argument is that legalisation, at least as it has been presented by the NZ government, is a form of racism, or at the very least classism. Your response demonstrates that legalisation could be seen as less racist than the status quo, but that doesn’t mean it still isn’t racist (or classist).
Third, I haven’t made this argument before, but it is something to consider. Gangs and others who currently do profit from selling cannabis may, to make up possible loss in revenue, seek to sell an even more devastating product in higher quantities. Where are they going to sell these more devastating drugs? In the same communities that they currently sell cannabis. I very much doubt gangs are just going to lie down and let the government take all their profits. Gangs will realise they can make a whole lot more money when they don’t follow the rules.
Thank you again for your really thought-provoking argument. I still think though, that on the whole, proper, genuine decriminalisation is a better pathway forward than legalisation. Therefore, I would still encourage people to vote no in the upcoming referendum on cannabis legalisation.
There is a common accusation from those who support the legalisation of cannabis that the illegality of cannabis causes disproportionate harm to ethnic minorities. Joseph Boden, a professor in the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Otago, Christchurch and who sits on the government’s Expert Panel on Cannabis asserts that “Prohibition is racist, it operates in a racist manner, and you see this everywhere and that’s one of the main reasons, to me, to get rid of it. It’s actually a tool for white people to oppress minorities. The trouble with police discretion”, he argues, “is that it then goes down to the individual officer who isn’t necessarily accountable for their motivations and may not even understand their own motivations…Māori are two and a half times more likely to be convicted for cannabis offences than non-Māori, and that’s after correcting for differences in rates of use. If you’re brown, your chances of getting leniency from police is lower.”1
In response to that, I argue that the legalisation of cannabis would in reality not benefit racial minorities, but instead cause them significant harm. How?
Ask yourself the question, if cannabis is legalised and sold, where will it be sold? Will cannabis shops pop up in the rich privileged neighbourhoods, or will they more likely be found in the most vulnerable ones?
Many people think they might vote “yes” to the legalisation of cannabis in the upcoming referendum, primarily because they do not want people to go to jail or get a criminal record for cannabis usage (which is of course why we should genuinely investigate decriminalising the use of cannabis, not legalising cannabis so that it can be openly manufactured, promoted and merchandised).
But if you ask those same people, “So, if we openly sell cannabis in your own neighbourhood, and at a shop just down the road, is that okay? If we locate cannabis shops where your kid passes by on the way to school, is that okay with you?” Asked that question, most people would instinctively feel “No, no, no. Let’s put cannabis shops somewhere else, not anywhere near me or my family”.
Local councils would start getting calls from constituents saying, “You know, I thought legalising cannabis was good, but they’re not going to open a store near here, are they? What can we do to stop it?” And eventually, the majority (not all) of cannabis shops would end up in those minority communities which have the least resources to fight the negative consequences of cannabis usage.
Now before you think this is just a concern of the author of this article, it is obvious that the government also knows this is true. In Sections 16 & 88 of the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill (Exposure Draft for Referendum Version) the government lists the criteria for the issue of a cannabis distribution licence. Here is the criteria from section 88 (expanded criteria originally set in section 16):
d) Take into account the following factors relating to the proposed location or locations of the premises:
i. the characteristics of the locality or part of the locality
ii. the locations of kindergartens, early childhood centres, schools, tertiary institutions, places of worship, parks, sports facilities, swimming pools, playgrounds, and other community facilities
iii. the cumulative effect of the presence or absence of other licensed premises in the same locality:
iv. whether the amenity and good order of the locality would be likely to be reduced, to more than a minor extent, by the effects of the issue of the licence:
v. whether the amenity and good order of the locality are already so badly affected by the effects of the issue of existing licences that they would be unlikely to be reduced further (or would be likely to be reduced further to only a minor extent) by the effects of the issue of the licence but it is nevertheless desirable not to issue any further licences in the locality:
A key phrase here is in point iv, which states, “whether the amenity and good order of the locality would be likely to be reduced.” With that in mind, which communities do you think are going to get the larger share of cannabis shops? Which communities’ property values are not going to be lowered much by a nearby cannabis shop? Unfortunately, it will often be communities with racial minorities who do not have the resources to fight the establishment of such a shop. And with the presence of a shop, there will be an increase in cannabis usage in the community. With that, there will be yet one more factor separating those who live in privileged areas from those who do not.
In conclusion, take a sober look at the final point (v): “whether the amenity and good order of the locality are already so badly affected by the issue of existing licences that they would be unlikely to reduced further”. To me, that is a clear acknowledgement of the damage that will be done to some communities by the legalisation of cannabis. I ask again, what communities are likely to be so badly affected by the existence of licenced cannabis locations that they are “unlikely to be reduced further”? It can only be those communities that are already disempowered in society – those racial minorities whose voices are too easily ignored and whose pain and problems are being offered the cold comfort of legalised cannabis.
For these reasons, and the reasons stated in my previous article, particularly that the government should first do a thorough, genuine, investigation into decriminalisation, we should vote “no” to the legalisation of cannabis in the upcoming referendum.
1 Alice Webb-Liddall, “A Compelling NZ Academic Argument to End Cannabis Prohibition – from 1975,” The Spinoff, January 21, 2020, https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/21-01-2020/this-1975-study-tells-us-about-what-we-always-knew-about-cannabis/.
Recently on ZM’s Fletch, Vaughan & Megan morning show, Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick was interviewed about the upcoming cannabis legalisation referendum. In the interview, Chlöe and her hosts gave several arguments in favour of voting “yes” to cannabis legalisation. However, while some of Chlöe’s points are compelling, on balance most of her positive points could be achieved through decriminalisation without the negatives of legalisation. By decriminalisation I mean a policy of making simple possession or use of cannabis a non-criminal offence (similar to a minor traffic violation) and treating cannabis use as a health issue instead of a criminal one. Legalisation on the other hand refers to allowing the possession, purchasing, selling, and using of cannabis for recreational purposes.
I’ll sum up Chlöe’s arguments as best I can, and then provide a short response. If you want to see her arguments in greater detail we have included a transcript here. If you want to see the evidence for my arguments in greater detail, see various on the Say Nope To Dope website.
Chlöe argued: People buying cannabis on the black market have no way of knowing if what they’re ingesting is safe or has anything extra added to it. Legal cannabis allows the government to regulate what a person can purchase, helping ensure that cannabis is free of toxins.
I respond: This is probably the single best argument for legalisation as opposed to decriminalisation. However, it appears that in places such as the USA and Canada where cannabis has been legalised, the black-market industry is still thriving since it is not subject to government regulations and thus can provide cheaper and stronger forms of cannabis. Therefore, while legalisation provides a safer option for cannabis users, it doesn’t prevent people getting their hands on more toxic, cheaper cannabis if they so desire.
Chlöe argued: Young people’s lives should not be ruined by getting a criminal record for smoking a joint at a party.
I agree. There is a good case for why we should investigate decriminalisation of cannabis usage, and treat cannabis use as a health issue, not a crime issue. But a key point is that we don’t need to legalise cannabis to make it a health issue, we just need to decriminalise it.
Chlöe argued: Everybody is already using it. Let’s make it legal, thus taking the sexiness out of it, and then we can have grown-up conversations about intoxication and addiction.
It seems to me that alcohol is viewed as quite a sexy drug, and it’s been legal for ages. What makes something “less sexy” is not whether it is legal or not, but the culture fostered around it. In reality, by promoting legalisation the Government is promoting the idea that cannabis is “sexy”, which contradicts, in spirit, the Government’s Smoke Free 2025 initiative.
Chlöe argued: in response to the argument “Why are we looking to legalise cannabis when we are looking to be smoke free 2025?” that the reason smoking is no longer “cool” was only made possible by the fact that smoking is legal.
The reason smoking isn’t cool anymore has nothing to do with it being legal. It has to do with a multiple decade-long campaign to show how damaging smoking is. Cigarette ads being banned, in addition to a consistent negative ad campaign against smoking, have helped to take the “sexiness” factor away from cigarettes. Legalisation is the only reason cigarettes are still around!
Vaughan [07:16]: “And we’ll get some sweet tax dollars from it, won’t we?”. Chlöe: [07:19] “I mean to the tunes of hundreds of millions of dollars”.
Yes, there will be tax revenue with the legalisation of cannabis. But if you’re going to talk about revenues, one also needs to talk about costs. You cannot just look at one side of the ledger. A bad way to look at any business is to only look at revenues. What are the costs? What are the costs to New Zealand in terms of drugged driving, public safety, public health, etc.? Annual societal costs from alcohol and tobacco far exceed the tax revenues they raise. Legalisation of cannabis will lead to increased use, which will lead to even greater societal costs for New Zealand.
Chlöe argued: Cannabis isn’t actually that bad for you. And if it’s legal, we can easily help the people who it is bad for.
While it is true that cannabis doesn’t affect everyone the same, it is nonetheless the case that cannabis usage can have very negative health consequences. There is an abundance of evidence-based research articles, papers and other literature covering the inherent physical, psychological, environmental, social, familial and community harms of cannabis. I support the view that we should help people by treating cannabis use as primarily a health issue rather than a crime issue, so that we remove the stigma of getting help for drug use. But on the other hand legalising the use of marijuana, and allowing it to be promoted by a big new industry, will inevitably increase its usage. That is an outcome that will be seriously bad for New Zealand society.
Instead of voting “yes” for legalisation, let’s instead ask lawmakers if they have done everything to reduce cannabis use as much as possible: prevention campaigns, health campaigns, educating doctors and paediatricians, early interventions and treatment, and investigating decriminalisation. We should exhaust all those avenues before we go down a path that is very difficult to reverse. Until we have done those things, we should vote “no” to the legalisation of cannabis in the upcoming referendum.
Like many of you, I have been following circumstances in the United States surrounding the tragic death of George Floyd, a black man, by a police officer. Because of these events, I feel compelled to address this issue. This issue of racism and racial injustice is something that I think each one of us should care deeply about.
For example, in Canada, and I bring this up because I was raised as a Canadian European, one of the Church’s greatest sins against Canada’s First Nations people was our support of and participation in residential schools.
Under the pretense of wanting to give First Nations people a gift – a gift of education – the Canadian government, supported by the Church, forcibly removed thousands upon thousands of First Nations children from their homes.
This was a kind of cultural genocide. An intentional way of, through education, to uneducate or de-educate an entire generation. To destroy their own understanding of their own culture, their own language, their own heritage and history, and religion.
Thousands of children died throughout this century-long project. Some through neglect, some through abuse, and some through suicide. We participated in forced sterilization of First Nations peoples, taking eugenics to a whole new level.
The sexual abuse done to the children in these schools was horrendous as well. When did these schools close you may ask? They were open from 1870 to 1996. And the horror of the residential school project didn’t stop when the schools eventually closed.
Because now we have generations of First Nations children in Canada who are growing up into their adulthood never having experienced family. And that doesn’t set you up for success in today’s world.
And so today the destruction continues, the heartache continues. And Christians have been a part of that.
We made the mistake of confusing European culture with Christ, and with the noble intent of wanting to share Jesus with people, we instead imported and enforced our own culture, often forcibly, which led to the destruction of families. And having a stable family is the number one predictor of success in our world today.
Now New Zealand never had the Residential School system that Canada had. But it does not take much searching to see some of the horribly damaging things done to the Maori people by Europeans, which have had similarly negative effects on the Maori people. And as believers in Christ, we just have to be honest about that.
So how should we move forward?
The Treaty of Waitangi – Te Tiriti o Waitangi saw two people become one. And interestingly we see this concept in the scriptures.
The classic passage is Ephesians 2:14 which states, “14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.”
One of my old lecturers, Steve Taylor, described this to his students as the Treaty of Jesus, where two peoples, Gentile and Jewish, became one in the Ephesians church.
And because of this Treaty of Jesus, through Jesus, two people are becoming one and there is no excuse for racism or sexism or elitism among the people of God. This is the beauty of having one faith.
As Ephesians 4:5-6 states “5There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all.”
Steve Taylor would also remind me, if you mention the Treaty of Waitangi, many Kiwis become nervous. Mental images start filling our minds. Images of protests, politicians, and mud-slinging. And yet, we have this document. A legal document that changed the relationship of Maori and Pakeha, from two peoples into one.
And just as it is hard work to live the Treaty of Jesus, it is hard work to live the Treaty of Waitangi. How do you make right the sins of the past? The theft of land, the injustice done to the Maori? What does something that happened 150 years ago, a document that I did not sign, that you did not sign, mean for us today? How do we move forward?
We see a hint, again in Ephesians, in 4:3, where it says “3Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” Peace.
Galatians 6:2 says, “carry one another’s burdens.” Part of that is learning what the burdens are. As a European, as someone raised as a Canadian European, do I know the burden that Maori or other people of colour carry? Definitely not as much as I should, especially if I want to be a part of the solution. I need to start listening and learning much much more.
And may I ask any non-Europeans reading this, please talk to us Europeans. Let us know what we can do. Many Europeans are scared to offend and thus end up not doing anything to help. We need to work this out together. We need to communicate. But we need to do it in peace and love.