“Just keep telling the truth”: Law Reform in New Zealand

SD6 hosted Abe Gray, originally from the States and an immigrant to New Zealand, to talk about his political activism and law reform efforts in a Q&A session.

His advice when asked by Jackie Morck from SD6, “What can we do from the United States to help encourage other countries to legalize cannabis?” was that cultural representation is the most effective way to promote normalization. In his words, “the more the success story continues to leak out through Hollywood and internet social media, the less people can argue that the sky will fall if you legalize.”  

He added, “If any industry barons want to throw some money at politics down here, you get a lot more bang for your buck than you would in the USA. New Zealand is the ultimate luxury holiday destination and I hope to convince some wealthy international cannabis industry entrepreneurs that it would be even better with legalization and it might be worth their while to invest in political lobbying now to secure future change.”

He talked about the importance of elevating discussion and education around acceptance, when asked by Terry Roston at Motagistics, “What are some of the things that you are currently doing in order to promote legalization efforts?”

Abe said that “Creating a clean-looking, quasi-academic institution really elevated the discourse around cannabis in this country. You couldn’t just mock us as hippies anymore, even though we are, because a museum is a beloved cultural institution.”

Jason Arhart at Originate asked, “When you face people that are morally against cannabis in a professional setting, how do you address them?

Abe again pointed to the importance of education when trying to drum up acceptance. He said that he tries “to explain the science and politics behind Prohibition just as I would explain how to use a microscope to a first-year medical student. If you can get people to realise you are smarter than them without getting them defensive they will really start to listen.”

Sebastian Tory-Pratt at SD6 asked the question, “What would you say is your best lesson learned from your time involved in activism for cannabis?” And Abe responded to “Just keep telling the truth. It seems like pissing in the wind but eventually (sometimes decades) if you stay consistent and keep pushing things start to happen.  Then once you reach a tipping point it all changes very rapidly.”

Sebastian also askedWhat challenges do you see to fostering a more internationally connected professional cannabis community? How might we overcome those challenges?”

Abe responded, “If people who already had money from selling legal weed in one jurisdiction were to pay it forward and try to tip the next domino in another jurisdiction. The fear and suspicion created by Prohibition is probably the biggest challenge. Open communication is the best way around fear and suspicion.”

And to help change the laws where we live?

Abe said, “Be loud and proud. First make sure you are living by example and that your life story is unassailable. Then put yourself up on the cross. If you are a beloved sympathetic character in your community and also unashamed about your cannabis use then people will start to think differently about cannabis.

The haters will come after you but they will just end up making themselves look like horrible people because they are attacking a nice, well-spoken community person who most people like. This is not a simple as snapping your fingers. It basically requires a lifetime of almost religious devotion.”

He offered some practical tactics to talking about your work in cannabis.

He said that “If I am worried about a negative reaction I usually start by describing the industry vaguely. Like I have a small museum, or I work in tourism/education. Once they have decided not to judge me and that they are interested enough to ask more detailed questions about what I do then I bring up cannabis. In fact it usually means they are more interested to learn how cannabis can apply to the more general industry I first mentioned.”

He spoke about the need to more effectively market cannabis by saying that “we have to be consistent when we argue for equivalence with alcohol (even though we know weed is safer) and we have to be able to defend our policies in front of University academics.”

And when asked if we should legalize by appealing solely to medical, his answer was decisively “no”:the easiest way to circumvent only medicinal use and avoid an overly complicated public discussion is to piggyback on the successes of full legalization in the international media and jump straight over medical to recreational. The public seems ready here and we can see the medical only trap for what it is.”

Matthew Dula at CRVN also joined in with his thoughts: “The easiest way to legalize anything is to remove the objects that are prohibiting it. Cannabis worldwide is listed under the U.N Council as a controlled substance.”

Matthew affirmed that education is important, and “learning why the phytocannabinoids that come from Cannabis are so vital to our endocannabinoid system will help overcome the hurdles to prohibition.”

And then he shared some of his own experience with protesting. (A long story, but worth the read).

“In my first year at University here we marched on the central Police Station and hot-boxed it, resulting in zero arrests.  We did it again, bigger and better, the following year again with no arrests.  

At this point we realized we could get away with large scale civil disobedience protests and started dong them weekly on Campus.  Then eventually twice weekly and now three times a week.  

This resulted in the Campus security colluding with our National Police to do an undercover sting against me after I embarrassed our Drug Czar at a public university debate.  Luckily I am clean as a whistle so after 6 months of surveillance they had nothing and ended up arresting me for one gram and a pipe.  

Once the judge saw the level of resources that had been put in for such a petty offense he threw the case out.  The University and the Police were subsequently heavily embarrassed by stories exposing their ineptitude in the national media.”