Triangulating: John Key, Social Liberalism and Social Conservatism

July 16, 2014 in General

While we might be dismayed at the current impasse that affects the onward progress of transgender rights, this will not prevail forever, whatever pathetic delusions Bob McCoskrie and other fundamentalists and social conservatives may harbour. Why? Ah. It’s called ‘triangulation,’ and it’s how one finds the ‘middle ground’ of current social and political controversies.¬† One carefully constructs oneself as a ‘cautious liberal,’ while castigating ‘extremists’ on either ‘far’ side of the issue in question. When it comes to transgender rights, Key, Judith Collins and Chris Finlayson appear to currently hold the following position. While conservative Christian opponents of transgender rights are ‘extremists,’ ‘so’ are transgender rights activists who want full legal protection spelt out within the Human Rights Act 1993. Key, Collins and Finlayson contend that former Clark administration Solicitor-General Michael Cullen’s Crown Law Office opinion is ‘legally binding’, despite the fact that such opinions are untested within adjudication or regulatory tribunals, or the courts, given that they do not have the¬† backing of directive legislative amendments. Labour, the Greens and possibly Mana/Internet, perhaps also United Future and some National Party social liberals, all believe that transgender/whakawahine/fa’afafine/faikaleite/tangata ira tane New Zealanders should not be treated as second class citizens and that New Zealand should follow the leads of most Australian federal, state and territorial jurisdictions and the United Kingdom, all of which have trans-inclusive antidiscrimination laws.¬† Presumably, this state of affairs will eventually prevail after a suitable change of government. Of course, if consecutive opinion polls saw a majority of cisgender New Zealanders supportive of transgender legislative protection, that might cause the Prime Minister and Key loyalist National MPs to change their minds and vote for such a private member’s bill.

Similar triangulation occurs within the abortion debate. Neither the pro-choice or anti-abortion sides particularly likes the current situation. The pro-choice lobby dislikes the fact that the current regulatory regime for abortion access is included within the Crimes Act 1961 and favours the outright decriminalisation of abortion, as with homosexuality and sex work in 1986 and 2003. The anti-abortion side is split into two factions. One favours incremental restrictions on abortion access, while another wants total prohibition of abortion access and is prepared to resort to harassment and terrorism to achieve that end.¬† Again, both sides want to shift the goalposts, although happily, the anti-abortion movement’s extremism and militancy have turned off many otherwise potential supporters and much of its first-generation leadership and membership are now dead or in nursing homes. Meanwhile, the pro-choice movement has rejuvenated itself.¬† The Prime Minister tries to modulate this through remarking that he supports a woman’s right to choose, but sees little evidence that current laws are not working- so, he favours the status quo; neither decriminalisation or prohibition of abortion.

Strategic relationships differ from issue to issue. In the case of the abortion and transgender rights issues, both the transgender and pro-choice movements have important relationships with medical practitioners, psychologists and others who reinforce the fact that their case is the evidence-based one, while Christian Right opponents of abortion rights and transgender equality cannot do so and must continually either resort to denials. In the case of the current New Zealand cannabis and euthanasia debates, those medical and scientific authorities are lined up on the sides of opponents. Moreover, apart from libertarian denials of harm and awkwardness matching anti-cannabis and anti-euthanasia semblances of evidence-based claims, the cannabis and euthanasia reform movements are not in the more advantageous position they enjoy in the US Pacific states of Washington and Oregon, Quebec, Vermont or the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and¬†Switzerland, where organised medical groups have either declared neutrality on euthanasia or now assist regulation of access to it. Similar developments may be occurring as more and more US states debate medicinal cannabis availability or outright decriminalisation. Portugal, Switzerland and the Netherlands have gone even further insofar drug policy is concerned.¬† Professional groups support medical cannabis decriminalisation and public opinion is shifting against prohibition in this context. How long those developments will take to spread her is anyone’s guess.

However, take a recent Economist article on cannabis decriminalisation in the United States. The article notes that while only two US states (Colorado and Washington state) have decriminalised weed and sell it to anyone who wants it, an additional twenty three states have medicinal cannabis legislation in place. Colorado has an abundance of pot, while Washington state has to contend with a meagre harvest and doesn’t have a well-regulated medicinal cannabis sector, as Colorado did before they took the next step. Washington’s Liquor Control Board wasn’t up to the responsibility of regulating cannabis supply and quality. Washington was then swamped with eager potential licensees for producer, processor and retail outlets and will take until 2015 to work through the backlog.¬† Pricing has proven a particular question for this grey market commodity, and to complicate matters further, there’s no way to assess potential market demand, given its former criminality. The Economist argues that there are three primary benefits to decriminalisation- the circumvention of additional criminal justice expenditure on a ‘victimless crime’; it will raise additional tax revenue; and it will put criminal drug dealers out of business- although dispensaries still outnumber shops, even in Colorado.

Oregon and Alaska will vote on decriminalisation in November’s mid-term Congressional elections, while Florida will debate decriminalisation of medicinal cannabis and California is likely to vote on decriminalisation in 2016. Stoned driving and inedible ‘edible’ cannabis products are two of Colorado and Washington’s minor headaches to date. The spread of medicinal cannabis derivate gradualism has meant softened public attitudes toward recreational cannabis usage in the twenty eight medicinal cannabis states. Vaporisers and concentrates have overtaken the humble spliff. But what about the federal US government, which still classes pot as a Class 1 illegal drug, even if President Obama and Attorney-General Eric Holder cautiously support reform. Banks, state and federal prosecutors and other funding sources have cold feet and this is discouraging investors in the new grey industry. Still, for now Colorado and Washington state will push ahead. Cannabis cafes will soon open in Washington, but probably not Colorado.¬† And New Zealand???


“The Great Pot Experiment” Economist: 12.07.2014: 27-28.

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