During the 2011 election Don Brash was leader of the ACT Party, and he did something really stupid and crazy, but also rather admirable:
Act leader Don Brash is calling for the decriminalisation of cannabis, saying prohibition of the drug has not worked.
He has told TVNZ’s Q+A programme policing cannabis costs millions of taxpayer dollars and clogs up the court system.
Brash, who announces his party’s law and order policy today, said he has never been tempted to use marijuana or any other kind of drug, but the reality is the present law is not working.
He said it is estimated there are 400,000 New Zealanders using cannabis “on a fairly regular basis”, 6,000 people are prosecuted every year over cannabis and $100 million of taxpayers’ money is being used to police this law.
If you really are a ‘classical liberal’ party which is what ACT pretends to be, half-convincing only itself, then drug prohibition is arguably the most important policy issue you face. The state spends gigantic sums of taxpayer money to prevent the consensual transactions of its citizens, then confiscates their property and imprisons them. It’s also pretty easy to fix. That’s why Brash, being an actual classical liberal raised the issue. Unfortunately the number of classical liberals in the country is so tiny they’re not even a rounding error in the census data, and as it turned out the number of classical liberals in the actual ACT party was also pretty small, because when Brash made his announcement the party hit the roof, and its candidate in the Epsom electorate – one John Banks – instantly denounced it.
Banks was right to do so. He was running in Epsom, a socially conservative electorate vehemently opposed to liberal policies like cannabis decriminalization and if he didn’t win it ACT would have been wiped out. The new leader Dr Jamie Whyte is also a classical liberal who holds various beliefs that are incompatible with the majority of Epsom voters, and conservative right-wing voters in general – *cough* incest *cough* – so here we are yet again, for the third election in a row with ACT railing against the over-privilege of Maori, because in the tiny venn-diagram intersect of stuff the ACT leader believes and stuff that some actual humans might vote for, getting tough on ‘Maori privilege’ is they only thing they’ve got in common.
Whyte insists that he’s not playing the race-card, he’s campaigning for ‘legal equality’ (just as New Zealand First is never ‘anti-asian’ or ‘anti-immigrant’ but rather ‘for New Zealand sovereignty’ and the Conservatives are never ‘homophobic’ but rather ‘promote family values’).
But there are plenty of legal inequalities within our society. I can’t remember who first pointed this out, but National recently announced they’d create extra places in medical schools for rural students. Now, that sounds exactly like the type of inequality Dr Whyte was railing about in his speech, which was about extra Maori admissions to law school. Why aren’t ACT challenging this policy and insisting that rural farmers are like the aristocrats in pre-revolutionary France? I suspect that if you asked Whyte about this he’d say that he didn’t like this policy, that admission should be based purely on merit. But he’s not going to run around giving speeches denouncing rural admissions because the pool of potential ACT voters don’t hate farmers – they hate Maori, which is why every three years at election time ACT decides that the greatest threat to individual freedom is a bunch of trivial policy settings aimed at helping Maori.