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New Zealand Herald

Drugs Billionaire – Liquor Shop Bashing – Waitangi Row – Lost Hand – Gay Scouts – Timor Shoes – Childcare – Folic Acid – Cannabis Special, Q&A, Attitudes, Legal Loophole – Conservation

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DRUGS BILLIONAIRE: The billionaire businessman who walked free from an Auckland court on Friday was the second American let off drug charges in the court that day. Just minutes before the case of the super-rich America's Cup visitor, Judge David Harvey discharged another American caught at Auckland Airport trying to bring in cannabis.

LIQUOR SHOP BASHING: Pint-sized Robyn Taylor summoned all her courage, grabbed a softball bat and saved her husband from a bashing. Ken and Robyn Taylor were working in their liquor store in East Tamaki on Saturday night when two men entered and tried to steal a bottle of bourbon.

WAITANGI ROW: Prime Minister Helen Clark is under pressure to return to Waitangi on February 6, but a bitter split over the rights of women to speak remains unresolved. The Ngapuhi council of tribal elders met at Matauri Bay on Saturday to discuss this year's Waitangi Day commemorations and has invited the Labour leader back to the treaty grounds.

LOST HAND: A Taupo woman whose fingers were nearly severed in a boating accident will need more surgery today and up to three weeks in hospital as surgeons battle to save the use of her hand. Gail Henderson, a 49-year-old tourism boat operator, was left with four fingers barely attached to her right hand after they were sliced by a tow-rope on Thursday night.

GAY SCOUTS: Scouting New Zealand is working on policies to ban discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, after a Scout leader said he was forced to resign because he was gay. The organisation's equal opportunities group has been briefed to produce anti-discrimination policies, but Scouting NZ said it would also take into consideration the concerns of members and parents opposed to gay leadership.

TIMOR SHOES: A donation of 3000 pairs of shoes to East Timor has been stopped after most were found to be either high heels or white wedding shoes - not the most appropriate attire in the war-ravaged state. Sandals and jandals are the footwear of choice in East Timor since many roads and footpaths are still being cleared after the violence which accompanied independence from Indonesia.

CHILDCARE: The Government will consider calls for cheaper childcare to help beneficiaries get back to work, says Social Services Minister Steve Maharey. The Ministry of Social Policy has recommended that the Government increase its 50 per cent childcare subsidy for low-income families and pay for more than the present maximum of 30 hours a week.

FOLIC ACID: A proposal to dose our daily bread with folic acid may help others besides pregnant women and unborn children. Research shows that besides preventing birth defects such as spina bifida, folate may help stop heart disease and strokes.

CANNABIS SPECIAL: Pressure is mounting to relax the laws on possession of cannabis. But is it harmful or not? BRIAN RUDMAN looks at marijuana’s medicinal history and recent scientific findings on health effects. In 1883, when the French nun Mother Mary Joseph Aubert clambered up the banks of the Whanganui River to found the mission outpost of Jerusalem, a bag of marijuana seeds was in her luggage.

CANNABIS – Q&A: It won't kill you, but just what are the effects of cannabis? Some answers from the latest research. How toxic is cannabis? No one has died as a direct and immediate consequence of recreational or medical use, although the British House of Lords survey reports five cases of death from inhalation of vomit after cannabis use in the mid-1990s.

CANNABIS – ATTITUDES: Attitudes to cannabis may be getting more liberal, but most of us still do not want people to be able to legally buy and grow the drug for personal use. Slightly more than half (56 per cent) of 750 people questioned in a Herald-DigiPoll survey were opposed to such a law change.

CANNABIS - LEGAL LOOPHOLE: The case of a billionaire businessman shaking off drug charges highlights a well-used but little-known legal loophole. Section 19 of the Criminal Justice Act enables offenders to be discharged without conviction if a judge perceives that the consequences of their conviction outweighs the gravity of the crime.

CONSERVATION: Cabinet minister Sandra Lee wants to see gains for the environment this year, starting with more money for the perennially cash-strapped Department of Conservation, which she describes as "a Cinderella." The new Minister of Conservation does not want to make another pronouncement like her first action as minister last year - declaring the unique Hector's dolphin, probably the world's rarest marine dolphin, officially threatened.

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