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"Clayton’s" Bong Ban Takes Effect Today

The Misuse of Drugs (Prohibition of Cannabis Utensils) Notice 1999 which takes effect today aims to strengthen prohibition but it is written in a way that may have little effect, says Chris Fowlie, spokesperson for NORML and part-owner of one affected business, The Hempstore Aotearoa.

"The good news is that despite the mean intentions of this bong scare, it’s a ‘Clayton’s’ ban that will probably have more effect on the way things are sold, rather than what is sold."

"The ban prohibits the importation and supply of cannabis utensils, which are defined as a named item that has a prohibited feature. Something called a ‘head pipe’ or ‘hash pipe’ can’t have a metal cone or protective gauze in the cone, for instance, but a ‘tobacco pipe’ or ‘ornamental’ can. A ‘bong’ or ‘waterpipe’ is prohibited if it has the ability to cool smoke by drawing it through water, but the individual components could still be sold separately. Likewise, roach clips are banned if they ‘depict’ cannabis, but they can be made in any other shape. The ban essentially relies on what an item is called, so it may prove difficult to catch wily retailers determined to stay open, if that is in fact what the Government wants to do."

"The bong ban was part of National’s ‘tough on drugs’ response to the Health select committee’s inquiry into the mental health effects of cannabis. They recommended reviewing the legal status of cannabis, but National chose to criminalise the importation and supply of so-called "cannabis utensils". We tabled a petition of 5000 signatures asking Minister of Health Annette King to overturn the ban but she has done nothing to stop it going through. All it would take is for her to issue a Gazette Notice saying the previous notice is rescinded, and I have again today written to the Minister requesting she do that. Strengthening prohibition in this way makes no sense when we are about to review our cannabis laws."

The notice contradicts the existing National Drug Policy, which is based on the principle of harm minimisation. The principles used for developing specific policy should include "upholding individual rights where these do not impinge on the rights of others" (p37). In the words of the National Drug Policy:

"Individual choices [will be] respected where the costs of the choices are not borne by others … this principle would give preference to the strategy which would least interfere with the rights of the individual ... A health promotion campaign would be preferred as the strategy to reduce the use of a particular drug, because it would be less intrusive than a targeted law enforcement campaign on the lives of the individuals who were using the drug in the community." (National Drug Policy 1998 p37-38)

"The Ministry of Health says the availability of cannabis pipes and bongs "sends the wrong message" and justifies the ban on the grounds that smooth-toking bongs encourage people to smoke more and inhale deeper. They also cite reports that complain of sharing saliva and bacteria growing in bong water. However all of these concerns are better addressed through educating cannabis smokers, and what better place to do that than in pipe shops? Pipes are now okay as long as they’re for tobacco, a poison that claims the lives of 5000 New Zealanders every year. The government subsidises needle exchanges and nicotine patches, so why won’t they allow cannabis pipes and bongs? " said Mr Fowlie.

The Ministry of Health has refused to provide any advice to retailers other than to say "At the end of the day, it is the courts that decide on matters of statutory interpretation… I suggest you take independent legal advice."

Contact: Chris Fowlie 09 302-5255 025 297-6843

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