Thursday 13 May 2010

I may be censored

I critiqued BERL's drug harm index in the Spring 2009 edition of the NORML News.

NORML now reports that the last three issues of NORML News, including Spring 2009, have been referred by the police to the New Zealand Censor.
In another sign authorities here are ramping up the drug war, New Zealand's most popular marijuana magazine NORML News has been sent to the censors.

"This seems to be more fallout from Operation Lime, the massive raids on gardening stores earlier this month," said NORML News editor Chris Fowlie.

"Now the secretary of Internal Affairs has referred the past three issues of our magazine, which promotes law reform and civil rights, to the censors."

"We are outraged they are trying to censor our free speech. The magazine is an important campaign tool for us to raise awareness about drug law issues, especially at this time when the Law Commission is reviewing the Misuse of Drugs Act."

The Law Commission's issues paper has called for the removal of penalties for drug use and a general winding back of marijuana prohibition in favour of tolerating or cautioning users and licensing medical marijuana growers.

"Suppression of free speech is one of the very harms of prohibition that we are campaigning against. Authorities are deliberately trying to interfere with our rights."

The issues sent to the Office of Film and Literature Classification are:

NORML News Winter 2009
NORML News Spring 2009
NORML News Summer 2010

Until this is decided, NORML News remains on sale at more than 150 outlets nationwide, including many mainstream book and magazine stores, as well as gardening stores, tobacconists and herbal high outlets.

30,000 copies are printed of each issue - the next is due out in July.

See for the nearest stockist, and get your copy now before it is banned!
Regardless of the Censor's office classification, my critique of the drug harm index remains available here. Although I'd mildly enjoy the bad boy props of having published in a banned publication, I do hope the Censor's office is reasonable.


  1. Hi Eric, I just went and had a look at BERL's website, mainly out of curiosity. I wanted to get a feel for who these people are. They seem to employ a number of analysts who claim to be trained in economics, so I'm wondering why it is their findings vary so radically from yours. Do you think they are bowing to political pressure to present certain pre-ordained outcomes? Or are they unintentionally using dodgy methodology? So to paraphrase, are they corrupt, or just incompetent?
    Also, kudos for your piece in NORML News, its a pretty decent mag on the whole, and it would be a shame to see it disappear. Not to mention a sad indictment on our continued and futile war on drugs.

  2. @Lats: I'd have to weigh carefully the chances of a defamation suit in any reply here.

    They were commissioned by a Government department that wanted a really big number; the department suggested a method that was guaranteed to produce a really big number. The method suggested followed a public health rather than an economic approach to costs. BERL, on alcohol, went above and beyond that method to do things that would result in an even larger number. Assumptions made lie outside of what I would view as economic orthodoxy.

    The biggest difference between my figures and BERL's is that BERL is willing to count as social costs a bevy of costs that fall on the drinker, or drug user, himself. In the alcohol report, they justified this by a short assumption that "harmful" drinkers gain zero enjoyment of any sort from any portion of their consumption; in the drugs report, they said that as a matter of New Zealand policy, it is deemed that no drug use of any sort confers any benefits whatsoever on drug users. With those assumptions, all costs incurred by users become "social costs": costs not matched by benefits because they have assumed those benefits to be zero.

    I view it as question-begging.

    But their drug harm index is sounder than their alcohol report: some of the dodgier bits that made it into the alcohol report weren't in the drugs report. So the productivity costs of drug use include only the user's forgone wages, not the user's forgone contribution to GDP under an assumption that the user could never ever be replaced by someone else. I don't know if this is because they hadn't thought of that assumption yet when doing the first report or whether the second report's cost figures just weren't quite big enough.

  3. Wait...Censor's office??!??! Say what? Thank the lord for the First Amendment.

  4. @Contemplationist: Office of film classification also handles books and text. I'd be surprised if they censored the magazine - I'd think the police are getting here a bit overzealous after a big raid on drugs.

    But, on the whole, censorship feels far less oppressive here than in the US, mostly because broadcast standards are far more European than American. Anything that airs on HBO in the US winds up on broadcast here, unedited, after 8:30 at night. Deadwood, L-Word, whatever.