Friday, October 07, 2022

Pardon them!

Today, US President Joe Biden issued a presidential pardon to everyone convicted of the federal offence of possession of marijuana. Its a good move, an attempt to undo the immense (and racilised) harm the "war on drugs" has caused. And it led to immediate calls to do the same here in Aotearoa.

Naturally, Labour pretended helplessness, with Andrew Little claiming that "We don't have the sort of executive powers that POTUS has. Under our system of government ministers do not interfere in judicial decision-making." Of course, he's lying - section 11 of the Letters Patent Constituting the Office of Governor-General of New Zealand gives the Governor-General (which means Ministers, since the Governor-General acts only on advice) full power to exercise the prerogative of mercy, including the power to "grant, to any person concerned in the commission of any offence for which he may be tried in any court in New Zealand... a pardon, either free or subject to lawful conditions". And that's an executive decision, not a judicial one. Labour could pardon minor drug offenders tomorrow if they wanted to. The fact that they do not tells us clearly that they do not want to; that they support the racialised harm of the war on drugs. That its their war (as well as National's).

But if Labour won't do it the easy way, then there are other ways. In 2000, Parliament issued a statutory pardon to five New Zealand soldiers executed for desertion and mutiny during the First World War. Someone - Chlöe Swarbrick? - could bring a member's bill to do the same for those convicted of bullshit cannabis offences. I've taken a quick stab at what such a bill could look like here.

33,676 people were convicted of possession or use of cannabis between 2010 and 2020. More will have been convicted earlier. They all deserve a pardon. And while a one-off, statutory pardon will not prevent the ongoing harm of Labour's war on drugs, it will undo some of the past harm. But to fix things properly, clearly we need a government which will actually care, one which will commit to change. And we all know that that isn't going to happen under either of the status quo parties.