The Aotearoa Student Press Association speak with Patrick Gower about his ‘On Weed’ documentary.
How often does someone yell out “it’s the fucking news” to you?
Once in the morning, once in the afternoon. Maybe once in the evening.
Why did you feel a need to make this documentary [Patrick Gower: On Weed] and show it to the world?
Weed is part of Kiwi life, right? When I was… at Vic uni, we’d get on the bongs every flat you went to… We’d be doing Bucky bongs Friday, Saturday nights. A lot of my mates were stoners; I wasn’t really a stoner. But you know from time to time I’d have a suck on a Bucky bong as well when I was at uni. And I think for lots of people, you know, weed in New Zealand is part of their life… And it’s here, right? … It’s part of us. But it’s it’s illegal…
Here we got this plant … that is part of our life but it’s illegal and we don’t understand it. We really don’t understand it. We don’t have research; there’s a lot of myths around it… for a journalist this plant, this weed plant, this cannabis is the ultimate documentary. It is the ultimate journey into something in terms of finding out about something that is part of life but is hidden away for some reason we’re not knowing about. And that’s what journalists are meant to do is actually get out there and find shit out for people and tell them about it. And that’s what this documentary is about; finding out about weed and telling people more about it so that they can be informed in 2020 when they vote.
What do you hope to achieve with this documentary?
I don’t care if people vote yes or no in 2020. What I do want to achieve is that people are more informed about cannabis. First thing that I want to achieve is that people are more informed about the medical powers of the plant. We’ve legalized medical marijuana in New Zealand but we’re still waiting to actually bring it in so people can use it. And, every day that we wait, every day after making this documentary, I know that we’re leaving people in pain because there are people out there that could use medical cannabis right now and would use it and it would help them; people suffering with cancer and stuff like that. So the first thing I want people to know is we need medical cannabis…
The second thing is when it comes to 2020 I want New Zealanders to be informed. I have found it really hard while making the documentary because I haven’t been able to talk about cannabis, to sit on the sidelines and see people pro and con just yell at each other. And the debate goes nowhere. Kiwis are brighter than that. They need to understand more about things. And I just want people to be informed… That’s not saying I’m pro-cannabis. That’s not saying I want to legalize it. But there’s a lot to it and it deserves respect. I learnt respect for the plant in the documentary and it deserves to have a good debate. So that’s the second thing I want to do is an informed debate… Because you know I’m sick of seeing debates in this country that just kind of gets skewed and everyone yells and then the average New Zealander turns off. And we don’t get anywhere on it.
Historically, people of colour have been, and still are, the ones most affected by these drug laws. Would the drug reformers change any of that do you think?
Yeah. Look, I think the majority of people convicted of cannabis offences in this country are Māori, right? When, or if … we legalize recreational cannabis, we need to let these people that have suffered from all of the criminalization around it back into the industry. One of the heart-breaking parts of the documentary was when we went to visit Blaqstar, which is an African-American cannabis company that’s gone straight … into the legal market and they said: “hey, you know, as soon as this got legalized it was run 90 percent by white men”. When it was illegal, it was mainly African-Americans getting prosecuted, [then it] switches over to legal the business side [and] things gets taken over by white men.
That is not fair, and that could happen in New Zealand. The only thing that’s gonna save us from that is companies like Hikurangi over on the east coast there that is setting up their own business and aim to employ their own local whānau … I’m fucking worried that Māori are gonna be shut out of this thing because that would be the biggest bloomin slap in the face to legalise it and then for white guys to come in and take over this whole thing and leave them shut out after all the shit they’ve gone through over this drug…. I think there would be an obligation on the government, if they did legalise, to help Māori communities get up and get into the industry straightaway. What concerns me is I haven’t heard the government talk about that once, okay, during this whole during this whole debate so far.
What happens if New Zealand votes no on the referendum?
To be honest I don’t really care how people vote as long as they vote. And as long as they vote in an informed way. As long as they understand what they’re voting about. But, you know, if we end up voting no, then we’re going to carry on having a black market for cannabis because no one’s gonna stop smoking it. We’re going to carry on having police criminalize people for it no matter what. We’re going to carry on with having green fairies supplying medical marijuana for cheaper than the medical people do, so we’re gonna have… what I call a grey market, as well. We’re actually going to get nowhere if we vote no. We’re not going to deal with what’s out there. Weed’s still going to be there. People are still going to want it for recreational or medical use or cheaper medical use because we might have medical. And we’re actually just going to be in the same place.
The government’s not going to give the police 500 million or a billion more dollars to go out and extinguish it with gangs. We’re just gonna carry on where we are. And as time goes by, more and more people are gonna get used to having medical marijuana, they’re going to want to get marijuana easier for medical reasons, they’re going to wonder why they’ve got to go through their doctor, they’re gonna wonder why it’s so expensive, and we’re just gonna have this weird grey market that doesn’t deal with any of the problems that weed brings and just leaves us where we’re sort of standing now, which [is] kind of in no person’s land. So a no vote, I don’t think is gonna solve anybody’s problems. You know I’m not against the no vote like I said, but I don’t think it’s gonna solve any of the problems that we’ve got with weed. A yes vote would solve something… [but] would bring some other problems as well.