On Her Majesty's Hippieland!

Hello Ladies and Gents! Kia Ora! This is me, the Indian wordsmith, writing from my country's Commonwealth sister, New Zealand, after I last reported during the Crimean War. Really, I am that old...and it has been that long! Sorry for the long delay, it is a tough life for an International Relations researcher. 

Anyway, I am now writing a column for Critic magazine. Don’t let my awesome literature floor you though, do check out the whole magazine…it’s quite fun! But, what I am here for is an interesting short chat up which I had with Otago Norml “smokesperson” and marijuana legalisation activist Abe Gray. Minnesota born Abraham Gabriel Gray, who left his native country in 2003 to settle down in South Island, works in the University after he completed his Masters in…you guessed it, Botany. That is when he is not dead stoned. I was interested as we don’t have any such activism back in India, which is a weird country anyway. By weird I mean we have marijuana legally prohibited, but it is a must use item in any Hindu religious function, with the North Indian Himalayan Hindu ascetics all doping much more than Jim Morrison could ever imagined. Also, it is pretty readily available. Like say regular groceries, one shotter handguns, RDX, mosquitos, etc. But that’s the fun of India, isn’t it? Being one of the most socially conservative, morally liberal, culturally diverse and totally awkward country, things are pretty easy to find! No wonder Pakistani movie actors, as well as the non-state actors both are attracted to our “holy” land.

Am I turning, or leaning left now? Hahha…nah…not so fast, mate! But the next fifteen minutes were fun…went like this…

1. How high are you now? Can you count the fingers? Also, what is the standard lingo here, pot, weed, grass, toast, jag, mari, or good ol’ ganja?

Not at all yet, too early in the day, wait a minute (takes toke), there we go, now I’m pretty high. Here at the University we tend to refer to it by its proper taxonomic name, Cannabis. Another common slang term is Dak.

2. Who’s your pot smoking idol and why? Also, I’m guessing you support the Green party worldwide?

Bob Marley is totally awesome, I reckon he would have become Prime Minister of Jamaica if he hadn’t died so young. Closer to home, Nandor Tanczos is a real inspiration. Jack Herer and Dana Beal also deserve credit for influencing me. I personally support the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, but the Greens are great. The current Green Party Leader, Meteria Turei, was originally a candidate for the ALCP.

3. What’s your favourite place, position, etc. to smoke a joint? And when the tourist companies say that New Zealand has got a nice green cover and lots of vegetation, is this what they mean?

I don’t usually smoke joints, I usually use a small pipe, colloquially known down here as a ‘pinchie’ (because it only holds a small pinch of cannabis), and my favourite way to smoke the pipe is by lighting it with a magnifying glass. This causes the cannabis to spontaneously combust using only photons, with none of the negative environmental effects or aftertaste of fossil fuels. The best place to smoke is at the Otago University NORML 420 sessions, every Wednesday and Friday at 4:20pm on the Otago University Union Lawn. And in answer to the last part of your question, yes the NZ tourism authorities do try to subtly market New Zealand’s stoner image to overseas tourists, and it works! We regularly receive visits from overseas tourists of all nationalities at the 420 sessions!

4. Tell us a bit about Otago Norml…the news, views and the dooze…and also the ongoing tightening noose…

Students have been agitating for cannabis law reform from the Otago University campus continuously for the past 12 years. We believe that the outdated laws prohibiting responsible adult consumption of cannabis in moderation must be changed. Numerous official bodies including the NZ Law Commission and several Parliamentary Select Committees have already come to the same conclusion at least five times over the past three decades, the only reason the recommendations are never acted on is because of underhanded political machinations by members of parliament, despite the obvious consensus that has already been reached by science and health experts. In the face of such blatant hypocrisy and dereliction of duty by our elected officials we see it as our patriotic duty to force the will of the people using civil disobedience. As such we meet twice a week to blatantly disregard the law and smoke cannabis in public as a defiant act of protest, and we challenge the Police to intervene if they really believe so strongly in enforcing prohibition. In the past 8 years not one person has been arrested at the over 500 individual acts of public smoking protest that have taken place. We have even completely smoked out the Dunedin Police station, twice! As for the tightening of the noose, both Labour and and National know that cannabis prohibition causes much more harm than cannabis itself, but they are keen to profiteer off the drug war through filling up private prisons and seizing elderly and sick people’s houses. The New Zealand Police ran an undercover sting against our group simply because of our political views (they didn’t secure any convictions though because we are all law abiding citizens, we just happen to smoke cannabis and think it should be legal), and that was under a Labour government. With National committed to changing laws at the drop of a hat to suit corporate interests and their general predisposition to beating up on hippies, it is only going to get worse, unless of course we all band together and stand up for ourselves!

5. Rap or Rock? Which coast/era? Favourite artist/band…also? (Other than Green Day ofcourse!)

I grew up in the urban USA in the 1990’s so I am a rap man. Old School Hip Hop is my favourite (East Coast Golden Era to be precise, e.g. Tribe, Busta, Eric B and Rakim, Sugar Hill etc.), but I have to give a big up to the modern West Coast rappers for not being shy about extolling the virtues of the healing herb.

6. Would you kill me or mark me as an elitist snob, if I say that I’m a Scotch guy, and I don’t smoke or you would be too bloody stoned for any reaction? Incidentally, what’s your opinion about the upcoming liquor ban near Uni of Otago?

We have campaigned for equivalency for recreational cannabis users and alcohol users for years. We don’t think less of you because you drink, we just think you shouldn’t think less of us because we smoke. In fact we campaigned on this theme very aggressively several years ago, but it actually backfired because people in Otago are very protective of their drinking culture. We always said that if students can be trusted to use alcohol responsibly then they should also be allowed to use cannabis responsibly, but the die hard drinkers thought we were being derogatory towards them by comparing their favourite past time with something that dirty hippies do. Four years later, the drunks couldn’t handle the responsibility given to them and now their toys are being taken away. I am against the liquor ban, but if you take a leaf from our book when something isn’t going our way, we don’t whine, we set an example.

7. Final serious words, quotes you’d like to mention…philosophical or political?

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. – Benjamin Franklin.

Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food – GOD

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
- Martin Niemoller.


( Also published in my blog. )