Patrick Gower is on cloud 9. He has, after all, been living the high life, after traipsing half way across the globe to examine the pros and cons of legalising marijuana.
We caught up with ‘Paddy’ about doing his due diligence on the cannabis debate – not once but twice – and what side of the fence he’s on.
How did Patrick Gower: On Weed come about and how did you feel about the opportunity to turn your journalistic hand to a project like this?
It had a very unusual beginning! It was meant to be a Paul Henry documentary! One of the bosses offered it to Paul and he turned it down. The boss saw me in the carpark one day, grabbed me and said ‘do you want to do a documentary on cannabis?’ He didn’t tell me for a year it was Paul Henry’s turn-down, but Paul sailed off on his yacht and I was the lucky beneficiary.
My friend of 20 years Justin Hawkes and I had tried to do a documentary previously but had it turned down a year or two before. I knew it was important to New Zealand, so Justin and I jumped on it. It was a dream come true for us, albeit through a wonky course. It was going to be Paul Henry: The High Life and became Patrick Gower: On Weed.
You’ve approached this documentary in a completely open-minded manner. Can you tell us, what was your opinion going into this project and has this changed or stayed the same?
Honestly, I didn’t care enough about cannabis to have a view. It wasn’t on my radar. Yes, I used it in my younger years and was aware of the arguments for and against, but I had never given it one minute of my mind time. I gained a lot of respect for the plant. I thought I would come out with a view at the end; I thought I would be anti or pro. But the more we got into it, the more complicated I could see it would be for New Zealand to decide what to do. I’ve been a journalist for 20 years. I didn’t get into it to tell people how to vote, I became a journalist to give people information, to leave it over to the public, and that felt like a more natural approach to me.
What outcome would you like to see in New Zealand with regards to the cannabis debate?
My goal was to lift the standard of the debate. I could see there was a dire lack of information out there; that’s not ideal when the country is making a decision. New Zealanders are incredibly intelligent people and they love a good debate but they don’t want two sides shouting yes and no; they want the facts. I wanted to get people talking about it, thinking about it. If we can have a good debate, I don’t really care if it’s a yes or no.
It’s the question on everyone’s minds, how did it feel consuming cannabis on nationwide television?
It felt good! I felt really comfortable doing it. I had spent so long around cannabis, weeks and weeks, so to do it those two times felt normal for me because of the culture. I was nervous because of how people might react, but it’s tantamount to how normalised it has become that someone can consume cannabis on television not once but twice and still have their job!
How does it feel to have received the overwhelmingly positive feedback for this documentary?
Pretty strange! I worked in political reporting for 10 years and you didn’t always get that positive feedback. I never expected people to react like this to the documentary. I should have done it years ago! It’s really been awesome, but really sad because I know a lot of feedback has come from people who have lost people to things like cancer. I think fronting up with my dad the way I did touched people because so many Kiwi families that have had their lives wrecked by cancer.
You’ve traipsed across the world for this project. How does it feel to be in a position where you are given the time and resource to be able to create discussions and bring the different sides of a debate together?
It’s the best feeling; it really is such a privilege. I’ve spent all my adult life working in journalism and wanting to do what I did in this documentary and so doing it on such a scale and to touch so many people has been my greatest achievement really; a dream come true. To give a voice to all those people in the documentary means everything to me.
What do the next 12 months have in store for you?
Waiting – my promotion must be in the mail from Mediaworks, so checking the mail every 2-3 days! Kiwis want serious investigations on prime-time television; this is proof of that. So I hope to give them another one next year.