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Cannabis battle lines being drawn

Opinion Piece

It will not happen for some time, but the battle lines are already being drawn for what should be the most controversial referendum ever held in New Zealand — whether to legalise personal use of cannabis.

The Government has promised to hold a referendum either next year or in 2020, and it may be tempted to do so early so as not to overshadow and cloud the election campaign in 2020.

Advocates both for and against are already making plans as to how they will campaign in what is likely to be the most divisive topic since homosexual law reform.

Hikurangi Cannabis interim chief executive Manu Caddie was among the speakers at a recent conference called by the Cannabis Reform Coalition, which will be at the forefront of the reform coalition of which NORML (National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) remains the largest and longest operating member. To be clear, the East Coast operation is not directly involved with reform, it is focused on medicinal cannabis.

One of the main opponents will be the Family First movement whose head Bob McCoskrie has recently returned from the United States warning of the dangers posed by what he calls “Big Pharma”, large drug companies taking over the supply system. He is also sounding the alarm about a whole raft of products being available like cannabis lollypops and cookies, the sorts of thing that could appeal to young people.

Demographically there will be an age split in this debate, with younger people likely to be heavily in favour and older ones equally opposed. The churches and older Maori have been identified as opponents. Opinion polls are almost evenly divided.

The gangs will be interested onlookers, having made so much money from cannabis sales. Members could well be told to make sure they are on the electoral roll and to vote against.

It is important that the referendum is organised in a way that is fair to both sides. How the question is framed could have a huge influence on the way people vote. There is also a strong onus on the Government to make sure that the public get information that is balanced and accurate.