Decriminalisation better than legalising
As the election approaches, so too does the referendum, where voters will be asked whether or not they support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill.
Firstly, the bill (and debate) is different from the Medicinal Cannabis Bill which was passed into law last December, and secondly, decriminalising and legalising are two very different issues with their own implications.
I support decriminalising — in other words, consumers of small amounts of cannabis for personal use are exempt from criminal conviction, which can have a lasting effect on life choices and opportunities for many. But I have yet to hear a convincing or robust argument in favour of the legalisation of recreational cannabis.
Cannabis is used by people from all socio-economic backgrounds, and while some consume it for “recreation”, others become dependent on it and captivate to it.
A recent report carried out by Royal Society Te Aparangi found recreational cannabis to be associated with mental illness, particularly in youth, drug use disorders, respiratory illness, impaired cognition, increased road accidents and lower birthweight in babies born to women exposed to cannabis. This Labour-led Government has supported and promoted a smoke-free New Zealand by 2025, yet want to make recreational cannabis use legal.
I am wary of the fact that the bill, although including a minimum age of 20 to use and purchase recreational cannabis, does not address the current environment where cannabis use and addiction is accessible and established under-age. Levels of THC (a crystalline compound that is the main intoxicant in cannabis) are not stated or regulated within the bill. Tax rates are not stated. Those must be balanced to curb the black market, while not incentivising cannabis use.
The proposed regime is vague and imprecise — so an incoming Government could make huge or no changes.
I'm also not sure what will change in many of our more remote areas of this electorate — who will check that only two plants per household are being grown? Who will check that a “black market” isn't operating, run by gangs? The same people who fly helicopters, drive forest roads and check backyards now? The Police? So what will change?
I support decriminalisation and a slow, safe, measured and tested approach towards treating affliction and addiction. We, here in Tairawhiti have high rates of addiction now, combined with high rates of violence and unemployment. I haven't heard any reasonable arguments to prove that legalising cannabis use will make a positive change to those statistics.
I urge you all to cast your vote as if you are casting a vote for the future generation of New Zealand and how that will affect the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of our communities.