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Matters of Substance

Time to end cannabis prohibition

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The current high levels of use and the level of black market activity indicate that the current prohibition regime is not effective in limiting cannabis use. Prohibition results in high conviction rates for a relatively minor offence, inhibiting people’s education, travel and employment opportunities. Prohibition makes targeting education, prevention, harm minimisation and treatment measures difficult because users fear prosecution. It also facilitates the black market and potentially exposes cannabis users to harder drugs.


So said the Health Select Committee’s report on the inquiry into the legal status of cannabis, in August 2003.

Whatever your take on the health effects of cannabis – and we all have our opinions – it is clear that prohibition has not worked, and a drugs policy re-think is in order.

If the aim of prohibition has been to prevent use, it has failed spectacularly. Despite having the highest cannabis arrest rate in the world, more New Zealanders use cannabis now than ever before. Half of New Zealanders are criminalised by this law. Eighty percent of 21-year-olds have tried cannabis. How many should be arrested before prohibition is judged a success?

Enforcement of cannabis prohibition by the police, courts and prisons cost taxpayers $56 million in 2000. While more than twenty million dollars is spent every year chasing ordinary Kiwis for small amounts of cannabis, treatment services and effective education are struggling or, in places, don’t exist. Furthermore, fear of arrest is the biggest barrier to those seeking help.

Though use is widespread in New Zealand, enforcement of drug laws impacts much harder on Maori, who are five times more likely to be arrested for cannabis than non-Maori.

The present law is a form of institutional racism. Its enforcement alienates police from society and causes enormous harm to the lives, careers and families of more than ten thousand people arrested every year.

Research confirms that drug laws have little effect, if any, on drug use rates, but they do increase or decrease the harms associated with use. Countries that have reformed their laws have not experienced increased use, but have spent millions of dollars less on law enforcement than countries where prohibition remains.

The Dutch, who have allowed the sale of cannabis to adults since 1976, have one-third the per capita usage of New Zealand. In the United Kingdom, teen cannabis use dropped after it was made a non-arrestable offence.

There is no difference in use between those Australian states who have decriminalised cannabis and those that continue to arrest users. The United States also shows no difference between the ten states – representing half the population – who decriminalised in the 1970s and those that did not. Recent analysis of cities in California, Colorado, Washington State and Oregon showed there was no influence of medical cannabis laws on the extent of illegal cannabis use. The researchers said that the “use of the drug by those already sick might ‘de-glamorise’ it and thereby do little to encourage use among others”.

The most commonly voiced concern about ending prohibition centres around the protection of children. However, problems in our schools or communities are made worse under current law, not better. Prohibition promotes a ‘forbidden fruit’ mentality, glamorising cannabis as a token of rebellion. Open and honest communication is made more difficult in an environment of guilt and persecution. The untaxed cannabis economy is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and controlled by whoever is prepared to break the law. Violence and intimidation rule the market, just as was the case under alcohol prohibition in 1930s America.

So what should be done about it?

If we are genuinely committed to harm minimisation, we should immediately repeal cannabis prohibition and investigate the failure of current drugs policy.

Let’s control the way cannabis is used and sold through appropriate regulations such as age limits, health warnings, dosage and packaging controls, marketing restrictions and so forth.

Let’s use cannabis excise taxes to provide effective education about drugs so that people can make responsible and informed choices, and fully fund treatment services for those who need them. Let’s provide enough resources to research the effect of any law changes.

Modern research shows cannabis is an effective and safe medicine for many conditions including cancer, HIV wasting syndrome, glaucoma, chronic pain, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, paraplegia and epilepsy. Let’s allow doctors and patients to decide what treatment is best for them, not politicians or police.

Given the spectacular failure of the current law, the burden of proof should be on prohibitionists to show why we should persist with this expensive and destructive mistake.


There are many symptoms of drug abuse (as opposed to substance abuse, which is largely behavioral) that you can watch out for when you suspect that your loved one is into drug abuse. First and foremost, symptoms of drug abuse should be seen as largely physical. This is why when people ask about symptoms of drug abuse, it is mostly the physical symptoms that are related and not the behavioral and social markers (these are put under symptoms of substance abuse disorder). Symptoms of drug abuse are very obvious, if you knew to look for them and keep an open mind about the possibility that a loved one may be abusing drugs.

Drug abuse help

At one point alcohol was under prohibition in the US and now its legal were having a growing alcoholism problem. And the same would happen to those that would get the green like on marijuana. The only way to really get in trouble for marijuana is to have it out of your home, or distribute it illegally without paying your taxes on sales. This alone shows a level of irresponsibility, making it legal will not resolve these problems. They need self control and realize weed isn't the answer to relief, control is.
Just a thought.

Narconon Vista Bay

I think you will find the Middle Class drug dealers are already well into P.

It has been prohibition of cannabis that have given them and others the captured market. For the most part , with the current laws if one is caught dealing cannabis there are extremely serious consequences.. A rather strong incentive to leave the supply to the gangs and the like who don't have the same restraints or concerns cannabis only enthusiast have..

With up to 17% of the adults in the country using cannabis , there is a considerable market base.. For the most part , the experienced cannabis users have sorted safe effective supply routes, and sit back suhut up and just get on with it .. Its the young and vulnerable experimenter who is driven to the less scrupulous dealers who then become exposed to the drugs of concern..

The longer cannabis prohibition is in place the more the problem will get entrenched and the harder it will be to reverse.

Until such time as this sinks in and Harm reduction becomes the driving motivation not individual's political agendas , we can expect the situation to only get worse.


Given that Australia (where use is legal in places)has a much bigger meth problem, I'm inclined to wonder if "legalising" just creates new probs.

It could open the door to middle class dealers. So increasing competition pressure on those with less options, & slashing their traditional profit margins.

This in turn might cause original cannabis entrepeneurs, who might only know the drug biz to then diversify into meth.

A dealers perspective about pro's and cons, and whether they'd survive law reform... or just get eaten up by Lion Nathan, might be enlightening.