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Drug law reform is no longer the political poisoned chalice it once was.
Results from a poll commissioned by us, and conducted by the government’s favourite pollster Curia Research, finds two-thirds support for some type of progressive reform to our cannabis law. That’s a solid majority in anyone’s book.
Sixty-four percent of respondents think possessing a small amount of cannabis for personal use should be either legal (33 percent) or decriminalised (31 percent), with a minority (34 percent) in favour of retaining prohibition.
This is the first time we’ve seen such a strong majority in favour of reforming New Zealand’s drug law. It tells us voters are ready for change even if law makers aren’t. And it doesn’t matter what party people back. There is consistent support across all constituencies to move away from a criminal justice approach to drugs.
My message to politicians: you no longer need to fear talking about drug law reform. But tread cautiously and get the reform right. I’ve sensed a shift in the public mood in recent years. Part of this is down to the obvious fact that our 40-year-old Misuse of Drugs Act is no longer fit for purpose. Our poll also demonstrates that the public is able to engage with the complexities of what the reform might look like. Drug law changes aren’t just a choice of either sticking with the black market status quo or lurching to sales from the corner dairy. In fact, those polled have no appetite for cannabis stores.
People are smart. They have observed the different models of reform happening around the world, have seen that the sky hasn’t fallen in and know that we could learn from those experiments and develop a new model that works for us.
There is a clear roadmap for our law makers: remove criminal penalties for low-level offending such as personal possession, growing and social supply; find some way to improve our medical cannabis system; don’t allow a commercial free-for-all.
Politicians can now proceed with cautious reform without fear of a voter backlash. But any new system must protect young people and those communities that already experience the harmful effects of drug use and bad drug law. It must limit the influence of the criminal black market and ensure strong resourcing of prevention, education, harm reduction and treatment.
Might we see sensible and healthy drug law in 2017? We must.