People like certainty, says our Executive Director Ross Bell. When we are asked to make an important decision we expect to have all the facts. Spin and scaremongering are no substitute for evidence and information.
Which is why New Zealand voters will be pleased with the government’s detailed and well-considered Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, which Justice Minister Andrew Little released this week. The proposed model of legal regulation prioritises public health and safety, introduces a government-licensed production and retail market, and sets limits on personal use.
Earlier this year, the government released a broad overview, including restricting sales to people aged over 20 years and banning public consumption and advertising. More substance has now been added, which gives us greater comfort about what legalisation can look like.
We’ve been working for 30 years to put health-focused drug law reform on the table, so it’s comforting to see the government’s Bill incorporate public health priorities that we highlighted earlier this year in our publication ‘Taking Control of Cannabis’.
We have confidence in the Bill’s health credentials and we are happy to endorse a yes vote at next year’s referendum.
Our justification is simple: Prohibition is not working for New Zealand. We continue to have some of the highest use of cannabis use in the world despite decades of government spending on law enforcement.
Prohibition sees massive amounts of cash flowing to organised crime, and places people in contact with dealers who have no interest in public health or product safety. Prohibition burdens thousands of people every single year with a conviction that lasts a lifetime.
It’s time for a new approach that properly targets public health harms.
Cannabis, like any drug, can do harm. But we also know that it’s less harmful than many other drugs, including alcohol, and that it has real therapeutic benefits for some. In fact, some of the worst effects of cannabis are not caused by cannabis itself, but the criminality that thrives under prohibition.
The Government’s Bill will address these harms by putting proper controls in place over access and use, in ways similar (but arguably better) than we have with tobacco and alcohol.
One of the most important proposals is the cannabis levy that will allocate funds for drug education and treatment programmes. Legal control of cannabis destroys a powerful revenue stream for criminal activities, while at the same time funds prevention and harm minimisation initiatives.
The Bill also puts strong safety controls over the supply chain, including limits on the size of the market, the potency of the products, and on how they will be sold. It has powers for local authorities, giving local communities a greater say over local decision making. Driving under the influence remains illegal.
New Zealand is not alone in making the decision to stop the convictions and take control of cannabis. Canada, Uruguay and eleven US states have legalised cannabis, Luxembourg and other countries in Europe are working towards it too.
The early results in those places are positive – use is down among young people, more patients with medical needs are able to access it, convictions have dropped, and Police can focus their time on other issues.
Controlling cannabis with smart regulation is the sensible thing to do and the Government’s Bill ticks all the right boxes. Opinion polls show that there is a group of undecided voters asking for more detail; they should be encouraged by the Government’s proposal.
As we head into the Christmas and summer BBQ season, I would suggest you, your family and friends to dig into the Bill, to learn the details, to have those critical conversations, to get informed for the all-important referendum vote.
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