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The NZ Drug Foundation urges the Government to decriminalise cannabis and follow moves by US President Joe Biden to pardon those convicted of cannabis possession and use.

Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that between 1980/1981 and 2021/2022, 124,344 people have been convicted of cannabis possession and/or use in New Zealand.

Drug Foundation Executive Director Sarah Helm says the figures show that many thousands of New Zealanders had been convicted of low-level cannabis offences over the decades, despite the majority of New Zealanders opposing convicting people for cannabis. 

“Today marks an important moment globally. NZ was urged to implement cannabis prohibition by the US through the UN in the 1960s and 1970s. Cannabis prohibition is on its final legs. It is time to create mature and evidence-based drug policy that seeks to reduce harm and improve health.”

“President Biden acknowledged in his statement today that those with convictions for cannabis possession are often denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities. The same applies in New Zealand.”

“Whānau are torn apart. Jobs are lost. Entire lives are marred by stigma and discrimination, right in our own backyard. Conversely the evidence is clear that convictions do nothing to deter cannabis use, so this is punishment for punishment’s sake.”

“We like to think of ourselves as a compassionate and fair nation, but our drug laws continue to ruin lives. “

Helm says making cannabis possession illegal was a racist policy from the outset.

“The history books tell us this was largely about getting the civil rights and indigenous movement under control,” says Helm.

“Cannabis convictions do absolutely nothing whatsoever to deter use and young people, Māori and men bear the burden of cannabis convictions. These convictions came about through racism and colonialism.”

“Cannabis prohibition originated in the US and has been dying a slow death across the world over the past decades.”

“Biden’s move is a monumental step towards righting the harm caused by cannabis convictions and officially signals the beginning of the end of this outdated, harmful and racist policy. This is the right move for the US, and one that New Zealand must follow."



Research released by the Helen Clark Foundation in 2021 showed reform of cannabis laws was popular with a bipartisan majority of New Zealand voters: 69% of those surveyed wanted cannabis to be decriminalised (20%) or legalised (49%).

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