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Speakers at the New Zealand Drug Foundations cannabis and health symposium will be shedding more light than heat on the complex issues around the use of cannabis by Māori.

Film maker and clinical psychologist Paora Joseph (Atihau-a-Papaarangi and Nga Rauru), Christchurch Health and Development Study’s Professor David Fergusson, and Reverend Hirini Kaa (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu) an Anglican minister based in South Auckland will be providing three different perspectives on intergenerational socioeconomic disadvantage and its concentration within some communities — often those where young Māori live.

Mr Joseph has seen the effects of cannabis use on young Māori first hand during the making of his documentary The Green Screen and his time as a youth worker.

Mr Joseph said that cannabis use by some young Māori was starting to be an intergenerational issue.

“I realised through the Green Screen cannabis use is often intergenerational, we’re seeing that through the courts. Also there’s a lot of social issues that have been covered up through cannabis use,” Mr Joseph said.

“People are often using cannabis to cover up pain, to cover up their suffering. That’s when I think it becomes intergenerational, after that it becomes a way of life and people don’t really question that aspect.

“So when it comes to issues, for example, like poverty, or community activities and helping your children, whatever it is people aren’t facing those issues because they are used to using cannabis in order to deal with the emotional pain.”

Professor David Fergusson says higher rates of cannabis use amongst Māori are due to higher rates of socioeconomic disadvantage and childhood adversity.

“The differences between Māori and non-Māori at a population rate are not too large, and they’re often explained away by social and economic differences.”

Professor Fergusson said that across the population in the Christchurch Development Study there was a very high rate of cannabis use, but a very low rate of arrest and conviction.

“Arrest rates were disproportionately higher amongst male users, Māori and those with a criminal record,” Professor Fergusson said.

“Cannabis use by Māori is not a major source or cause of Māori disadvantage, but it is none the less a contributing factor that can’t be ignored.

“There are higher rates of cannabis use amongst Māori, higher rates of dependence, higher rates of arrest and that exposure does contribute to a small extent, to the disadvantage.

“But the risk of all of this is that people start to identify one factor which causes Māori disadvantage, and of course there isn’t one factor there are many, and cannabis is one of an array of adverse factors which contributes to, and probably exacerbates disadvantage amongst Māori.”

Reverend Kaa, who has been working with whānau and young people for over 20 years, said that current cannabis laws are not working and are in need of reform.

“I worry though that while reform will work for the middle-class, it will be the poor who will feel the strongest impact,” Reverend Kaa said.

“We need our communities to be alcohol, violence, and drug free.”

New Zealand Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell said that the cannabis and health symposium would be discussing these issues to support Māori to find their own solutions.

Mr Joseph, Professor Fergusson, and Reverend Kaa will be speaking at the cannabis and health symposium. For the full programme visit www.drugfoundation.org.nz/cannabis-and-health

What: 2013 International Drug Policy Symposium. Through the maze: Cannabis and Health
Where: Rendezvous Hotel, 71 Mayoral Drive, Auckland
When: 27–29 November, 2013
Info: www.drugfoundation.org.nz/cannabis-and-health

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