Kākahungia te tangata ki te aroha, kaua ki te whakawhiu
Our people need a cloak of support and care, not punishment and stigma
More than for any other group, drug law reform is a big issue for tangata whenua. Most Māori have seen the human cost of our bad drug law first-hand and it’s a sad truth that the people most harmed by prohibition are Māori, young and male.
A cannabis conviction is extremely damaging. It can set a young person back for life – and for what? Not only is a criminal justice approach actively harmful but prohibition doesn’t address any of the health concerns that whānau raise with us about rangatahi using cannabis. In fact, it has made health outcomes worse by creating stigma and making it harder for those who need it to access treatment.
This needs to change. Drug law reform should be about true and enduring justice for the people who are the survivors of the war on drugs. In Aotearoa that means ensuring that Māori voices, and solutions, are at the forefront of conversations about drug law reform.
This statement draws on the expertise of more than 50 Māori leaders, in a call to action to ensure that Māori outcomes are improved if cannabis is legalised after the 2020 referendum.
Drug law reform should be about true and enduring justice for the people who are the survivors of the war on drugs. In Aotearoa that means ensuring that Māori voices, and solutions, are at the forefront of conversations about drug law reform.
In Taking Control of Cannabis, published in September 2019 ahead of the 2020 cannabis referendum, we outlined three principles that should guide the Government’s work to uphold and promote Māori rights and interests. These principles still stand, even though regulation of cannabis was narrowly voted against.
Māori are unfairly carrying the burden of drug harm in Aotearoa, being more likely to suffer harm from drug use but less likely to be able to access health treatment.
Cannabis use amongst Māori has increased in the past seven years. In 2018/19, 32 percent of Māori used cannabis in the past year, compared to 21 percent 2011/12. Among cannabis users, Māori are nearly twice as likely to report legal problems from their use.
Māori and Pacific people are more likely to want help for their alcohol and drug use but not receive it. To eliminate these inequities, kaupapa Māori services, iwi-based services and whānau support need to be properly funded.
Most New Zealanders use alcohol and other drugs, but Māori are more likely to be convicted than any other group. Despite making up 17 percent of our population, in 2021, Māori made up 48 percent of those who received drug convictions. In this same year, 0.17% of the Māori population received a conviction for a low-level drug offence, compared to 0.04% of the European population.
According to the Safe and Effective Justice Advisory Group, Māori are 5.7 times more likely than other New Zealanders to have contact with Police. This is where the disproportionate outcome appears to stem from, with significantly more Māori being ‘policed’ than non-Māori.
If more Māori come into contact with the system than non-Māori, this will lead to disproportionate outcomes. The over-representation of Māori in the statistics compounds as they move through the justice system - 61.9% of those sentenced to prison with drug possession offences are Māori.
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