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Legalisation debate must be informed by those most affected

Cannabis legalisation debate must be informed by those most affected

Drug and Alcohol Practitioners Association of Aotearoa New Zealand media release, 25 May 2018

The Drug and Alcohol Practitioners Association of Aotearoa New Zealand (dapaanz) says any decision to hold a referendum on legalising cannabis use in 2019, rather than in an election year, would be a welcome one because the issue is too important to be treated like a political football.

Justice Minister Andrew Little has foreshadowed this may take place, but dapaanz Executive Director Sue Paton says that wouldn't leave us a lot of time to ensure the debate around legalisation is well-informed and that there will be plenty of opportunity for input by those most affected by the current legislation.

“Addiction can affect anyone, regardless of socioeconomic standing, but the reality is that in New Zealand, the poor, the marginalised and Maori suffer the most harm from drug use being illegal – be that to their wellbeing, their mental health or because they have criminal convictions that will trouble them for life,” Ms Paton said

“What’s more, our current prohibitionist approach and the way ‘discretion’ is often handled by police has led to major discrepancies in arrest rates and our prisons are over-flowing with Maori convicted of cannabis and other drug offences.”

Ms Paton said addiction and criminalisation can have major impacts on the lives of people and their whanau.

“This is an important issue, so we can't let debate and public education be tossed around in an uninformed and alarmist manner. Dapaanz supports a referendum and cautiously suggests legalisation and regulation may lead to reduced harm and fewer people using drugs – as appears to have happened in other jurisdictions where legalisation has occurred.

“However, policy tends to be driven by the white middle class and it’s going to be really important that we involve iwi in the consultation process around new legislation development to ensure any new laws and policies benefit all New Zealanders equally.”

Ms Paton said internal communications at dapaanz resulted in more than 200 people with lived experience and 465 members who are mainly practitioners responding to a recent survey showing support for law reform.

“These are people in the know. They see every day how criminalisation and incarceration destroy lives and it’s going to be really important that networks like these are consulted as we approach the legalisation issue. We look forward to having a voice and doing what we can to contribute to an informed and sensible debate.”


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