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Crown must honor Te Tiriti with Cannabis Law Reform


Today leading Māori health and public health organisations called on the Crown to meet its obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi as it drafts legislation for the regulation of cannabis. More than 50 Māori leaders joined the call for Māori rights and interests to be put front and centre of proposed cannabis regulations.

“Our message is clear – we expect cannabis regulations to be designed with and by Māori, under a Te Tiriti o Waitangi framework, and to promote the rights and interests of whānau, hapū and iwi,” said Drug Foundation Chair Tuari Potiki.

“We’ve come up with concrete proposals for how to achieve this. This includes the Crown working with us to establish a kaupapa Māori agency that’s mandated to negotiate and lead the development of regulations on behalf of our people,” said Mr Potiki.

The need to protect Māori rights and interests was acknowledged by the Crown in its proposed legal cannabis framework (which was detailed in a cabinet paper released 7 May 2019). However, the Crown has not said how it intends to meet these obligations. Some initial consultation with Māori has occurred, but there is significant work still to be done to meet the standard for meaningful engagement on this critical issue.

“Achieving better health, social justice and economic outcomes for Māori communities through the regulation of cannabis must be explicitly stated as a top priority for the Crown,” said Te Rau Ora CEO Maria Baker.

“We’ve seen from the experience of First Nations in Canada, that if this is not a top priority and there isn’t early and meaningful engagement with indigenous communities, then our people won’t see the benefits we should expect,” said Ms Baker.

The statement is not about whether cannabis should be legalised, but rather if the country votes yes next year, how will Māori be better off. Te Rau Ora, the Drug Foundation and Hāpai Te Hauora all support legalising cannabis as it would immediately stop thousands of our Māori being criminalised, but it will only be truly transformational for Māori health, justice and economic outcomes if the regulations reflect a kaupapa Māori approach.

“Māori are more likely to suffer the multiple social and health harms from cannabis use, less likely to be able to access health treatment, and are far more likely to be convicted than other groups. We must be part of the process to design cannabis regulations,” said Hāpai Te Hauora CEO Selah Hart.

“This situation is a fundamental breach of Te Tiriti as it is the result of compounding issues arising from colonisation – there were no substance use issues in te ao Māori in precolonial times,” said Ms Hart.

Following the release of the Crown’s proposed approach in May, the three organisations have talked with whānau, hapū, iwi and hāpori throughout Aotearoa. There are a range of views on whether legalisation is welcomed, but strong agreement on the need to involve Māori in decision-making.


The key expectations put forward in the statement are ensuring that:
• Whānau, hapū, iwi and hāpori are meaningfully engaged at each point in the development of the Bill and regulations, through negotiation, and in a process of co-design and co-determination. A kaupapa Māori agency with broad mandate should be recognised to lead on behalf of Māori.
• Any regulatory model upholds Māori rights and interests under Te Tiriti o Waitangi across the areas of health, justice, and economic development.
• The regulatory model will actively work to address the wrongs of the past, and to resource and support the people who have suffered disproportionate harms under prohibition. This could include an apology and acknowledgement of wrongs, alongside concrete pathways for redress, such as wiping previous cannabis-related convictions.
• The model cannot be hijacked by profit motives. This means keeping at least part of the supply chain non-profit. Regulations should be completely watertight at prioritising kaupapa Māori interests above industry interests.

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