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Proposed Cannabis Bill An Opportunity To Exemplify Equity Based Law In New Zealand

On the 1st of May the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill was released by Justice Minister Andrew Little. This is the final version of the proposed legislation which will be put to voters at the 2020 general election in the form of a referendum.

New Zealanders now have the information about what they will be voting on. This includes the rules regulating the commercial market, including heavy restrictions on marketing and advertising, and the continued illegality of foreign trade in cannabis and cannabis products. Licensing regulations for commercial growers have been outlined, with restrictions on the percentage of the market that any one company will be allowed to occupy. There is a proposed age limit of 20 for purchasing and possession of cannabis, and this extends to those working in commercial cannabis production enterprises. Cannabis use will be restricted to private premises and licensed venues, with retail sales limited to specialist cannabis stores only. Excise taxes will apply, with higher taxes imposed on products with greater potency. GST will also apply.

Hāpai encourages whānau to be informed about the referendum, as it will likely impact Māori more than other groups regardless of whether it is successful or not. Hāpai Te Hauora CEO, Selah Hart says "The status quo has adversely impacted our people, and if the referendum is successful, things will change in ways which will likely have more of a proportional impact on Māori than anyone else. We know that Māori are over-represented in the justice system. We are more likely to be charged, more likely to be convicted, and more likely to be imprisoned for the same offence as a non-Māori. We know that recent years show that Māori are more than 3 times more likely than non-Māori to go to prison for low-level drug offences. We also know that for many whānau Māori, seeking help is not an option, because fear of conviction is a reality. So it’s really important that Māori are supported to be informed and to vote in this referendum."

She says "We recognise that the cannabis conversation is complex. Whilst it is a health issue, it is also a justice issue, an education issue, an economics issue and a civics issue all at once. This bill does well to address many of the inequities caused by the current illegal market, and with some minor tweaks, it would go a long way to remedy the multiple facets of cannabis related harm in NZ."

Hāpai Te Hauora supports the inclusion of equity parameters in the legislation, specifically those which specify partnership with communities impacted by cannabis harm, and the inclusion of capacity development and employment goals for Māori in the proposed cannabis marketplace. "This reflects a pragmatic and holistic perspective of the issues at stake here," says Hāpai Te Hauora Māori Public Health General Manager, Janell Dymus-Kurei. "We don’t want to see a situation where we have the introduction of legislation which benefits middle-class Pākehā cannabis users - who were never at risk of the harms caused by the previous, flawed approach to drug control - and which continues to undermine the opportunities for Māori to thrive and be well."

Dymus-Kurei continues "All public health evidence points to a tightly regulated legal scheme being more efficient at minimising the harm than the current unregulated illicit cannabis market. However, there are a number of unknown factors, which, for us as Māori public health leaders we need to ensure that these have been accounted for, as we have seen great pieces of legislation poorly executed, which, once again have been disastrous for Māori wellbeing."

Hāpai is encouraging whānau to engage with the referendum process, whether in support or against, and to bear in mind the catastrophic impacts of currently legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco, due to poor legislation and regulatory schemes. Dymus-Kurei is cautiously optimistic that the proposed legislation has the right foundations. "It is a harm reduction approach which will, if implemented effectively, protect tamariki and rangatahi and enable better addictions support for whānau. But more than anything, whānau need to be involved in making this decision for themselves."

"We’ve seen what our team of 5 million can do amidst a global pandemic, and we need our team of 5 million to turn up to the referendum on the 19th September, as this is a collective decision, and ultimately the results of this referendum has the potential to alter who we are as New Zealanders, not only in how we use cannabis, but also in how we view and treat all addictions".

For more information:

The New Zealand Government referendum website https://www.referendums.govt.nz/cannabis/index.html

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