Why A YES Is So Crucial
Let’s be real – the current illegal status of cannabis is not stopping anyone from using it. In fact, 80% of New Zealanders would have tried the drug before they hit 30. It’s the most widely used recreational drug internationally with no signs of slowing down. New Zealanders are some of the top marijuana users in the world. The proposed law would make cannabis legal in New Zealand for people who are older than 20 and would regulate how it is grown, how it is used, and how it is sold. The restrictions that would be put in place are arguably the strictest out of all countries and states who have legalised.
It’s clear to see that the current illegality status of cannabis does not act as a deterrent, even after arrest or conviction. Instead, it acts as a significant barrier to prevent those in need of seeking help for addiction to do so without the risk of conviction. Racialised policing in New Zealand is no more prevalent than in the overrepresentation of Maori in all areas of the criminal justice system. Our current drug laws survive on the inherent racism that accompany them. Maori are three times more likely to be pulled over, charged, and convicted for the same drug possession charge that Pakeha individuals would be let go on. Not only that, a single cannabis conviction for a Maori individual has severe long-term impacts including societal exclusion in employment and education. To look after the health of New Zealanders through rehabilitation and reduce the disparities between Maori and Pakeha in the criminal justice system, legalisation of cannabis is essential.
The irony is that when we compare the impacts of alcohol on your body, some may argue that alcohol is significantly worse yet this substance is legal and widely used. The regulated, low THC form of cannabis that would be legal is likely to be far less harmful to health than both alcohol and tobacco. Why is it that a highly addictive drug like alcohol is legalised and government regulated yet cannabis isn’t? There are always going to be people who over-use and abuse drugs, what’s most important is that there is sufficient education of risks for those who may want to use, and rehabilitation opportunities for those who want it.
Legalisation allows the education system to provide effective education of the risks associated with cannabis, including the possible mental health impairments on adolescents who use. This education allows young people to make a non-stigmatised, informed decision when it comes to using cannabis, rather than being told to abstain because it’s illegal. Comfortingly, research from Canada has shown that there was no increase in young people or heavy users using cannabis when it became legalised.
Some people may argue against the legalisation of cannabis due to their personal experience seeing the harm that addiction has caused, however cannabis is not being invented through this referendum. It has been around for many years and is here to stay. Instead of trying to pretend that it doesn’t exist, New Zealand needs to start reducing the harm it has or may cause. A vote ‘yes’ doesn’t mean everyone will be smoking cannabis, its simply opening up avenues to educate, rehabilitate, and allow users to enjoy responsibly and legally.