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The Issues With The Proposed Cannabis Legalisation And Control Bill

As a non-cannabis user, I strongly believe cannabis should be legalised but I do not think the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill is the best way to do it.

The bill aims to reduce harm to people and communities. But it will not reduce the harms for everyone.

The proposed minimum age restriction for purchasing cannabis is 20-years-old. This leaves youth who are 19 and younger to be ongoing consumers for the black market and exposed to harms from illegal cannabis sales such as contact with criminals, impure cannabis and higher potency levels. Two major longitudinal studies in New Zealand highlighted the damaging long term effects of cannabis use on adolescents in particular, higher risk of educational underachievement, drug dependence and psychosis. There needs to be strong measures put in place to ensure that our most vulnerable will get no access to cannabis, legal or illegal.

As stated by Alan France, Professor of Sociology at the University of Auckland, “if we really care about the strength of THC why are we allowing people to grow their own cannabis at home?” Home growers would not have their potency levels controlled and may push the potency above what will be permitted in the legal market. The only way to ensure full control over potency is to have only commercially sold products.

We still have no efficient “blow-in-the-pipe” method of policing drug driving. Impairment levels do not correspond with THC levels in the blood making road-side testing challenging. Instead, New Zealand uses a subjective behaviour test to judge a driver’s level of impairment which can take up to 1.5 hours. A blood test must also be administered to prove the presence of cannabis. However, this method is too inefficient. Until a new testing system is found there should be zero tolerance for drug driving, yet the Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill would make no changes to how drug drivers are currently policed.

Will putting tax money towards education really have an impact on cannabis usage rates – talk to any smoker who sees the detailed illness imagery every time they buy a fresh packet, does this really work to deter their smoking habits? How can we expect better results when educating about the negative health impacts of cannabis?

Individuals who have already been prosecuted for cannabis possession should have their records wiped, but the government has made it clear they do not intend to. If the New Zealand public votes for legalising cannabis then why would we still hold people accountable to a law we have voted out? These ‘offenders’ will continue to face the consequences of their sanctions when applying for jobs or travel visas despite cannabis users no longer being held to that same standard. There is no provision for this to occur under the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill.

The Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill is set to be reviewed after 5 years. With such a contested and health risking bill, why are we not reviewing the legislation sooner? A lot can happen in 5 years, let’s make it 2 with a review every 3 years after that. The bill brings a radical change from the status quo, and while it is informed by sound evidence, there are no guarantees the act will work as intended. How many people do you still see driving around while looking at their mobile phones?

The government can still decide to not pass the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, even if we say yes. The government can make changes to the final act they wish to pass that differ from the bill we are voting on. So why is the public not getting to vote on the final product, just like with the end of life referendum? What if the cannabis act gets watered down? There is clearly room for improvement but our vote cannot guarantee how the final act will appear.

We need to submit our thoughts on the act if the bill makes it to parliament. If we do not, we may end up with a cannabis act that does not fulfil its promise to reduce future harm to people and communities.

APA Style sources:

1. [Two major longitudinal studies in New Zealand highlighted the damaging long term effects of cannabis use on adolescents]

Fergusson, D., & Boden, J. (2011). Cannabis use in adolescence. In P.D. Gluckman and Office of the Prime Minister's Science Advisory Committee (Eds.), Improving the transition: reducing social and psychological morbidity during adolescence (pp. 257-271). Auckland, NZ: Office of the Prime Minister's Science Advisory Committee.

2. The quote from Alan France was given to me for this op-ed.

France, A. (2020).

3. [New Zealand uses a subjective behaviour test to judge a drivers level of impairment which can take up to 1.5 hours]

Ministry of Transport. (2020). Questions and answers. Retrieved from Ministry of Transport: https://www.transport.govt.nz/

4. [Impairment levels do not correspond with THC levels]

Hall, W. (2018, January). How should we respond to cannabis-impaired driving? Drug and Alcohol Review, 37, 3–5 Doi:10.1111/dar.12651.

5. [the government has made it clear they do not intend to]

Hindmarsh, N. (2020, October 15). Cannabis referendum: Government has 'no intention' of wiping criminal records if legalisation goes ahead. Stuff. Retrieved from: https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/cannabis-referendum/123092915/cannabis-referendum-government-has-no-intention-of-wiping-criminal-records-if-legalisation-goes-ahead.

6. References to the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill

New Zealand Government. (n.d.). Cannabis legalisation and control referendum. Retrieved from Referendum 2020: https://www.referendums.govt.nz/

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