Our cannabis laws divide us. Here’s why voting yes is a vote for fairness.

Our health and wellbeing is deeply connected. What affects one part of our community affects all of us. But right now, our cannabis laws are unfair and dividing us.

Even though Māori and non-Māori use cannabis at similar rates, Māori are three times more likely to be arrested and convicted for cannabis use. These unfair outcomes apply even when history with the justice system is taken into account.

Criminal convictions can disrupt education and work opportunities, and even access to healthcare.

The only tool we currently have to manage cannabis is through criminal charges that force people onto a path that can lead straight to prison. Most of us agree our current laws aren’t working, and far too many of us have seen the harm they cause first hand.

Some of us have seen family members struggling with cannabis use and not known how to help. Many of us wonder if the young people in our lives would really be able to reach out for help if they needed it, or if they’d be too afraid of getting in trouble. Others have had loved ones swept into the maze of the justice system.

It’s time for us to change our cannabis laws.

Across the country, people from all backgrounds and cultures have come together to reform unfair laws that stand in the way of our health and wellbeing before. Now, we can do it again.

This referendum is an opportunity to support and fund practical tools we can use to support the people and communities we love to be happy and healthy.

By changing the way cannabis is regulated, we can create systems and processes where loved ones who may be struggling with addiction speak to doctors, teachers, mental health and addiction specialists, elders and community leaders instead of police, judges, and lawyers.

By voting yes, we can divert the resources we use punishing people towards policies, programs, and ideas that are proven to work such as education and treatment.

We can turn our time and energy away from policing people who use cannabis and toward preventing people — particularly young people — from using it in the first place.

We can ensure everyone has trustworthy information about what cannabis is, what the risks are, and what harmful use looks and feels like. Instead of the vacuum being filled by misinformation, pop-culture, and rumour, we can develop education programs that are based on science and building trust.

We can create support groups, talk therapy, and ensure culturally appropriate services are available for everyone. Without the stigma and fear created by our current laws, people in our lives will be more likely to reach out for help if they need it.

The Public Health Association of New Zealand, Hāpai te Hauora, Te Rau Ora, and the New Zealand Drug Foundation all agree: voting yes will support the health and wellbeing of our communities.

If there is a majority support to change our cannabis laws, then the proposed bill will go through a public submission and select committee process. Here are some of the details of the proposed bill that are important:

  • Advertising of cannabis products won’t be allowed — even on the outside of a shop licensed to sell it.
  • Every cannabis product would have health information on it, and workers at the licensed shops would be trained to give advice on how to use it safely.
  • Our communities would get a say over where shops that sell cannabis products can open and the hours they keep. Only approved and licensed vendors could sell them.
  • Regulations on cannabis products would mean the government setting a maximum potency and only allowing approved products for sale. These regulations would reduce harm significantly by comparison to the current unregulated market.
  • Tax income from cannabis products is earmarked for education and prevention.

The decision we collectively make in the cannabis referendum has the potential to change and save lives. We can choose to continue an approach that has failed people for decades or we can decide to walk down a different path where we prioritise health, wellbeing, and fairness.

I really hope we choose the latter.

Authorised by ActionStation, 39 Webb Street, Wellington. Illustrations by ActionStation volunteer Jamie Sims.

References:

  1. Why our cannabis laws are racist. Khylee Quince for The Spinoff, 9 September 2020
  2. The case for YES in the 2020 cannabis referendum. Helen Clark Foundation, September 2020
  3. Proposed cannabis bill an opportunity to exemplify equity based law in NZ. Hāpai te Hauora, May 2020
  4. 2020 New Zealand Cannabis Referendum. Te Rau Ora, October 2019.
  5. Vote yes: Cannabis control bill. New Zealand Drug Foundation.

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