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Updated: Sep 6, 2023

Are you thinking about voting “No” in the upcoming referendum – missing our opportunity to overturn 45 years of failed cannabis laws?

Think again.

We have a chance to call for truce on the globally disastrous ‘war-on-drugs' - to recognise and learn from many years of mistakes. As it is with most wars, cannabis prohibition has done little to dent the will of the people who continue to use it, and much damage has been done to society along the road to peace. But it’s over. Times have changed, even the cops get it.

Experience suggests arresting policy is largely arbitrary. And despite widespread, cross-demographic enjoyment of cannabis by Kiwis from all walks of life, only an unfortunate, most often marginalised, few are ever convicted. Police realise the outrageous proposition that charges for possessing or using cannabis entail for individuals, and the subsequent effect a conviction is likely to have on their lives. Why keep laws that even the police seem to ignore?

Thinking of voting “No” to legalising personal use - perpetuating the cycle of injustice for those few who fall foul of the current laws?

Think again.

In the grey-area of police charging discretion the illegality of personal cannabis use disproportionately impacts underprivileged communities and individuals. You’re more likely to be charged and convicted for a cannabis offence if you’re known to police, or have a history of other, even minor offending. Too often means that Maori and minorities bear the brunt of broken justice. New Zealand unproudly boasts the world’s second-highest per capita prison population – do we really need to keep locking people up or labelling kids convicts, just for the possession of a widely-used drug well-known to be of little consequence or risk to society? Our current laws are unprincipled, unfair, and unjust, as well as ineffective.

Voting “No” to a brave new world - failing to reject the racist, profiteering rhetoric that rendered cannabis illegal to begin with?

Think again.

Weed grows wonderfully, around the world. Hemp once fuelled the fires of trade and industry; the cannabis plant a mainstay of natural oil, fabric and fibre products that powered global shipping and other enterprises. American Presidents grew wealthy growing it. But eventually early 1900’s oil-interests and politicians pushed natural and sustainable hemp manufacturers onto the bonfire of forgotten good ideas. And the thought of cannabis as a valuable resource went up in smoke.

In the USA ‘pot’ quickly became associated with the creative arts, jazz and blues. During a reminiscent rise in migration and accompanying wave of alarming xenophobia in the 1920s, cannabis illegality became a mechanism for oppression and incarceration of African Americans, Mexicans, ‘beatniks’ and bandits, artists and poets, and all those other free-thinkers and outsiders that industrial society deemed dangerous. It was the same here. The growing civil rights movement and increasing enactment of equality laws globally left policymakers searching for some other justification for hiding away ‘undesirables - and thus the “Reefer Madness” propaganda machine and persistent stigmatisation of cannabis began.

Voting “No” – depriving our stressed economy of hundreds of millions of dollars in much-needed cost-savings and new revenue?

Think again.

The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research estimates nearly half-a-billion dollars are wasted each year on the enforcement of cannabis laws and untapped tax. Cannabis prohibition takes hardworking Kiwis’ hard-earned money and places it in the hands of underground organisations operating in inherently dangerous and unregulated black markets. Half-a-billion dollars could build how many schools? Educators and parents are best placed to teach young people about the physical and mental health considerations that the use of recreational drugs entail, not politicians or police. Treating any harm that might be associated with cannabis use as a public health concern instead of a criminal justice issue will make New Zealand wealthier and healthier.

Voting “No” - despite alcohol’s obvious and egregiously more-devastating affect on our communities?

Think again.

Ask any nightclub bouncer, concert security staffer, any street cop and they’ll tell you – it's not cannabis behind the bulk of backlogged criminal cases before the courts every week across the country. Dangerous, insidious, yet still easily accessible to adults and young people, alcohol fuels crime. Yet cannabis is illegal. There’s nothing wrong with Kiwis having a drink. But we must replace hypocrisy with consistency. Like alcohol, weed has been enjoyed, even venerated by various cultures for generations. Let’s start showing some respect to a plant with deep roots in the human story.

Voting “No” - while Kiwis continue to die and fill hospital waiting rooms after smoking laboratory-invented synthetic cannabis?

Think again.

In 2013, Peter Dunne’s Psychoactive Substances Act promised to be a world leading piece of public legislation, paving the way for regulation and legal sale of substances many Kiwis obviously enjoy using. But with only half-baked planning and lacking foresight, cannabis remained illegal under that regime. ‘Designer’ alternatives disappeared from retail shelves, unable to pass stringent, ill-defined safety testing regimes, and deadly, unknown new cannabis lookalikes took their place on the illegal market. Young people and even those who had smoked cannabis for years began to get seriously sick – all because continued prohibition resulted in cannabis users trying their luck with cheaper, more easily-accessible artificial products in hope of getting high. How many must get sick and die before we see that ignoring the demand for regulated cannabis is killing us?

Finally, are you thinking of voting “No” – preferring the paternalistic and old-fashioned imposition of Government telling its people what to do?

Think again.

It’s fundamental to liberal society, to freedom, that adults are allowed choice in deciding how to live their lives. So long as our actions don’t unjustly impede the equal freedoms of others, human dignity demands we be free to participate in whatever medical, recreational, spiritual practices we choose. It’s time as a nation that we grow up and trust ourselves, each other, to live well without the state dictating what we can and can’t do with our own bodies and minds.

Still thinking?

Vote “Yes”.

Dare to make the right decision.

For once, it’s your choice.



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