It started with the release of the report into “meth houses”, houses that had been contaminated by methamphetamine production. Within months debate about how New Zealand view drugs and what should be done about them had turned its sights on potentially legalizing cannabis. Now with a referendum set down for 2020, I believe that the hour of cannabis legalization is approaching.
There is, I believe, no escaping the fact that public support for cannabis being legalized is high and rising. A number of reasons for this exist, but I believe in part the driver for change comes down to some basic myths around cannabis and its effects being blown wide open:
- The so called “War on Drugs”, both in New Zealand and abroad has failed/is failing
- Numerous other substances such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and synthetic cannabis are much more potent than regular cannabis
- Judicial systems in New Zealand and abroad have been clogging up with cases big and small
- Medical marijuana – whilst its legal status is still in limbo – is no longer something that the police are actively prosecuting
- If done properly, the tax take from legalizing marijuana would be substantial and could be used for funding treatment programmes
A nation wide referendum, scheduled to coincide with the 2020 General Election, and possibly the first in the world to ask such a question, will ask New Zealanders point blank whether they believe cannabis should be legalized.
Synthetic cannabis, also known as “Spice”, is illegal and supermarkets and dairies have been banned from selling legal highs since 2014. It has been linked to several deaths in New Zealand, people being dangerously spaced out with no idea or comprehension of their surroundings and is the cause of considerable public concern.
But for many people a few quite high profile deaths have highlighted the use of cannabis as a medicating agent against chronic pain. One of these cases was that of trade unionist Helen Kelly who was diagnosed with lung cancer, despite never having been a smoker. As a result of these high profile cases and in depth interviews conducted with those suffering, public support for the use of medicinal cannabis has rocketed.
Some opposition inevitably stems from conservative parts of society who are concerned about the effects of liberalizing drug laws and believe that it will have detrimental effects on society.
Some nations, notably the United States, which has long waged an expensive, often violent and now – ultimately – failing “war on drugs”, will also probably express concern. America though is starting to see that Federal law is no longer keeping up with changes in state laws, particularly in states like Colorado and Washington where restrictions on possession, distribution and manufacture of cannabis have been relaxed. A good example of this is in Washington State – my parents visited a friend whose daughter used to work in the first cannabis store in the state. The store had several restrictions on how it could operate, so that it would not be in breach of Federal law these included not being able to take credit cards; banking the earnings from the days business was a problem because banks are bound by Federal laws.
New Zealand is not the United States and there will need to be strict conditions on how we permit stores that sell cannabis to operate cometh the day when buying, selling and manufacturing cannabis is no longer a criminal offence. But if a few common sense ones are followed such as, strictly 18+; all stores selling registered with authorities and only New Zealand grown product is permitted, maybe it will not be the catastrophe some believe.