Haydn Marriner is a Rotorua tourism operator and political junkie.
This election is going to be an absolute humdinger, with all the stranger than fiction twists and turns you never thought you could imagine - when the dust settles New Zealand, one way or another will never be the same again.
Attached to this year's election will be the referendum question surrounding the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use. So many emotive arguments based on personal feelings will no doubt be flying about.
The anti-group is headed up by the very well funded National Party.
The pro-group is being endorsed by Helen Clark - the battle lines are drawn!
But there are a few home truths that both sides can agree on.
Firstly, the prohibition of cannabis for any use is failing.
It is by all accounts a spectacular fail.
The availability of cannabis in multiple forms is rampant, fueling a prosperous underground industry which has been going on as long as smoking weed has been a thing.
We are among the highest cannabis consumers in the world and the near $199 million per year that's directed towards the enforcement and judicial process surrounding cannabis use is funds, time and energy that isn’t achieving anything.
This prohibitive stance does not affect the demand that the general public has for cannabis and demand (excuse the pun) is extremely high. Secondly, the prohibition of this product is funding criminals and gangs. To feed New Zealand's incredible appetite for cannabis, professional criminals (gangs) are investing huge sums of money and energy into mass production.
We have seen on the news time and time again, massive drug busts, where sophisticated hydroponic laboratories are caught by police through huge, well-executed operations.
Why are the gangs investing in these operations? Because it makes tons of money, and profit from prohibition is how they survive.
Like the prohibition of alcohol in the United States enabled the growth of the mafia, the prohibition of cannabis is funding and enabling the gangs of New Zealand.
Thirdly - cannabis isn’t the gateway to harder drugs - drug dealers are the gateway to harder drugs. Cannabis in itself is merely a product, used in isolation doesn’t advocate for the use of harder drugs.
If it did, a more significant portion of our population who regularly use cannabis would have transitioned to much harder illegal substances.
The numbers simply don’t back up that assertion.
However, the illegal, uncontrolled distribution chain we currently have for the purchase of weed puts cannabis sales in the hands of people who are also peddling other wares, such as meth, MDMA and injectable nasties like heroin.
Health professionals are pretty clear that they would like cannabis and its use to be viewed as a health issue, not a criminal issue, as they are best placed to deal with the issues of addiction and dependency - not the criminal justice system as it currently is.
While cannabis remains illegal, there are barriers to Kiwis seeking help for their issues of dependency. These barriers further exacerbate underlying issues at the root of their addiction, such as mental health trauma, which untreated can cause the users to spiral further away from where support is and increase potential harm to themselves and others.
The legalizers are saying that the potential positives are numerous.
Off the bat, you’ve got the extra $199 million a year that we aren't spending on law enforcement relating to cannabis.
That's funds which could be redirected anywhere from extra police, mental health programs, and business start-ups to building a new hospital - every year!
Then there’s the additional estimated tax revenue from GST of cannabis and related products - $68 million in the first year alone.
On top of that, you will get PAYE off the employees working in legal cannabis businesses.
Rotorua and the surrounding area with our high-quality volcanic soil could be well placed to be an epicentre of cannabis horticulture, as well as indirectly benefiting from cannabis tourism - which according to the US state of Colorado boomed shortly after they legalised cannabis in 2014. Post-Covid-19 these extra funds will be much needed.
I am a firm believer that the current system we have in place for the management of cannabis doesn’t fit modern New Zealand society.
The demand for and use of recreational cannabis is huge.
It’s hardly a demonised substance, with people from all walks of life and political persuasions admitting to the use of it, some even actively promoting it.
Half measures like legalising only medical use isn’t a step towards fixing the issues, because the demand is in its recreational use. The last time the government acted with a half measure was when the National Government legalized synthetics.
This only created a new category of drug issues and turned Tutanekai Street into an urban drug den. Legalising will give us more control, not less, with powers to regulate the industry, making it safer for consumption than its current form, where product integrity is based on faith, rather than the Consumers Guarantee Act.
Lastly, it will put this drug out of the hands of gangs and the criminal underworld who currently use it to fund themselves.
Legalising will allow the government to heavily scrutinize the industry and clean it up. Post-Covid-19 the old “throw more money, more police” at the problem of cannabis won’t be possible, simply because the resources won’t be there.
We need to be smarter about how we reduce crime and depriving gangs of a major income source would be a clever way to start.
Major criminal gangs across New Zealand are already going through a rougher time under this government, as evidenced by increased police budget, officers on the ground and the major busts, which have increased year on year since 2017.
These busts are attacking the gangs' way of life more so than at any time in the previous decade. It's not too hard to see them wanting to support the National Party this election and their stance on this issue, as well backing their previous approach to crime, which saw their businesses flourish and will keep their pockets full of cannabis cash moving forward. It's tough to reconcile that the party that purports to be “tough on crime” can also be leading a campaign whose outcome will be to keep illegal cash flow for criminals, but that is the case.
I for one know which way I will vote and on September 20, we will see if the majority of New Zealand agrees or disagrees with me.