The local word on weed

An actor provides special effects for the discussion on weed. Should we or shouldn’t we? Photo: John Borren

To help clear the smoke on whether to tick yes or no on the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill in September, Western BOP social service organisation SociaLink hosted a webinar recently.

The webinar’s 79 attendees heard from five panellists with varying stances and backgrounds, on a discussion about the pros and cons of legalising recreational cannabis, and the proposed draft bill.

Here’s what they reckon:

Against: Aaron Ironside

Master of Arts in Psychology, spokesperson for Say No to Dope, drug free for 20 years.

“In countries where recreational cannabis is legalised like Canada, we’ve seen that the blackmarket refuses to go away. They have diversified and focussed their energy on high potency products for a low price. They’ve gone into competition with the legal market.

“As someone who used to use, I know that if I’m asked to give up buying cannabis from the people I always have, so I can pay twice as much for something half the strength, chances are that’s not going to fly.

“We’re not ready for all the commercialisation model brings.

“Our other concern is health. There are age restrictions, but all young people have to do is find an older friend to buy it for them. There are downstream effects of that – from psychotic episodes to suicide.”

For: Chester Burrows

Previous National MP, NZ Police Force for 24 years, lawyer, and current Safe and Effective Justice Advisory Group appointee.

“With my experience, I don’t doubt the harms of cannabis misuse. However, I’ve seen the lasting effects that conviction can have on someone’s life. The stigma of conviction that affects families and there’s an inconsistency of charging officers that depends on their interpretation of the offense as per the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.

“How we treat cannabis is way out of kilter with how we treat alcohol – which is by far the most harmful drug in our community. Police would say they’ve never been to a family violence call incident where the substance in question is just cannabis.

“We need consistency in the way we treat these substances, so I sit towards legislation and regulation.”

Against: Nikita Costello

Fourth year Bachelor of Social Work student, studying at Waikato University in Tauranga.

“I’ve learnt a lot in the four years of doing my degree. Cannabis is a depressant and legalising it would put more pressure on our already struggling health system.

“My main concern is for our young people. The Bill’s proposed minimum age for consumption is 20 – but the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain used for memory retention and reasoning, isn’t fully developed until 24.

“Cannabis is already very accessible to youth as it is, let’s not hand it to them on a silver platter by voting yes.

“I’m very proud that as a nation we can have these discussions, but much more refinement is needed to get it right.”

Finding a balance: Dr Phil Shoemack

BOP’s medical officer of health.

“The public health goal is harm reduction for individuals and society overall. Prohibition has not achieved public health goals: use is not decreasing, it’s just going up.

“The cost of prohibition has been significant and not felt equitably across our community – it’s had a disproportionate effect on Maori, those living with addiction and those who end up in court.

“We need more regulation, the debate is what this will look like. It’s possible that the bill doesn’t go far enough.

“Having more regulations around cannabis, while making it accessible would be the suggestion.

“Cannabis is harmful to health, but prohibiting its use has produced significant harm to health also.

“If we adopt a broader harm reduction approach we are more likely to achieve our goal of limiting the health impact, but that will require a significant central hand on regulating who can sell it, who can buy it etc.”

For: Dr Tony Farrell

Mount Medical Centre, Fellowship in Addiction Medicine and medical spokesperson for Alcohol Action NZ.

“Drug use is a normal human behaviour that has been going on forever. Stigmatising a normal behaviour means people struggle to ask for help.

“People can become hardened criminals because of the consequences of a drug that’s certainly less harmful than alcohol.

“Economic information is a benefit of legalisation. It’s been suggested that legalisation will turn over $110million per annum and that money can be used to help people in trouble with cannabis.”

“Cannabis use does have its health risks, but there’s great social harm of prohibition, especially for Maori. That’s why we definitely need our treaty partners at the discussion table.”

The whole debate is also available on the SociaLink website.

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