Widespread support for cannabis law reform

15 Jul, 2016
Widespread support for cannabis law reform
Professor Max Abbott, CNZM.

A recent assembly at the Auckland Town Hall has put the spotlight on New Zealand’s cannabis laws. The public event, Start the Conversation, addressed the impact of current cannabis laws on New Zealanders, and called for legislative reform to curb the harm caused by the country’s current approach to drug use.

The event sought to inform intelligent public discussion on the issue of cannabis, and opened with an address from Professor Max Abbott, CNZM – Dean of AUT’s Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences.

The Director of AUT’s Gambling and Addictions Research Centre emphasised the need for change. “Current cannabis laws have not reduced use. They have criminalised tens of thousands of New Zealanders, wasted police and court resources, and fuelled organised crime.”

He lamented the lack of progress achieved since 1984, when the original cannabis debate was held at Auckland’s Town Hall. “Of the issues that I was heavily involved in in the 1970s and 1980s, cannabis law reform is the only one that has remained frozen in time,” he says.

“Valuable reforms to homosexual law, mental health law and abortion law have been made, and real progress achieved in prostitution law reform and in recognising victims of crime. Cannabis law reform is well overdue.”

Other speakers, including Tony Bouchier (president of the Criminal Bar Association), Helen Kelly (Former President of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions), Dr Warren Young (former Deputy President of the New Zealand Law Commission) and Dr Huhana Hickey, MNZM (AUT Research Fellow) also presented a strong case for legalisation. Kelly and Hickey spoke from the powerful perspective of those already using cannabis therapeutically, and made compelling arguments in favour of legislation that permits medicinal cannabis use.

Their views appear to have widespread support. A recent One News Colmar Brunton poll found nearly three-quarters of respondents supported medical cannabis use, and internationally, many countries are choosing to legalise.

Professor Abbott attributes this change in part to growing recognition that the global war on drugs has been a “monumental disaster.” He believes the destructive approach taken to date has caused significant suffering, and instead favours a ‘permit but discourage’ approach to substance use and potentially addictive or harmful activities.

“It is essential that discouragement is proportionate to associated harm, and designed for effectiveness not window dressing,” he says.

“This approach would legalise cannabis use, but do more to reduce teenage use and help people with problems. It would sustain measures to reduce tobacco use and do vastly more to reduce misuse of alcohol, some forms of gambling, prescription drugs, junk food and sugary beverages, among others.”

Planning is currently underway for further Start the Conversation events around the country. For details of future forums, follow progress on Community Can’s website and Facebook page.

To see highlights of the Auckland debate, click here.