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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

NZ’s 2020 ‘reeferendum’


In 2020, at the next General Election, New Zealand voters will be able to decide whether recreational use of cannabis (marijuana) will be allowed. Holding such a referendum was part of the confidence and supply agreement between the Labour Party and Green Party. It’s a good move.

The referendum, already dubbed a “reeferendum”, will be held at the same time as the next General Election, which will save taxpayers money. This is a sensible move. It will also be binding, not advisory, so if legalisation passes, personal recreational use of cannabis will become legal in New Zealand, and politicians won’t have to take a stand.

Naturally, the Leader of the Opposition trashed the idea, as in the ONE News report, above. "Pretty cynical that you've got a Government that wants to distract from the core issues of a general election,” he huffed and puffed, “like who's best to govern.” What he meant, of course, is that he’s terrified that such a referendum will motivate younger voters, who support Labour and, especially, the Greens, and definitely not the Opposition National Party. It’s actually legitimate for him to be frightened about that—he needs younger and less conservative voters to stay home. It would just be nice if he was honest about that.

In that same report, the Greens’ Chloë Swarbrick points out, essentially, that New Zealand voters are capable of debating all the issues, and ever the lone MP for the neoconservative Act “Party” said that NZ voters can pay attention to more than one issue at a time. They’re both right.

But why does National oppose legalisation? The Leader of the Opposition, who is a conservative Christian (in the New Zealand sense, which is definitely not similar to the USA), has always opposed any sort of decriminalisation or legalisation of cannabis because of what he thinks is some sort of "normalisation" of ALL drug use, and he says he worries about the impact legalisation would have on mental health.

The “slippery slope” argument is just plain silly, so we’ll skip over that. But we know for a fact that prohibition simply doesn’t work. We also know that not everyone has a problem using cannabis, and those who do are best dealt with through the health system and NOT the prison system, as happens now.

What I find so utterly dishonest about the opponents of ending prohibition is that none of them are talking about banning alcohol and sending people who use it to jail, yet we know about all the social harm that alcohol use can cause. Why the hypocrisy?

A professional morals activist who wants to lead the campaign against legalisation talked about how the NZ government is trying to make New Zealand smoke free, that is, with basically no tobacco use. But those are apples and oranges, as the professional troublemaker well knows.

Since human beings first discovered they could get off their face, they’ve spent millennia finding ever more ways of doing so. Humans will continue to do that; it will never change. But in recent years we’ve seen the utter social devastation caused by use of methamphetamine, and, more recent still, what’s often called “synthetic cannabis”, which often has fatal consequences.

We do permit alcohol, which can cause harm. We permit tobacco use, which causes harm. Heck, we permit sugar use, which has virtually no nutritive value and can cause harm. All those things are legal because people simply enjoy them, and despite any harm they may cause.

Yet we don’t permit recreational cannabis use, despite the fact it causes far less harm than all other illegal drugs. Why not?

There’s a lot of money behind alcohol, tobacco, and sugar, but behind cannabis are only criminals, often gangs. If we legalised it we could regulate it like alcohol and tobacco, we could tax it like alcohol and tobacco, and companies in New Zealand could make money from farming, processing, and retailing cannabis—all paying taxes, all hiring workers.

I can see no downsides to legalising cannabis for recreational use. The problems that may happen for some people can be dealt with as a health problem (rather than a criminal problem), but the possibility of problems is no reason to oppose legalisation. Saying it’s reason enough to keep prohibition ignores a very important point: Many of those same people would likely have problems with other substances if cannabis remains illegal, even if they just stuck with alcohol and didn’t choose an illegal drug that’s far more dangerous than cannabis. So, while legalisation may possibly lead to problems for some people, it will also probably reduce harm overall, and that’s a good thing.

I would prefer that Parliament just legalised it and was done with the issue. Most Kiwis back, at the very least, decriminalisation, but politicians don’t want to touch the issue. At least this one is binding.

At this point, there’s no way to know how this will turn out. Still, there are two things we know for sure. First, the referendum battle will be hard fought. From what we’ve seen so far, younger people will back legalisation, older people will oppose it.

The other thing we know is that if the referendum passes, the issue will be over. Kiwis never revisit a social issue once it’s decided. But if the referendum fails, then the issue will continue to drag on for years until Parliament finally legalises it.

Everything will depend on the specific wording of the referendum question: If it’s wrongly worded, it could lead to defat through confusion alone. Worded correctly and clearly, we can expect a definitive answer.

I support legalisation and I intend to vote for that option. Whatever the result, at least it may finally be over.

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