Kate Hawkesby: Cannabis referendum - be careful about what and who you are voting for

Author
Kate Hawkesby,
Section
Audio,
Publish Date
Thursday, 18 July 2019, 9:12AM

COMMENT:

I see a secondary school headmaster is the latest to come out swinging against the cannabis referendum.

Kieran Fouhy, from St Paul's College in Ponsonby, believes legalising cannabis when New Zealand already has an issue with alcohol is just asking for trouble. He thinks young people already have enough to contend with.

His main concern is younger people won't respect the age restrictions, they'll simply access cannabis from older friends. 
He said: "When you legalise it, you normalise it."

And he doesn't buy into the Government's line that it's a health issue, or that decriminalising it will take it out of the hands of gangs.
And I agree, it won't.

I spoke to Colorado's executive director of the National Drug and Alcohol Screening Association, Jo McGuire, a couple of months ago and asked her about whether legalisation had shut down the black market there. She said it didn't - in fact it exploded it.
And the thing about black market cannabis is that it's higher in THC.

Since legalisation there, and bear in mind they are years into this experiment, there's been a sharp increase in the black market and one of the reasons is personal cultivation in people's own homes.

On top of that, you've got the regulatory market struggling to control limits on production, so they over-produce - which also feeds the black market.

So not only do people bypass the rules anyway, but you also have other people coming in and monetising the excess. Hence you get a thriving black market, irrespective of regulation.

Tax-wise, Colorado's experience is that for every tax dollar that comes in, they're spending $4.50.
Youth use has increased. One in four employees self-report that they go to work stoned.
In essence, Colorado's still waiting to see any benefits from legalisation, McGuire said.

Her warning to New Zealand was that understanding what we're actually voting for is really important. And that's the bit that worries me.

There are some who view this referendum as just a vote on whether decent everyday hard-working people who like a joint at the weekend should be penalised for doing so. 
They won't think about it beyond the scope of their own experience.

But the real danger with decriminalisation is what happens to cannabis production in terms of psychoactive properties. Colorado's experience is that there's a spike in these - and that in turn has a dramatic impact on mental health problems.

So what are we really voting for? And when we vote, who are we voting for?
Ourselves? Or our kids? Or our grandkids?

Because if it's just a vote for ourselves, then I don't think we're doing it right.

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