Cannabis referendum – the case for ‘No’

As well as choosing a new government, October’s election gives us the opportunity to support or oppose the legalisation of euthanasia and recreational use of cannabis. Here, Aaron Ironside of SayNopeToDope argues for a ‘No’ vote in the referendum on the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill.

SayNopeToDope is a collection of 25 organisations and individuals who have first-hand experience of the effects of cannabis use both personally and in their professional work.

Our group believes the international evidence shows that legalising cannabis does not reduce harm; rather, the increase in total usage increases the negative outcomes for the individual and community.

We do not believe ordinary people should be thrown in jail for smoking a joint. New Zealand already has a soft decriminalisation, with police taking a health approach to personal use. Only 16 New Zealanders have been jailed or given home detention for possession in the past three years. In each case, cannabis possession was one of several charges they faced.

Despite the hopes of law reform, the black market remains strong in legal jurisdictions, accounting for around 70 percent of sales, and is in active competition with the legal market. Both markets actively seek new customers, and the most valuable customer is a daily user. The result is an increase in the total cannabis market.

With increased sales comes increased use, often among 15 – 25-year-olds. Canada’s federal study noted a 27 percent increase in use among this age group in the year following legalisation. California recently reported that 29 percent of 18 – 25-year-olds use cannabis, and 40 percent of that group are underage users. Teenage users are four times more likely to develop cannabis use disorder and develop severe mental health issues like psychosis and anxiety. The cannabis-related teen suicide rate in Colorado is seven times the national average.

Cannabis is now 10 times stronger than in the 1970s. Woodstock weed was only 3 percent THC but most cannabis plants available today are closer to 30 percent THC. The legal market will be restricted to 15 percent THC; however this has helped strengthen the black market overseas as it offers high THC products at a lower price. This high potency product destroys lives.

More than a plant, cannabis products now include a wide range of vape and edible alternatives. Again, the current law limits the sale of these popular products, yet the NZ Police recently commented that this empowers the gangs. Whilst today’s proposed law has tight restrictions, these may loosen over time.

Cannabis shops typically open in low-income communities, taking money from vulnerable families. In the poor suburbs of Denver there is one cannabis dispensary for every 47 adults. The tax revenue from cannabis will come from the pockets of the poor and vulnerable. We are concerned the commercial interests are the wrong reason to legalise.

Remember, this referendum is about recreational cannabis. Medicinal use is already legal. We want to improve that law and access for patients through medical channels. The NZ Medical Association opposes legalisation of recreational cannabis.

New Zealand is not ready for this new industry. Roadside and workplace impairment testing is not yet available. We want improved health and education strategies without a law change. The current approach is far from perfect, but the alternative being offered opens Pandora’s box. Recreational cannabis is just too risky for our young and vulnerable.

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About Aaron Ironside

Aaron Ironside
Aaron Ironside has been drug-free for over 20 years since quitting a cannabis addiction. He now helps others get free of their addictions. Aaron is passionate about helping New Zealand pursue programmes and legislation that will benefit all sectors of society.