As part of their agreement with the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, the Labour Party under Prime Minister designate Jacinda Ardern, has agreed to hold a referendum on cannabis. Whilst it will not happen until the latter part of the new Parliamentary term – possibly 2020 – the referendum which will be on whether or not legalize cannabis, comes as New Zealanders acknowledge that the “war on drugs” is not working and that it might be time for a new approach.
There will be some unequivocally opposed to cannabis being legitimized in any form. It will not matter whether it is the decriminalization of cannabis so that small amounts are acceptable, or legalizing the drug. The differences between decriminalization and legalization are significant and it would be true that there are people who do not understand the difference, either as a matter of being deliberately ignorant or or not having had it explained to them properly.
I have been of more conservative persuasion in the past on cannabis. But rather than view it as a criminal issue, I am starting to lean towards the view that addiction to cannabis is a health issue. Rather than criminalizing people and cannabis, I am now of the opinion that the money being pumped into dealing with minor scale cannabis offences should be diverted into helping those who have developed an addiction and setting up associated programmes.
Laws are just that. So are the courts where the sentences are handed down and the jails where the worst of them are carried out. None of them address the causes of addiction to cannabis in the first place, or seek to help anyone other than the victims of criminal offending.
The worst will offend no matter what happens. No matter how one helps them, punishes them or shows sympathy, determined offenders will offend. But what about those who were brought up in a culture of drugs, who have only ever known the debilitating effects that drugs have on families – you cannot blame them for not knowing better if they have not been shown better.
With synthetic cannabis reducing its victims to zombies, and an influx of liquid methamphetamine starting to make its presence felt, a change in how New Zealand is dealing with the lesser end of the narcotics scourge might just be what the doctor ordered. Now we just need to see if New Zealand agrees.