Have New Zealanders soured on Cannabis legalisation?

Ryan Bridge 11/06/2019

Green Party MP and Spokesperson for Drug Law Reform Chlöe Swarbrick joins Ryan Bridge on Magic Talk Drive to talk about the newly released poll results which show that New Zealanders are increasingly less in favour of cannabis legalisation. 

Ryan begins by reviewing the poll results which he says indicate "a majority of New Zealanders don't want cannabis to be legalised." He is referring to a Newshub Reid research poll that revealed that 48 percent of New Zealanders do not agree with legalising it while 41.7 percent of people think it should be legalised.

As for 10% well they don't know.

Ryan continues, "the poll of 1000 people found that, not surprisingly, that Green party supporters were more in favour of legalising cannabis."

Ryan begins by asking if  this is a disappointing result for the Green Party?

"What this poll result speaks to is that the majority of New Zealanders, myself included, have seen the harm that cannabis has caused and can cause," Chlöe 
explains, "where my job really comes into it is to speak to those majority of New Zealanders and help them understand that the best way to reduce and minimise the damage at home is through legal regulation."

"I think there's a bit of a misconception about how if we move towards legalisation all of a sudden we’re opening a Pandora's box of all of these new novel problems."

"Actually we have all of those problems at the moment most Kiwis have seen the harm of cannabis prohibition."

What I'm advocating for is getting control of a free-for-all.

Ryan asks then if polls are to be believed, there is a reversal in peoples opinions to cannabis legalisation which in turn might reflect poorly on Swarbrick’s work. Ryan says “which means that you, Chlöe, aren't doing your job?

Swarbrick responds, “what we have a history of results show that most New Zealanders are in favour of cannabis Law Reform and I think that's actually still the case.

"Where the rub comes in is around the difference in people's minds around decriminalisation or legalisation."

Most Kiwis you ask say they don't think it's fair that people criminalised for using the substance.

"However if we just go down the route of decriminalisation we simply remove criminal penalties for people who are using and we do not address the fact that it’s still gangs who are supplying the substance."

"That people who need help can't get access to it, that there is no opportunity to intervene in the supply chain and I think that there is a big challenge ahead of us."

We need to get out there and we need to be engaging with Kiwis.

"I have been speaking to a huge amount of stakeholders and also been speaking to New Zealanders on the ground many of whom come up to me."

"Those that are opposed to this will say first and foremost ‘you’re pro-cannabis and support drugs’. Then I have to slowly unpack that's absolutely not the case but it’s how I end up portrayed."

"New Zealanders are a pragmatic bunch and they simply need to have the evidence before them to work through it."

I think most New Zealanders are pretty logical," She says.

When presented with the facts then they do the right thing.

Ryan then asks if that is the case what has changed that might reflect the change in attitude toward legalising cannabis. He says “I wonder because I was thinking what else has changed since we had our last poll result?

“Well, you have a long list; yourself, along with Andrew Little who is the Minister of Justice, announced a few details about the referendum."

Including that you will allow the private cultivation of cannabis

Chloe explains that is will be “legally regulated, we have confirmation people are currently cultivating cannabis."

Ryan continues to list some of the revelations regarding legalisation ‘then you also made it available to 20 plus year olds."

There were scientists information that you're not fully developed in your frontal lobe until your 25 and yet you chose 20 as the age at which people would be able to purchase this stuff.

So what perhaps people are saying to you, Chloe, is that they don't want their neighbours growing cannabis and they don't want their 21 year old children buying it with a latte.

Chloe clarifies that “what we've also said is that there is going to be no way that you can consume this in the public.

So it's only in licensed venues and it is within private areas.

With regard to the proposed age she says, “we know that all of the evidence shows the consumption of any substance whether it’s alcohol, cannabis or otherwise, affects the developing brain."

"So we’re going to delay usage as much as possible but somewhere along the line the value of personal responsibility has to come into play."

"If we’re looking to displace the black market which is one of the first principles here, looking to boot the gang's out of town, we need to make sure that we focus on common sense pragmatic approach."

In response Ryan wonders if they have “set your sights too high, could you not have been a little bit more conservative?”

He continues to consider "perhaps you could have gone with no private cultivation to begin with and a 25 year minimum age that would have perhaps allayed a lot of the concerns that clearly people have." Chlöe disagrees.

I don't know if it is necessarily the concerns that people do have out in the community.

"Speaking to people within the community up and down the country I really want to hear those concerns and unpack them because as I say I don't think everybody is concerned in the same way."

"What I'm hearing from the majority of people is the concern about protecting our kids and if we start from the place at wanting to protect our kids then we have to reduce access and we have to reduce the ease of affordability."

"The best way to reduce that access and affordability is to place a duty of care on a supplier that the supply has to be legally regulated."

Ryan remarks that in order to do so they are “gonna have to do something to turn this around so maybe a Nationwide tour is how you do that?”

Ryan then wants to know “about those people who have got existing convictions, will they have their records expunged?”

Chloe answers that “for somebody who has served their time and you know done something that was previously illegal then serve their time and that thing which they have a conviction for subsequently becomes legal we have to ask the question."

Why should they carry the burden of that conviction?

"The whole purpose of legalising and regulating is to reduce harm then we have to recognise there's a huge amount of harm taht comes from cannabis prohibition namely the criminalisation of people who are using."

Ryan probes further to ask if “New Zealand votes yes at the next election should everyone who is currently in prison on a cannabis offence be let out of jail?

Chloe points out that it is a small number of people in prison “just for cannabis convictions, it's largely a multiplicity of other convictions that is bundled together.”

We haven't dealt down into that level of granular detail and in the creation of legislation that’s the questions we will ask.

You can watch the full interview above.