No takers on idea to trial drug tourism

By Mike Dinsdale

Prime Minister and Tourism Minster John Key doesn't want to be drawn into the debate over legalising cannabis to aid tourism into New Zealand, using Northland as a trial area.

The National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (Norml) wants Northland to trial marijuana liberalisation in a bid to increase tourism after two US states voted to legalise it.

Colorado and Washington have voted to legalise marijuana possession for people aged 21 and over and Norml spokesman Abe Gray said New Zealand should do the same to attract more tourists. Norml suggested a Northland trial.

"Northland, which is the cannabis capital of New Zealand, could vie for the opportunity to be the first in the trial."

Mr Gray admitted neither National nor Labour were keen on relaxing cannabis laws, despite the Law Commission recommending the laws be changed.

He said cannabis could be taxed at a higher rate than other goods and part of the taxes used for drug education and rehabilitation. The Government would also save the $500 million a year it spent on cannabis enforcement and imprisonment.

Mr Key was asked whether he thought the Norml proposal would work in attracting tourists, but a spokeswoman said he will not be taking up the opportunity to comment on the issue.

Whangarei District Councillor Jeroen Jongejans, who is also chairman of the Northland Tourism Development Group and a member of the Tourism Industry Association board, did not believe cannabis tourism would work in Northland or be what the region wanted or needed.

Mr Jongejans' native Netherlands has one of the most liberal cannabis regimes, with small amounts allowed for personal consumption and marijuana sold in the country's "coffee shops".

However, that did not mean it should be a goer in Northland, he said. Far North Mayor Wayne Brown has also spoken out against the idea.

- Northern Advocate

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