'Cannabis capital' proposal for Northland

By Mike Dinsdale -
Whangarei district councillor Jeroen Jongejans , did not believe cannabis tourism would work in Northland or be what the region wanted or needed. Photo / John Stone
Whangarei district councillor Jeroen Jongejans , did not believe cannabis tourism would work in Northland or be what the region wanted or needed. Photo / John Stone

Cannabis law reformers want Northland to trial marijuana liberalisation in a bid to increase tourism after the American states of Colorado and Washington voted to legalise the drug.

But a regional tourism leader doubts relaxing cannabis laws would boost tourism as claimed by the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (Norml).

Colorado and Washington last week 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.

Mr Gray said Norml wanted the idea trialled in one part of the country and suggested Northland.

"It would need to be a decision made by Government. We'd then like to see it trialled on a regional basis first and Northland would be the ideal place," he said.

"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 or 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.

But 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 world's 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.

"Amsterdam is the dope smoking capital (of Europe) with its coffee shops, but I don't think lots of people go there just to smoke dope. I don't see any great benefits for tourism in Northland by legalising or decriminalising cannabis."

Mr Jongejans said the Netherlands was also surrounded by many other countries, with free access for other citizens from other European Union countries.

"It'd be a long way to come to New Zealand just to smoke a joint."

The region had strategies in place to increase visitors and cannabis tourism was not one of them.

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