Once upon a time we were a very conservative society ... we frowned upon many a thing.

For example, back in the good (bad) old days, when a woman got pregnant, it was expected the perpetrator would marry her lickety-spit. "Shotgun" weddings were all the rage with the aim of protecting the reputation of the woman and, if that did not happen, extreme shame was heaped on her for a birth out of wedlock.

Couples rarely divorced because it was almost impossible for a woman to survive financially — and, anyway, divorce was an act against God.

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There was also a time in New Zealand when a man was looked down upon, and seen as inadequate and unmanly, if his wife worked outside of the family home. It wasn't until 1972 that compulsory military training (conscription) was removed, while abortion was a real no-no and it wasn't until 1977 that abortion (under certain circumstances) was legalised.

Homosexual acts were an abomination until the 1986 Homosexual Law Reform Act came into force, decriminalising sexual relations between men aged 16 and over, while it was 2013 before gay couples were finally allowed to marry.

There will still be many — mostly religious zealots — who see the above changes as a blight on society, but I suspect the majority of us would now laugh at all these quaint old laws and wonder how it could possibly have been like this.

None of these changes came about easily — every one was extremely controversial in its day.

One thing that has not changed much, however, is the issue of psychoactive drugs.
Personally, I've always been against any easing of laws around psychoactive drugs, but I do have to confess that I have never ever used them in my life — not a puff of a marijuana cigarette or even a bite of a cookie.

Psychoactive drugs are something I have never really understood, and I always thought marijuana was the slippery slope to harder drugs and a worse society — a couple of wines were always enough for me.

But is a joint any worse than a couple of glasses of wine? If someone wants to grow a few marijuana plants and mix it into a few cookies to chill out of an evening, is that such a bad thing? And if these users take it even further and become full-on potheads, stoned out of their brains every day, is that any worse than being drunk as a skunk every day of the week?

We accept the latter, but we spend millions searching for and incarcerating people for growing and selling a bit of dope. Who are we to tell someone what they should or shouldn't do with their lives, so long as they do not directly affect the lives of others?

Why not spend all that money actually helping people if they have a drug problem? We do that with alcoholics, even though we don't ban alcohol, which is a drug that kills and harms far more people despite being commonly accepted.

The trend toward the decriminalisation of marijuana in other countries is growing.
In the United States, Colorado and Washington in 2012 became the first jurisdictions to legalise marijuana for adult use. Two years later Alaska, Oregon and Washington, DC followed suit. In 2016 voters in four additional states followed suit.

In addition, the decriminalisation of marijuana could be an economic boon for the country — perhaps our next big export industry.

Sales of the drug in Washington have generated $315 million in tax revenues in the 2016-17 fiscal year, while Oregon collected $70 million, more than double the predicted revenue.

While my thinking on this issue may be capitulation in the face of a national pastime, I suspect the NZ police force has more important things to do with their time than chase these users.

It would seem to me to be time for New Zealand to move on, decriminalise marijuana and allow some people to enjoy what may be their only little luxury in life.

Steve Baron is a Whanganui-based political commentator, author and Founder of Better Democracy NZ. He holds degrees economics and political science.