The New Zealand Drug Foundation is urging political parties to make firm commitments to health-focused drug law after a poll found 65 per cent of people supported cannabis law reform.
Curia Market Research's poll showed 28 per cent of more than 900 people wanted cannabis legalised and 37 per cent wanted the drug decriminalised.
The survey also showed support for medical cannabis remained at about 80 per cent.
Poll results showed 60 per cent of National voters supported legal or decriminalised possession for personal use which was up from 52 per cent a year ago.
The report showed NZ First voters sit at 68 per cent compared with 62 per cent a year ago.
Green Party voters were again the strongest supporters of change, with 92 per cent for decriminalisation or legalisation which was up from 83 per cent in July 2016.
Tauranga's Salvation Army Bridge and Oasis programme manager Daryl Wesley said close to 250 people aged 17-plus sought help from the programme each year.
The Bridge and Oasis programme provided a safe, integrated, high-quality treatment service to people whose lives have been affected by the harmful use of, or dependency on alcohol or drugs.
Mr Wesley said cannabis should not be legalised or decriminalised.
"I do not want to encourage anybody to use drugs," he said. "We know what happened with synthetic cannabis, there was a lot of trouble in terms of impacts on people's health."
He said there was enough latitude in the current laws for cannabis use.
"The other thing is alcohol is a legal drug and look at the harm that causes."
NZ Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said there was strong support for a change to cannabis law.
"Getting a criminal conviction for possessing cannabis ruins peoples' lives and creates huge downstream costs for society," he said.
"A regulated approach will usher in controls on quality, price and availability of cannabis,
along with more education, prevention and treatment. The public get this - why don't our
Get Smart Tauranga clinical lead April O'Hanlon said the specialised alcohol and drug service for youth up to age 24 provided 800 counselling sessions for young people and their families in the last year.
"The harm our young people experience is not just from cannabis use itself," she said.
"Legal penalties can also compound their problems, such as their ability to gain employment and the detriment time away in prison has on children and whanau [family]."
Mrs O'Hanlon supported treating drug use as a health issue rather than a criminal issue.
"If my daughters should ever struggle with a drug problem, I would hope that they have access to treatment, education and support rather than put through a criminal justice system that will do nothing to change their drug use."
She said there was plenty of evidence that a 'just say no' approach to drugs did not work.
"It is great that people in New Zealand are asking the questions about law reform and looking to overseas countries who are making real progress in reducing drug related harm.
"We know that cannabis does cause harm, especially in young people and so early intervention approaches and access to treatment is key."
What the candidates had to say:
Do you think cannabis should be legalised or decriminalised?
Clayton Mitchell, NZ First
This should be a binding referendum question and New Zealand First would support whatever the outcome was. The question around legalising medicinal marijuana should be an emphatic yes.
I think some people may feel that recreational use of marijuana should not be considered an offence in this day and age.
There is a lot of scientific research which says marijuana helps with muscle spasms, nausea from cancer chemotherapy, seizure disorders as well as having other health and pain relief benefits. This is a common sense approach to allow marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes.
Simon Bridges, National
The Government has no plans to change the legal status of cannabis. We do not think there are any benefits of decriminalising cannabis that outweigh the harm it causes to society.
While there is growing public support for the use of cannabis and cannabinoid products to treat a wide range of diseases and symptoms, this support appears to be largely based on low-quality scientific evidence, anecdotal reports, individual testimonials and public opinion.
If cannabis is to be used for medical purposes, it must be subject to the same evidenced based principles as any other pharmaceutical used for a therapeutic purpose.
Stuart Pedersen, ACT
Drug abuse should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal issue.
Cannabis should be legalised once we are confident that safeguards are in place for young people, among whom the health effects can be major and permanent, and once the majority are in favour (currently 72 per cent against according to the NZDF poll).
Most people can see the nonsense of the current law, many use cannabis without adverse effects, and taking cannabis out of the black economy with adequate safeguards, would be good for law and order and health.
Rusty Kane, Independent
Medicinal cannabis, should be legal, and the possession of small quantities of cannabis in New Zealand should no longer be a criminal offence, decriminalised.
The focus should change from criminal justice to one of health.
Cannabis should first be decriminalised and then at a later date legalised with Government controls, much the same as alcohol.
There are about 2000 young people aged 17-25 are convicted for drug possession each year, with the average sentence being 65 days, at a cost of $16,250 per person, around $29 million a year, which could be put to better use, health and education.
Vanessa Lee, The Opportunities Party (List)
The current penal approach to cannabis is doing more harm than smoking cannabis. Prohibition forces people to deal with criminals in an illegal unregulated market, putting them at risk and exposing them to more harmful substances. Prohibition is not working.
Legalising cannabis allows for strict regulation of quality, and with the objective of reducing harm, we can meet the underlying demand for cannabis while minimising the problems associated with its use.
Alcohol does more harm than cannabis, yet is legal. Legalisation of cannabis does not mean availability and promotion will be comparable to what we currently see with alcohol.
Jan Tinetti, Labour Party
We need to make medicinal cannabis easily accessible for people either with a terminal illness or have a permanent condition that causes significant pain or impairment.
However, further reform needs careful investigation. It is an area that people can see that what we are doing now does not seem to be working. The laws around medicinal cannabis have moved a little but still need further work.
Labour supports the legalisation of medicinal cannabis, but the legislation of recreational cannabis would be a conscience issue and the party is not campaigning on it.
Emma-Leigh Hodge, Green Party
I strongly back drug law reform and think cannabis use should be legalised. Drug policy should have the primary purpose of improving public health, of supporting people, but the current prohibitive approach causes more harm than it prevents. There are clear precedents overseas to assess what the best model for New Zealand is, including literature around an age limit for use, as well as age-appropriate education. There is strong, growing support across the political divides because our current legislation is archaic and harmful. Medicinal cannabis availability is an even clearer moral question, with such support, the Government must prioritise it.
Ben Rickard, United Future
I think if alcohol is the bar, if you'll excuse the pun, for what is considered a legal recreational substance, then cannabis should be legal for users 18 years or older too. Scientific research shows the effects of alcohol are far more harmful than marijuana. We should be consistent in our application of the science when it comes to harm, and not criminalise users or create criminal markets for recreational drugs. United Future supports a gradual move towards a Portugal-style system.
Joseph James 'Billy Boy' Borell, Maori Party
When you get to my young age of 70 plus you learn what is right and wrong in life. Locking up so many Maori for smoking marijuana is a crime in itself. Education not incarceration is the answer.
Forty per cent of inmates are there because of non-violent crimes, most of them for simply smoking what some call electric puha. I support decriminalisation for personal use and support legalisation for medicinal use.
If you want to sell it, you deserve to go to jail. If cannabis can take away pain, then every New Zealander should be given that option.
Yvette Lamare, Independent
I promote a 100 per cent drug and alcohol free life. I would decriminalise cannabis for medicinal use. Drugs and alcohol destroy one's good health. Alcohol does more damage to the human body than cannabis ever would, and alcohol is legal.
Hugh Robb, Independent
Yes. It should be treated the same as alcohol and cigarettes. Age restricted, only sold through licensed premises and legal to grow.
Jason Jobsis, Democrats for Social Credit
I'm for the legalisation of marijuana as a lot of crime could be avoided if the distribution was monitored rather than hidden in the black market.
As a party we are for the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.