The Bay of Plenty has the highest number of people dependent on cannabis in the country according to a national survey of drug users, which one community leader has attributed to "good dope-growing land".

The Massey University survey has also found the region had the highest need for help for substance abuse.

The Bay of Plenty has the highest number of people dependent on cannabis in the whole of the country, according to a new Massey report. Photo / File
The Bay of Plenty has the highest number of people dependent on cannabis in the whole of the country, according to a new Massey report. Photo / File

It also had high levels of methamphetamine dependency, with 30 per cent of the people surveyed in the Bay addicted to P.

The report shows 37 per cent of people surveyed in the Bay were dependent on cannabis, higher than other North Island regions of Northland (35 per cent), Waikato (34 per cent), Wellington (33 per cent) and Gisborne/Hawke's Bay (33 per cent) region.

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Associate Professor Chris Wilkins, from Massey University's SHORE and Whariki Research Centre. Photo/ File
Associate Professor Chris Wilkins, from Massey University's SHORE and Whariki Research Centre. Photo/ File

Lead researcher Associate Professor Chris Wilkins said the need for help for substance use problems was highest in the Bay of Plenty, with 16 per cent of people in the Bay needing either "a lot" or "some" help, the same level as in Manawatu-Wanganui (16 per cent) followed by Gisborne/Hawke's Bay (15 per cent).

Tommy Kapai Wilson of social agency Te Tuinga Whanau, which provided transitional housing and support for local families, said the figures were not surprising,

Tommy Kapai. Photo/ File
Tommy Kapai. Photo/ File

"Given our name is the Bay of Plenty, the same can be said about plenty of good dope-growing land.

"Sure, we have access to hard drugs via the port in our backyard, but access to organically grown marijuana could hold us in good stead in a future where, in my opinion, medical marijuana will be a cash crop equal to kiwifruit with far less chemicals, and recreational cannabis will be legalised."

He said cannabis was not as much a concern as other substance abuse in the community.

"Working at the front line of drug dependency and addiction there will always be a market for marijuana and on a scale of one to 10, alcohol is an eight alongside P. Synthetics is a seven and organic marijuana is a four."

Tauranga City Council candidate and drug reform advocate David Tank believed cannabis should be legalised and recreational drugs decriminalised.

"Many in our community have always been fond of the 'weed', and some over-fond, so this is unsurprising and yet rather heartening in that so many people are prepared to admit they have a problem."

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The survey shows 30 per of people surveyed in the Bay are addicted to P. Photo / File
The survey shows 30 per of people surveyed in the Bay are addicted to P. Photo / File

Tank said a punitive approach to those using P limited opportunities for seeking and accessing help.

"If we are serious about helping these folks we need to decriminalise methamphetamine and treat those folks so afflicted as people with a serious health issue, not as criminals."

Tank believed police should devote more resources to dealing with meth rather than cannabis.

Erin Scarlett, founder of charity Brave Hearts which supported families with loved ones addicted to P, said the survey results confirmed what the charity had heard from families.

"Let's hope increased access to services for all substances are made an urgent priority in the Bay and all the regions."

Wilkins said cannabis was less addictive than methamphetamine but drug dependency was also closely related to the frequency of use.

The aim of the country's first anonymous online Drug Trends Survey, completed by 6100 people, was to back up anecdotal evidence on the dependency and availability of meth and cannabis and encourage the Government to prioritise support services for meth addicts.

This week's findings follow last week's damning figures which revealed P was much easier to access than cannabis and, in the Bay of Plenty, a third of those surveyed revealed they could buy the drug in 20 minutes or less.

Drug Trends Survey
Just under half the people surveyed were female. The average age was 29 but those surveyed ranged between as young as 16 and as old as 87.

Twenty-one per cent were Maori and 72 per cent Pakeha; 18 per cent were students; 11 per cent unemployed or on a sickness benefit and 65 per cent were employed.

Wilkins' team will present more detailed analysis to the Ministry of Health and other government agencies this week.