The ripple effect of legalising cannabis will be felt throughout society says a social work student who will be voting 'no' in an upcoming referendum on the subject. Meanwhile, a Tauranga GP warns the current system isn't working. Kiri Gillespie talks to both sides of the debate ahead of this month's referendum.
says she sees first-hand the negative impact cannabis can have on young people.
The University of Waikato social work student is on placement at Tauranga's Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. Her experience with young people is helping drive her vote of no in the October 17 referendum on legalising cannabis.
However, Tauranga GP Tony Farrell
plans to vote yes.
Farrell has long studied and worked with people suffering harm from drugs and holds a Fellowship of Addiction Medicine qualification. In his view, the matter of cannabis was "really a social issue with health concerns".
The argument against
Costello is quick to say she is not completely against the notion of legalising cannabis.
However, there needed to be greater education around the use of the drug and its long-term effects, she said.
"Legalising the recreational use of cannabis is something that affects many areas of people's lives and I don't think the legislation addresses those at this stage."
Costello was concerned that in years to come more people would be coming through with mental health issues or addictions.
"Often these people would be those who smoked cannabis from a young age and now live with a damaged frontal cortex, used for rational decision making and impulse control."
While there were good points for legislation - such as reducing criminal convictions for Māori who were over-represented - "cannabis is a depressant and I believe legalising it will only be adding to our mental health issues here in New Zealand".
"Yes, taxing the cannabis will produce revenue for the country but is it worth the sacrifice of our young people and their developmental needs?"
Costello was concerned people thought the referendum incorporated cannabis for medicinal use but "it doesn't".
"I think the millions of dollars being spent on the referendum could be better spent going towards making medicinal cannabis more accessible and affordable."
Costello said a lack of clarity around the impacts and effects of other areas of life and business was a concern.
Another was the accessibility of cannabis for young people and the normalisation of the drug.
Costello would like to see more information about the legal age to smoke and legal age to work in a cannabis growing or manufacturing setting, "plus more information to people about the harm that cannabis can cause long-term effects".
"There are so many factors that need considering before cannabis becomes legal," she said.
"Personally I think that one day in the future it will become legal, but before it does further research needs to be conducted, and further clarification for business owners, employers, employees, and roadside drug testing, etc. It will be an interesting election to see what the vote comes to."
The argument for:
As a GP, Farrell found patients reluctant to talk about their cannabis use, "especially if they are having trouble with it".
"I see people not able to travel, get a job and get discriminated against because of their use of cannabis, which can have a large impact on their health. Furthermore, many patients use cannabis therapeutically and do not tell their doctor which can cause harm as the patient may not be receiving optimum treatment."
Because cannabis was illegal, it was hard to find funding for research and treatment opportunities for addicts, Farrell said.
Scientifically, cannabis was a lot less harmful than alcohol "but still does cause harm", he said.
However, Farrell believed the proposed legislation would be less harmful than banning it.
"Under prohibition up to 80 per cent of our teenagers access cannabis, and we have 600,000 users of cannabis in New Zealand, indicating that the current law does not work."
While he planned to vote yes in the referendum, Farrell said if the proposed legislation were to drop the purchase age from 20, allow advertising and allow for cannabis to be sold in supermarkets like alcohol "I would really have a problem with that".
Farrell said he still had concerns about the potential of excessive commercialisation of the drug despite measures in place to make it far more restricted than what alcohol currently was. There was a risk future "Big Cannabis" could influence public health policy in a harmful way.
Ultimately, most cannabis users did not suffer harm from their use, he said.
"This is a huge social issue - why should those users be criminalised? These users will have access to a stable supply of cannabis free from crime, adulterants, bacteria, fungi and heavy metals. Secondly, there are still people being imprisoned for cannabis offences, and there is a higher proportion of Māori being convicted for the same offences as non-Māori - indicating equity issues."
Farrell said, thirdly, there would be an opportunity to provide employment and the tax take could be used to combat drug driving and workplace cannabis use which was already happening.
If successful, the bill would allow a person aged 20 or over to possess and consume cannabis in limited circumstances, such as
- buy up to 14 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent) per day only from licensed outlets
- enter licensed premises where cannabis is sold or consumed
- consume cannabis on private property or at licensed premises
- grow up to two plants, with a maximum of four plants per household
- share up to 14 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent) with another person aged 20 or over.
The bill would regulate how cannabis is produced and supplied by
- limiting the total amount of licensed cannabis for sale
- controlling the potency and contents of licensed cannabis and cannabis products
- applying an excise tax when a product is packaged and labelled for sale
- setting up a licensing system under which all cannabis-related businesses must hold a licence
- regulating location and trading hours for premises where cannabis is sold or consumed, in consultation with local communities
- banning people from importing cannabis and allowing only licensed businesses to import cannabis seeds
- separating businesses that are licensed to grow cannabis and produce cannabis products from businesses that are licensed to operate premises where cannabis can be sold and consumed.
The cannabis legalisation and control referendum is one of two being held on October 17. The other is the End of Life Choice Act. For more information, visit the official Government website on the referenda.