Last week 23 organisations including the New Zealand Medical Association wrote an open letter calling for a health-based approach to drug misuse.
"Our laws prevent people accessing help when they need it, and they leave thousands every year with a conviction that impacts on livelihoods, mental health, relationships, travel, housing and education," said the letter.
"Prohibition continues to discriminate against Māori and Pasifika, who account for more than half of all cannabis convictions in Aotearoa".
The Health Minister, Andrew Little, dismissed the letter, saying the groups were "12 months too late". The issue had been decided by the referendum.
Did the minister read the referendum question? "Do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill?"
Nothing there about treating misuse of drugs as a health issue. It was possible to vote "no" to legalising cannabis but be in favour of a health approach.
Minister Little went further, saying there could be no drug reform without another referendum. Really? Little introduced the Electoral Amendment Bill making electoral reforms without another electoral referendum.
It makes you wonder about the health reforms the minister is to front.
Andrew Little has said the number one aim of his health reforms will be: "The health system will reinforce Te Tiriti principles and obligations".
What to make of this? The Government will not say what the Te Tiriti principles are.
The Māori Party knows. Co-leader Rawiri Waititi, in his maiden speech, said: "It is time for the Crown to honour its Tiriti obligation and partnership, and it needs to devolve its resources to a by Māori, for Māori, to Māori approach. We demand a Māori Parliament."
If Little really believes the way to reform the health system is to implement Te Tiriti principles and he wants to implement the referendum result, then his first health reform would be to make cannabis use by Māori legal. The Co-Leader of the Māori Party, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, said in Parliament that "the cannabis referendum was overwhelmingly supported by Māori".
Little had ministerial responsibility for conducting the referendum. He ensured we know how every general seat voted. The Electoral Commission thought that how Māori voted in the referendum was not important, and the Māori vote was mixed in with the results from the general seats.
In electorates where the Māori population is low, the cannabis referendum failed. Where the Māori population is high, it passed. Debbie Ngarewa-Packer is right. Māori must have voted overwhelmingly in favour.
Ngarewa-Packer has a bill in the private members ballot banning seabed mining, not an issue that will make any difference to her constituents. She should submit a bill to implement the result of the way Māori voted in the referendum by making cannabis use by Māori legal. Now that would make a difference.
If Little believes his rhetoric, he will vote in favour. Every member of the Labour Māori caucus would have to give their support. The Greens also claim they want to apply Te Tiriti principles.
It is not going to happen. None of them believe their rhetoric.
The list of corporate donors to the Māori Party reveals that party's purpose is to represent the Treaty of Waitangi gravy train industry. Forgotten are the young Māori men caught up in the justice system for possession of a joint.
This gesture politics is not harmless. We urgently need health reform. Our hospitals could not handle a serious Covid outbreak.
One of the reasons we are not "at the front of the queue" for vaccination but second to last of the OECD countries is the shambles that is our health system. The Ministry of Health ordered vaccines but no needles!
Expenditure on health under successive governments has been rapidly rising but outcomes have not improved.
The real agenda behind Labour's health reforms will be this Government's answer to every issue: centralise command and control. Decision making by Wellington. But if central planning worked, the Soviet Union would have won the Cold War.
The best paper on health reform is still the Gibbs report. What Alan Gibbs found 30 years ago will still be true: the least efficient private hospital is more efficient than the most efficient public hospital. Just lifting the efficiency of public hospitals to the private hospital average would wipe out waiting lists. Alan Gibbs recommended the opposite approach from central planning - decentralised decision making.
The most efficient part of our health system is the GP clinic, most of which are privately owned and all of which are local. Before you post a comment, Alan Gibbs did not advocate the American health system. The minister should read the Gibbs report.
Andrew Little, when Minister of Justice, held many expensive hui but achieved no reforms. The minister's dismissal of misuse of drugs reform and his gesture principles for health reform mean that Andrew Little will again achieve little.
- Richard Prebble is a former leader of the Act Party and former member of the Labour Party.