This week, the Government released a draft plan of what legalising recreational cannabis could look like. Debate is rife and Jean Bell spoke to employers and those for and against the proposed reforms.
The Government's draft plan to legalise cannabis for personal use could create a ''minefield'' for employers if it goes ahead, a recruitment agency director says.
However, those who support the plan say alcohol is a more dangerous substance and drugs are already in the workplace.
The Government announced the draft Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill on Tuesday, which gave New Zealanders the first glimpse into what they'll be voting for in next year's cannabis referendum.
1st Call Recruitment managing director Phill van Syp said cannabis legalisation would create a health and safety "minefield" for employers.
''We have to protect our workers. That is not just one set of workers, that is the whole lot and you can't have people under the influence hurting someone else or making bad judgments. I don't want anyone run over by a forklift or a truck driven by someone under the influence.''
Van Syp said it would also be hard to prove when someone had smoked cannabis. He predicted issues would arise if it was legal for someone to smoke after work, but had an accident at work the next day when the drug was still in their system.
''So what is going to happen then?''
But van Syp said 1st Call Recruitment had a zero-tolerance approach to drugs and ''no one works for us that has anything in their system. I believe we have fewer issues because of that''.
However, the Drug Detection Agency group technical manager Rod Dale said drugs were already an issue in the workplace and always would be.
Green light: Company gets approval to grow medicinal cannabis
Arrest in relation to alleged Murupara firearm incident
Punches and death threats - a GP's journey in treating addicts
"I don't think it will be a biggie and I think companies just need to make sure they are clear on their policies about what their tolerance for risk is, how they will treat it and what the consequences are."
The obvious comparison was alcohol testing and that was based on levels, he said.
"That testing doesn't really take into consideration whether a person is using the drug at home, at work or any other place and those levels have been set based on really strong science for risk profiles."
Employers and Manufacturers Association employment relations and safety manager Paul Jarvie said the cannabis referendum posed a threat to the health and safety at every workplace across the country and could hurt businesses.
"Employers are facing a barrage of duties under various pieces of legislation, so the constant effort is on trying to keep staff and customers safe while maintaining productivity. So [the cannabis bill is] another piece of legislation that potentially opens the door and raises all those dials up a bit.
"Anecdotal evidence from EMA member businesses suggests saliva testing or a zero-tolerance policy would result in workplaces losing many of their staff, potentially for weeks at a time, because of how it is stored in the body."
Jarvie said employers' current drug and alcohol policy would need to be future-proofed if the law changed.
"Employers need to start thinking about what does it mean to my workplace and specifically where it may be most problematic. We see that in terms of drivers and plant and machinery operators."
But Lifewise regional manager Haehaetu Bennet said the legislation put forward was "a way forward for safer communities" in the fight against drug addiction.
Cannabis use was considered the norm in many of the vulnerable families in low-socioeconomic areas where the service worked.
"We obviously can't stop the usage, but we can provide support," she said.
Bennet said they would be able to offer wraparound support and services for those with addiction in a harm-reduction manner.
"The way forward around having safer communities is having people well-informed of the risks of usage but also the consequences if not managed appropriately."
• Premium - Medicinal cannabis venture eyes up Tauranga
• 'Massive potential for harm': Tauranga drug addiction worker on cannabis legalisation
• Premium - Potential Tauranga medicinal cannabis facility offers hope for those with chronic pain
• Premium - Bay of Plenty company given approval to grow medicinal cannabis for research
Meanwhile, a Bay of Plenty cannabis law reform advocate, who did not want to be named, said the proposed bill was a step in the right direction.
He said alcohol was a more dangerous substance than cannabis and if cannabis remained illegal, young - particularly Māori - men would continue to "suffer the bulk of convictions" for a crime where the penalty outweighed the offence.
"A drunk teenager is probably more dangerous than a stoned teenager . . . [Prohibition] doesn't stop people from using cannabis, it just results in criminal convictions meaning they can't travel overseas or get a job because employers ask for their criminal history . . . that's ludicrous."
Regarding the proposed bill, he said the proposed age restriction of 20 was sensible because heavy use in teenagers could impair brain development.
He said the 14g limit was a "perfectly reasonable" amount and any less would mean people would have to make excessive trips to the dispensary.
If cannabis was legalised, he predicted in five years' time the Bay of Plenty would have a thriving industry, increased number of older people using it to manage joint pain and other health issues, and less police time wasted on minor offending.
He believed the rules around where cannabis could be smoked were consistent with laws around public drinking or cigarette smoking, but he questioned how authorities would police this.
Salvation Army Tauranga community ministries manager Davina Plummer was "very much against" legalisation of cannabis.
"I understand that all forms of addiction are a coping mechanism of what is really going on underneath. We need to be working with people through trauma, through adverse child events and through the hardships of life.''
She said the strength of cannabis has got stronger over the years and alters a person's mind.
''We want to have good wellbeing and clear, sharp minds, but when you have any addiction at all you are distracted from life, it means you are not able to focus on the things that you need to. It means that you are not able to care for your loved ones and your children.''
Former Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless - who has previously said he does not support legalising cannabis - said his main concern was the impact of legalisation on young people.
"I don't want to see a nation of stoners."
Te Wharekura o Mauao principal Heywood Kuka said he supported "legislation that will ensure our kura community is safe.
"A recreational user of any substance that uses that substance responsibly and within the law is not a threat to our kura communities' safety.
"The legislation will also ensure that recreational users are not criminalised, which stops a whole chain of events which can affect that person and their whānau negatively throughout their life."
Kuka said while the legislation specified a minimum age for purchase and possession, young people who chose to use cannabis would still be vulnerable.
"I would like to see more support around students and their whānau in regards to the effects of cannabis abuse."
Otumoetai College principal Russell Gordon said he did not support the draft bill because it would open a "Pandora's box" of issues impacting young people.
He said it would normalise cannabis use which, in conjunction with other pressures, could exacerbate the mental health issues. He believed the age limit of 20 would not stop younger people from accessing the drug.
"We only need to reflect on the reduction of the drinking age from 20 to 18, and now we are seeing cases of adolescents comatose, plastered across the front pages of our national media."
He called the two-option referendum a "lost opportunity" to consider the third option of decriminalising cannabis.
"This would achieve the goal of preventing people from gaining a criminal record for minor offences, while still retaining a level of control around the consumption of cannabis."
Bay of Plenty Labour MP Angie Warren-Clark said she was pleased the draft legislation was now released so that the public could view it and the discussion could move forward.
She believed cannabis use needed to be moved from being from a criminal issue to a health issue so that energy and resource could be put towards helping addicts.
Tauranga MP Simon Bridges said there were many unanswered questions with the bill that must be answered before the election next year, around issues including the tax rate, THC limits, and drug driving.
"Otherwise this will be New Zealand's Brexit where people vote, and we have to work everything out afterwards."
Street view - do you support the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use?
Alice Davies, 19, Tauranga
"I don't support the legalisation of recreational cannabis. I would support the legalisation of medicinal cannabis because it might be easier to control, and only people who need it will have access."
Paula Obrien, Aongatete
"I don't support the legalisation of recreational cannabis because of the issues that come with cannabis. If you give them an inch, they'll take a mile."
Tash Keill, 23, Matua
"I'm a firm, yes. It will reduce the money spent on non-violent drug crime and a lot of money could be made from taxing it."
Puneet Sahil, 39, Whakamarama
"I support medicinal cannabis legalisation, and I think I support recreational use. It's been a success where it's been legalised elsewhere in the world and New Zealand has been a first for other issues like giving women the right to vote, so why not be progressive."