In the murky world of politics, social media and fake news, it is more important than ever to get the correct information out to the public. And as this year's general election looms, it's not just about ticking the candidate's box we think will do the best job, but we also have to decide whether or not to legalise the use of recreational cannabis.
To give the public a better chance to understand the ramifications of their decision, the Environment, Justice and Peace Network (EJP) is holding a public forum to help voters with their choice.
"The aim of the forum is help people become better informed, not to tell them which box to tick," says EJP member and forum convener, Ruth Smithies.
Ruth says as a network, EJP has no position on the question of legalising recreational cannabis.
"I assume that among our members opinions differ — some in favour, some against. Our aim with the public forum is not to push a particular stance. What we do want, however, is that we, and every other voter, becomes well informed — what are the advantages of legalisation, and what are its disadvantages? Whether we like it or not, it is a complex issue and before we can vote in good conscience we need to have a well-informed conscience."
Ruth says when the idea of the referendum first began circulating, it concerned some members of the group that there were people who confused the question of legalising recreational cannabis with its medical use.
"As you know, the use of medicinal cannabis is already legally allowed since April 1. We also got the impression that many voters don't take the trouble to read the draft bill or check out its summary, available on the government's website (www.referendum.govt.nz).
"By holding a public forum we hope to help people understand better what it is all about. We have the privilege in Aotearoa New Zealand of living in a democracy. Voting is not only a right but also a responsibility — we have the responsibility to vote and vote with a well-informed conscience."
The Environment, Justice and Peace Network started in 2008 as a network of members of the Anglican Cathedral and some of the other Anglican churches in Napier. Over the years, others became interested and the network expanded to include members of other churches, Ruth says.
"Our aims are based on our Christian faith and are concerned about the whole of life and every facet of our life together in society. Based on our faith we like to cooperate with all people of faith and goodwill in working for a society whose structures serve truly just ends. We hold that the soundness of our society is to be judged by how we treat our most vulnerable citizens. This is our kaupapa and provides the spiritual base to our network."
Ruth says the EJP aims to provide encouragement and support for those committed in the churches to work on peace, environmental and social justice concerns.
"We see those three concerns as closely inter-related. We share our resources, work on issues and provide action. Some of what we do is practical, for example the beach clean-ups, some is educational, such as this public forum and a Meet the Candidates event. Some of what we do is advocacy work, such as writing submissions to the council on social housing or letters to ministers on loan sharks."
Six speakers from a wide range of expertise and work experience have been invited to offer their views on the legalisation of cannabis at the forum.
"We did not want an adversarial debate with one speaker in favour and one against. The question has many aspects and angles so we chose to approach these speakers. This is not a set-up and we don't know what their personal views are."
Speakers from the education, law enforcement, medical, legal, mental health and grassroots community sectors will be speaking at the event.
"We have asked them to speak on what they see as the merits, and/or lack of merits of legalising recreational cannabis from their specific field of expertise. We are delighted with the high calibre of speakers who have agreed to speak."
■ Meet the Candidates, Sunday, August 23, 2pm-4pm, St Paul's Church, Tennyson St, Napier.
■ Cannabis referendum question public forum, Sunday, August 30, 2pm-4pm, EIT Lecture Theatre 1, 501 Gloucester St. Speakers are as follows —
Former Inspector of Police, Ross Pinkham
Te Aute College principal, Shane Hiha
Mental health practitioner, Raewyn Berry
Crown solicitor, Cameron Stuart
Community organiser and Hastings city councillor, Henare O'Keefe, c.
Medical speaker, Russell Wills