The Mana Party is distancing itself from claims of common ground with Ikaroa-Rawhiti byelection candidate Michael Appleby after Monday's candidates' debate on Maori TV.

In a media release issued yesterday, Mr Appleby, leader of the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis party, said he was glad that Mana Party candidate Te Hamua Nikora addressed the issue of legalising marijuana during the debate.

Mr Appleby claimed that, during the televised debate, Mr Nikora "stood proud and declared that cannabis was seen as a positive thing in the electorate".

However, the Mana Party strongly denies that Mr Nikora used these words.


"He didn't say exactly that," says Malcolm Mulholland, a spokesperson for Mr Nikora.

"He supports decriminalising cannabis, because he doesn't want to see his people go to prison for smoking it. But he does not support full legalisation, because of the health issues it can cause. He did not say it was a positive thing."

When asked about legalisation of cannabis by Native Affairs presenter Mihingarangi Forbes, Mr Nikora replied, "I'd rather see it legalised than people going to jail just for smoking it."

Despite Mr Appleby's claims that legalising cannabis was raised as a "key issue" during the debate, Mr Mulholland says that the Mana Party does not consider it a major factor in the byelection.

"It's something MPs can decide on in a conscience vote in Parliament," he says.

In his press release, Mr Appleby also referred to comments made by Mr Nikora to the NZ Herald, where he talked about smoking marijuana while growing up in Gisborne.

"I am pleased that Te Hamua Nikora has explained that marijuana is a natural part of the culture associated with Bob Marley and reggae music on the East Coast," he said. "Bob Marley said that cannabis would be the 'healing of the nations'."

Mr Nikora was not available for comment.


Mr Appleby considered taking legal action against Maori TV, as he was disallowed from participating in the debate.

"I decided not to take Maori TV to court over the exclusion as a sign of good faith between [the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party] and Maori TV," he said.

Mr Appleby said he was excluded as he was non-Maori, which Maori TV refuted.