The remark triggered hearty laughter from the audience.
"I was born in 1965: I'm as old as prohibition," Justice Minister Andrew Little said.
On record as a pro-legaliser, Little was addressing the crowd at the Drug Foundation symposium last week. The audience overwhelmingly supported legalisation and regulation of the personal use of cannabis.
He took us through the pros and cons for change from a public health and safety perspective. All points that had been well-traversed in the media and would likely continue to be in the lead up to next year's referendum .
While I applauded politely, Little's speech left me with an uneasy feeling. About a week earlier, I heard National's Paula Bennett describe an entirely separate set of circumstances regarding cannabis legalisation and regulation on a radio show.
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"I know the majority of them [National caucus] are absolutely against legalising," she said.
"The normalisation of it [cannabis], there's going to be cafes, places in our streets. I was in Dannevirke yesterday and they just said: 'We don't want a cafe in our streets where people are consuming marijuana'."
I do not pretend to have much in common with Bennett. However, her comments warrant attention.
She is talking about cannabis cafes springing up in rural townships and the apparent normalisation of a drug which an estimated 300,000 New Zealanders already use regularly. She also raised concerns about the "unknown" effects of shifting from the current regime. Recently reduced imprisonment numbers for those convicted solely of cannabis-related offences was cited as another reason to oppose reform.
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Meanwhile, Little and other pro-legalisers are pointing to regulation of potency and supply, and predicted health, social and economic benefits. They also believe reform could help address inequities in the criminal justice system which result in higher numbers of Māori being arrested, convicted and imprisoned.
These are two vastly different scenarios being presented on the same outcome. On the face of it, they even seem to be debating different issues. It is the incompatibility between the two perspectives which led to that uneasy feeling after Little's speech.
Unless that is addressed, and there is agreement on the problem a potential set of new cannabis laws are addressing, the referendum and any public debate on it is unlikely to mean much.
Khylee Quince, associate professor of law at the Auckland University of Technology, put it in perspective at Friday's symposium. She responded to Bennett's comments and cut to the heart of the issue.
"I think prison is the bogey man in the mind of the white middle class. That prison is the worst possible thing that can happen to you," she said. "For our whānau, and our communities, it really isn't."
Quince used examples from her work to differentiate between the "harm of cannabis" and the harm of being punished for offences related to cannabis.
"[In] one of my other jobs, I prepare cultural reports for sentencing for Māori — overwhelmingly young, Māori men. I've done over 100 in the past three years. I haven't come across one, not one, who has got past term three of year nine," Quince said.
"Every single one of them has been excluded from school, and cannabis has been a factor in that ... for the overwhelming majority. It is not the harm of cannabis per se, but the disruption of being excluded which puts you on a pathway that eventually leads to imprisonment," she said.
For Quince, the legalisation and regulation of cannabis is a sensible way to stop that "pathway" to imprisonment. Her stance that it would lessen the stigma associated with the drug, and would likely lead to less punitive actions in response its use among young people is one I wholeheartedly support.
It is also something the life trajectories of the 100 men she has written cultural reports about would likely show could have made a difference during their school days.
Like Quince, I believe cannabis law reform is about shifting towards a system that is more appropriate for those disproportionately harmed by current laws. That is Māori men, their families and communities.
It is crucial the referendum debate focus on this, rather than potential impacts on those largely unaffected by current laws. For anyone confused about which group they fall into, individuals who are not criminal justice frequent-flyers and/or Māori men, and are not related to anyone matching those descriptors, are unlikely to be directly affected by cannabis laws.
As such, arguments raised by these individuals must be couched in that context. Finally, it should be noted the potential opening of a marijuana café in the town village is an imagined problem that does not stack up against the harm and life disruption enabled under the current cannabis laws.