The vote on legalising personal cannabis in September isn't really about whether you think cannabis is good or bad, or whether you'd prefer a drug-free world.
Like it or not, cannabis exists and is available regardless of where you stand on its relative merits/demerits.
It is also a potentially harmful substance. The degree of harm depends on factors like how old you are, what health complications you might have, or whether your cannabis is laced with something more sinister.
These are similar factors in how harmful legal substances like alcohol or tobacco can be - and like these products, cannabis can also be relatively harmless in the right conditions.
So as it was in the past for alcohol and tobacco, the key question is this: Would the proposed framework be better than the status quo at minimising cannabis-related harm?
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A crucial part of that equation is whether legalisation would lead to more or less cannabis use, and in particular how it would affect those most harmed by cannabis - daily users and young teenagers.
Daily users have reported high levels of anxiety, depression, fatigue, and low motivation, while research shows that frequent use by young people, especially those under 14, can harm brain development.
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Snapshot of the status quo
The illegal status of cannabis does not seem to be a great deterrent on people using it or accessing it. According to surveys, up to 590,000 New Zealanders use cannabis at least once a year, with up to 70,000 daily users.
Use among people aged 15 and over has risen, according to the Ministry of Health . The proportion who had used cannabis at least once in the past 12 months almost doubled from 8 per cent in 2011/12 to 15 per cent in 2018/19.
Use among teenagers appears to be falling. According to Otago University research , the proportion of 14- to 15-year-olds who had ever used cannabis fell from 19 per cent in 2012 to 14 per cent in 2018, while those who had used it in the past month fell from 10 per cent to 8 per cent over the same period.
Fresh or dried cannabis are illegal Class C drugs, meaning possession/use carries a potential three-month jail term and/or a $500 fine.
This leaps to up to seven years' jail for growing it and eight years' jail for dealing it.
(Hash and cannabis oil are Class B and have harsher penalties.)
These punishments should be seen in the context of the changes to drug laws last year, which means that police are supposed to direct a drug user towards therapy if that is "more beneficial" than criminal punishment.
Police enforcement of cannabis law has changed in the last decade. The number of people charged with cannabis-related offences fell dramatically from 9479 people in 2010 to 3653 people last year.
That still amounts to 10 people charged a day; the Drug Foundation estimates that police spend almost $200 million a year on cannabis enforcement and convictions.
In 2019, according to the Ministry of Justice, 2238 people were charged for possession/use of cannabis, 735 people for growing/making it, 670 people for dealing it and 10 people for importing/exporting it.
A total of 440 people were sent to prison for cannabis crimes, 250 of them for possession/use.
Snapshot of proposed framework
Cannabis for personal use would be legal but heavily regulated.
If you're 20 years old or older, you'd be allowed to grow two plants in your home, or up to four plants if you shared your home with at least one more 20+-year-old.
You could carry or buy up to 14g of cannabis a day, but you couldn't legally consume it anywhere except a private premises or a special cannabis cafe.
You couldn't buy online. You wouldn't see any advertising. Cannabis-infused beverages, injectables, or products that included tobacco, alcohol or more harmful substances such as fentanyl would remain illegal.
The bill has specific provisions to protect people under 20.
Selling to someone under 20 would be punishable by up to a $150,000 fine for a business, or four years' jail for an individual. Supplying someone underage could lead to a $5000 fine.
In an effort to stop an experiment from growing into a bad habit, underage possession would be punishable with a $200 fine, but the fine could be waived if the user underwent a health or education programme.
Edibles might be sold at a future date, but not in any way that would appeal to young people.
There are no specific provisions to protect heavy cannabis users, but general ones include a limit on THC (the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis), price controls, health information at the point of sale and host responsibility at cannabis cafes.
The proposed punishments are less punitive than those for Class C drugs: A $100,000 fine for a business or two years' jail for an individual for unauthorised sale, a $3000 fine for supplying more than 14g of cannabis, and a $2000 fine (or up to three months' jail) for growing 10 or more plants.
These punishments shrink for illegal personal use because, in Justice Minister Andrew Little's words, the Government doesn't want to make users criminals.
There would be a $200 to $500 fine for possessing more than 14g of cannabis, or for smoking a joint in public.
A new Cannabis Regulatory Authority, advised by an independent committee of experts, would cap national production with a view to lower overall consumption over time.
The bill specifically requires the authority to consider social equity and allocate a fair share of the cap to Maori and economically deprived areas.
To avoid corporate dominance of the market, no one could produce more than a 20 per cent share of the national allowance, nor could a business grow cannabis as well as operate a cannabis cafe.
A big question is how much the Government would net in taxes, and how much of that would go towards drug treatment and education programmes.
Voters may be swayed by the prospect of health services boosted by hundreds of millions of dollars a year, but only the levy - and not the excise or GST - would be ring-fenced for such programmes.
Pressed on a ballpark figure for how much the levy could boost these programmes, Little declined to answer.
The aim might be to lower overall consumption - especially among problem users and young people - but whether that would eventuate is an open question.
Cannabis use has risen in Canada, where cannabis became legal in October 2018 ; the proportion of people aged 15 and over who had used cannabis in the past three months rose from 14.9 per cent before legalisation to 16.8 per cent afterwards.
However, consumption among those aged 15 to 17 almost halved to 10.4 per cent, while usage increased the most among men (17.5 to 20.3 per cent) and among those aged 65 and over (4.1 to 5.9 per cent).
Daily or near-daily use was mostly unchanged (5.9 to 6 per cent).
Overseas data should also always be considered in the context of that country's unique social and cultural characteristics and legal cannabis framework. Over- or under-reporting may also contribute to increases or decreases.
The Government's bill attempts to put public health front and centre, but would it lead to less harmful cannabis use?
Would it bring an equitable share of a multi-billion dollar global industry to deprived areas and communities?
Would it - and this is a biggie - draw people away from the black market, where products can be laced with unknown substances, and lure them towards regulated products where the ingredients, including THC levels, can be known?
If prices were too high, products too average, or access too limited, users would stick to the black market.
Getting the balance right is crucial, though the authority would have some flexibility on levers such as price.
How you should vote is a complex judgment call. It's easier to think of a time you've had cannabis (by 25, 80 per cent of us have tried it at least once) and base your vote on that experience.
But that would be answering the wrong question.