Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll have noticed tensions heating up around the cannabis debate. Next year we'll all get to vote on whether cannabis should be legalised and regulated.
If you're like me, you'd prefer your kids never use cannabis. But you'll also be aware there is a good chance they will at some point. Despite it being illegal — and perhaps partly because of it — around half of all New Zealanders have.
Most people who use cannabis don't get into any trouble. But for some, cannabis can have a serious negative effect on their lives. Those people, and their families, are the ones who deserve our focus here: they have been shamelessly failed by prohibition.
People who are on the fence on this issue have valid concerns. They're worried that legalising cannabis will mean more younger people use it. I have concerns about young people using cannabis too, but these concerns are exactly why we need to regulate.
Restricting sales to people 20 years and older sends the message that cannabis is for adults only.
At the Drug Foundation, we don't pretend for a second that changing the legal status of cannabis is going to be a panacea, but the situation will be a lot better than what we currently have.
If we vote in favour of legalisation, we're voting for more control. We're voting for a world where there will be age restrictions on cannabis purchase, cannabis potency will be controlled, and mass media advertising will be banned.
Currently, cannabis is the bread and butter of organised crime. For too long we've left the control of this harmful substance in their hands. Dealers will sell to anyone, and will often push more harmful drugs such as meth or synthetics.
They also have a vested interest in selling people large amounts of high potency cannabis because their only goal is profit. Legislation means the Government can take back control.
As seen by figures released by the Coroner this week, synthetics are still causing massive harm in our communities. I agree with health professionals who argue regulating cannabis can eliminate the black market for synthetics.
We're voting for a world where the tax revenue generated from a legal cannabis market can go toward health care for those struggling with their drug use. We're voting for a world where we can use this revenue to educate our children about the harms of cannabis.
If they choose to use anyway (and let's face it, some will), we can guide them — and all New Zealanders — towards low potency, portion and quality controlled products that carry health warnings on the packet.
Māori have been hit the worst by prohibition. A legal market will reduce Māori cannabis convictions by upwards of 1200 a year, meaning fewer whānau having contact with the justice system.
A legal market can also provide health gains for Māori, bringing tax dollars for kaupapa Māori addiction treatment. If there are economic opportunities available from a regulated market, we want Māori to benefit from this. We're voting for a world where inequities from cannabis prohibition are reversed.
At the referendum next year we'll be voting on whether a draft bill to regulate cannabis should go through Parliament and become law, or not. This Friday, the Drug Foundation is releasing our policy document "Taking control of cannabis: A model for responsible regulation".
It sets out how the Government is planning to regulate cannabis, as well as key areas we recommend be included in the draft bill. Next year, we can vote for a better world for our young people. That's a world I can't wait to see.
• Ross Bell is executive director of the NZ Drug Foundation