Here we are less than a week before Christmas and it still feels like mid-July with all I had planned to get done before the end of the year lying around undone in my mind. Next year doesn't look any better.

The last-minute panic buying of presents always makes me wish I had planned better and purchased gifts that were more inspirational and showed a lot more forethought.

I am grateful for the year full of experiences that I have enjoyed, and I have reflected that the best Christmas present any of us could receive is the blank page of another set of 365 days — the chance to do it all over again next year.

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I look back over 2018 and see the new relationships made and the new stuff learned, most of which has been helpful and rewarding. I can also look at decisions made and mistakes executed with true aplomb and hope like hell I don't make those mistakes again. I discover things I hadn't realised about myself, some positive and some not.
And I have changed my views on things I thought were rock-solid.

As part of its supply and confidence agreement with the Green Party, the Government is in the process of preparing for referendums on three hot topics. The vote is likely to be held on the date of the next general election.

I have become convinced that the unlawfulness of smoking cannabis creates far more evil than it prevents.

The decriminalisation of cannabis is a referendum people have been wanting for a long time and probably a far more likely prospect for urgent change than the other two topics, euthanasia and abortion reform.

I have become convinced that the unlawfulness of smoking cannabis creates far more evil than it prevents.

The first point is that the law against possession and smoking cannabis is not preventing much consumption. Most of the population under 60 years of age have tried cannabis or have smoked on a regular basis with no apparent ill effects in terms of ongoing criminal behaviour or in fact any real negative effects. Yet some who have been prosecuted have been suffering the effect of the prosecution in their ongoing lives far more serious that the offence for which they were convicted.

The fact that cannabis smoke is not good for people's health just puts the practice in the health and safety concerns category of many other daily practices and activities for which there is no penalty.

Those charged are not a random slice of the population; they fit within the group least likely to be able to mitigate a conviction from having a detrimental impact on their career or future. The middle-class student or employed person argues the ramifications of the convictions would have a disproportionate negative impact on prospects and usually gets a discharge without conviction. Others just carry the conviction with them, and it goes on to bite them when travelling, making job applications and the like.

So the damage of the unlawfulness of cannabis is not evenly spread across society.
The police tell us they never attend family violence incidents where the drug consumed is cannabis, but almost every violence event is pre-loaded with alcohol, which is legal.

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Many of the detrimental effects of cannabis relate directly to its illegality in terms of impact on family, even beyond criminal convictions in terms of an inflated price,
destroyed relationships, and paranoia. At a time when the huge damage to families from alcohol in lost household income diverted from the family budget or the impact of foetal alcohol syndrome disorder is seen as a health matter.

The cost of policing cannabis law is a huge weight, when there are much more important crimes to enforce.

Personal use of drugs has kept many people in prison at $108,000 per year. A failed drug test in prison brings a six-month extension to an inmate's sentence — so $50,000 per joint! That is expensive cannabis the taxpayer is paying for.

The cost of policing cannabis law is a huge weight, when there are much more important crimes to enforce.

So, who would have thought this conservative old copper could change his mind after so many years? But that can happen given the blank page of a new year, an open, inquiring mind and the willingness to change it. All the best for a happy Christmas and a new year in which to explore new thoughts and experiences in 2019.

Chester Borrows served as Whanganui MP for 12 years and as a minister in the National Government.