Talking about a cannabis referendum when small towns like Dannevirke were being decimated by methamphetamine was wrong, National Party deputy-leader Paula Bennett said yesterday.
"We should be spending our time and money looking at the effects on the community as meth affects so many people."
She was visiting Dannevirke as part of a tour across the north of the Wairarapa electorate.
As part of the tour Bennett presented awards at a Festival of Adult Learning function at Tararua REAP. She also attended an open drug forum.
In an interview before the forum Bennett said she felt it was too early for New Zealand to have a referendum on the decriminalisation of cannabis.
"There's a lot happening overseas in regards to decriminalising cannabis but it's all too soon to as there is no evidence yet of the effects of this."
She said in Uruguay, where cannabis had already been decriminalised, the state buys in the cannabis and sells it on.
"I'm not sure that buying and selling cannabis is government business."
Bennett said she had visited Arohata women's prison recently and spoke to a drug rehabilitation worker.
"You have to put your prejudices aside. People from all walks of life are addicted to meth and to feed their habit they commit other crimes. It is really destructive.
"Gangs are the absolute scourge of society. It will take a lot to convince me it's true when gang leaders stand up and say they are not involved in drugs.
"I have often found that those who stand up against drugs in their communities want the market themselves.
"They feed off the misery of others and cause so much fear and harm in society."
Bennett says the answer to New Zealand's drug problem is to give police more powers to disrupt and dismantle the gangs.
With Australia deporting convicted gang members back to New Zealand it was creating new gangs who had international connections.
"If we are really serious about the drug problem we need to hit the supply and demand chain.
"That means we need better education, better treatment centres, and ways to get people off drugs, and better work opportunities."
She said it angered her to hear people say New Zealand was losing the war against drugs.
"Tell that to our Customs officers and police who are removing kilos and kilos of drugs from our streets.They are making a difference."
But more needed to be done.
Bennett said in Australia police had the power to search and enter premises where drugs were suspected without a specific reason or obtaining a search warrant.
She said it had made a big difference.
"It's really about targeting the gang leaders and our police need these powers.
"It's not just about searching these people in their own homes.
"It's invasive but we've got to be big and bold. Gangs seem to have more powers than police."
Following the presentations at Tararua REAP the forum was held at The Hub. Several individuals addressed the forum. A full report of this will be published on Thursday.