Professors and politicians will wrestle with the cannabis debate in Whanganui's Davis Lecture Theatre on February 25, thanks to the Whanganui Science Forum.
A non-binding referendum as part of the September 19 general election will ask voters whether the personal use of cannabis should become legal.
Forum members believe the question is too important to be decided based on information from sources such as social media.
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• Whanganui man claims he smoked cannabis to help with emphysema, sentenced in Whanganui District Court
• Premium - Best of 2019: Former Whanganui doctor Joseph Cohen turns to medicinal cannabis in America
• Whanganui father sentenced after 30 cannabis plants found growing under lights in his home
"Nāndor Tānczos and Harete Hipango may have very different views but we think they, along with a psychiatrist and university professors, will give the public a chance to make better decisions based on evidence," a spokesperson said.
Forum members had seen propaganda and vested interests derail referenda held in other countries, leading to division and discord.
"People end up sharing their prejudices in online groups and the facts go out the window. Our hope is New Zealanders will think this issue through carefully and we welcome all who still have the wisdom to listen to differing sides of an argument - the way scientists try to."
The forum is not taking sides in the debate, and believes big decisions should be made with the best evidence available. In recent years people at its talks have heard individual science experts present on all sorts of topics.
This year, on this subject, it is experimenting with an ambitious panel format. The diverse line-up is:
• Joseph Boden - Professor at Otago University in the Department of Psychological Medicine and also the Prime Minister's Chief Advisor to the Expert Panel on Cannabis.
• Chester Borrows - former Whanganui MP and currently a member of the New Zealand Parole Board and lay preacher in the Presbyterian Church.
• Harete Hipango - Whanganui MP with many years' relevant experience in the legal system.
• Fiona Hutton - Associate Professor in the School of Social and Cultural Studies at Victoria University. Her research interests include gender and drug use, drug law reform, drug policy, alcohol and other drug use.
• Nāndor Tānczos - currently a councillor in the Whakatāne District and co-director of He Puna Manawa social and political change agency.
The meeting will be chaired by Rob Ferguson of Whanganui's Trinity Methodist Church.
A big audience is expected, and people are asked to arrive early. There will be no opportunity to ask questions and the meeting will finish at 8.45pm.
The forum holds monthly talks on scientific matters. This one starts at the earlier time of 7pm and will cost $5 for forum members, $4 for others and is free for school students and the unwaged.
• Whanganui Science Forum: 7pm Tuesday, February 25, Davis Lecture Theatre, Watt St.