In 2020 we're to have two referenda on the issues of personal choice versus government control at its most extreme - criminalised sanctions.

One is for the personal choice in how we wish to end our lives. Certainly that's one that ought to be an inherent right for adults facing intolerable and untreatable fatal illness. The other question, which is no less important, is whether we wish to allow people a degree of regulated freedom, free from the spectre of criminality in choosing as adults to use cannabis as a recreational matter.

On both of these issues we're being trolled with outrageous falsehoods and half-truths designed to confuse and possibly drive down the vote, since polling shows that at least two-thirds of us support both the End of Life Choice and recreational cannabis.

I'd like to follow the advice of Michelle Obama, former US First Lady, and "when they go low, we go high". That's not always possible because as Roger Ailes, creator of Fox News, put it: "The liberals can talk about reason but we'll appeal to emotion and we'll win and tell our people what to think".


Herewith a few things we can say with a reasonable degree of confidence about what cannabis is and what it isn't. And what we've learned from the 30 US states that have authorised medical marijuana and the 12 states that have legalised recreational cannabis.

As far as the latter goes, on the legalisation of recreational cannabis - which we're about to decide - the good news is that, like marriage equality, contrary to predictions the sky hasn't fallen. California still enjoys the fifth largest economy in the world and it's just humming along, thank you very much, despite President Trump's best efforts to undermine it through a punitive tax code. And there's Massachusetts. Boston now has a sign outside Logan International Airport welcoming everyone and telling them "Weed is Legal, Enjoy". Tax coffers are filling up and Boston's major universities, law schools, medical schools and finance centres are going strong every day. As are the Boston Red Sox, at last.

I supported medicinal cannabis for New Zealand, but not the two bills which National and our MP, Harete Hipango, voted down. Each was flawed. They created exemptions to criminal prosecution under the Misuse of Drugs Act (1975). That's not decriminalisation. Exemption from prosecution means medicinal cannabis use would still carry a stigma of criminality, thus discouraging people with valid serious conditions from applying. We need to take cannabis out of the criminal system of the Misuse of Drugs Act (1975) where, as a Class B drug, it is considered together with opioids, morphine or Fentanyl (100 times the potency of heroin). Conviction under the act could get you 14 years' imprisonment and/or a $2000 fine.

The current crop of naysayers like the odious and doctrinaire right winger Mike Hosking or Peter Lyons (Chronicle, July 18) work to conflate cannabis with alcohol, New Zealand's favorite recreational drug. Lyons says of cannabis: "Like alcohol, it can destroy lives."

False! What destroys lives is conviction under laws that equate a potentially medically useful herb with killer drugs, like opioids and, yes, alcohol. Forty ounces of vodka taken quickly by the initiate will kill. But violate the laws on alcohol and the most you are fined is $250.

Let Mr Lyons sit with a man dying from cirrhosis, as I have on several occasions, enduring the terrible uremic odour of his breath, his swollen jaundiced belly, his frightening delusions before descending into hepatic coma, then come and tell me how alike are alcohol and cannabis.

Our present system is unmoored from science, is racist in origin and practice - browns' use is like whites' but browns are more likely arrested and convicted - and economically unsustainable.

I'd prefer medical cannabis under Medsafe regulation, but Harete Hipango and her National Party have killed that. So I've reluctantly come to support recreational cannabis because the present system, the criminalising of a minimally harmful drug with potential medical benefit, makes for harmful and senseless social policy.


Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.