Kate Hawkesby: Let’s get facts straight on the cannabis referendum – New Zealand Herald

Recreational Cannabis Legalisation


Amidst the current blitz of pro-cannabis legalisation media – both social and mainstream – a few things are getting lost.

One is balance. Where are the “vote no” stories?

Two, is the facts. No, we are not voting on legalising medicinal cannabis. That’s already legal.


The New Zealand Drug Foundation – pro the yes vote – has made claims that legalising recreational cannabis will make access to medicinal cannabis easier. That’s the claim. But it’s not what we’re voting on. Yet it hasn’t stopped a lot of the messaging and advertising around the referendum being focused on medicinal.

Three, even the pro-legalisation campaigners accept there are risks in normalising cannabis use.

One “yes-vote” columnist pointed out that “not all the facts support a rosy picture of life after a ‘yes’ vote… ” She pointed out that normalisation of cannabis use “won’t be good for everyone” and that “…legalisation probably won’t wipe out the criminal market completely either”.

Despite that, her premise was that no social and health issues are “tied up in tidy bows…”

In other words, it’s not perfect but let’s vote it in anyway. That’s a worrying low-bar approach to a potentially major public health issue for this country.

This election New Zealanders will vote on whether or not to legalise recreational cannabis use. Video / NZ Herald

The other dodgy part of the pro-lobby argument, is that it comes largely from adults advocating on the basis of their own experiences, arguing the case for people like them.

An open letter by cannabis users – claiming the “stoner stigma” was unfair – was largely about their own experiences with cannabis and what legalisation would mean for them.

A Southland Hospital anaesthetist, musician Tiki Taane, The Opportunities Party leader, Wellington Pride Festival chair, and a drag performer, all said they enjoy cannabis and wanted to encourage “the thousands of adult New Zealanders who enjoy cannabis responsibly, to feel it’s normal and acceptable…”


I’m not sure how many laws need to be passed for adult Kiwis to feel validated in their recreational pursuits.

Do they really need a “yes” vote just to make them feel better about their cannabis use?

And finally the argument that decriminalisation will stop users being “locked up” for using cannabis. Cannabis offences have only declined as time’s gone by.

Kate Hawkesby. Photo / Michael Craig

I doubt we often “lock people up” just for cannabis use alone. The justice argument, the “it’s not fair” argument, doesn’t cut it, especially when you balance what’s fair, with what the practical workings and cost of legalisation to our already stressed public health system would be.

It’s hard when much of the information in advance of this vote is skewed from one angle only – and muddied with a spurious medicinal message. But I hope the least we can do is think beyond ourselves.. and whether legalisation helps us feel “normal” or not.

The vote is actually far more serious than that.