NZ government needs to be courageous on drug laws - criminologist

12:38 pm on 7 November 2020

A criminologist says various states in the US have made progressive moves on drug laws and decriminalisation, and the New Zealand government needs to be courageous.

closeup of dried marijuana and handmade cigarette in ashtray

Photo: 123RF

The final results of the cannabis referendum have not changed the result, but narrows the margin - with 50.7 percent against and 48.4 percent in support.

Victoria University associate professor of criminology Fiona Hutton said seeing lots of change around drug law reform across the United States is very positive.

"Two more states have legalised, Oregon has legalised psychadelics, psilocybin [magic mushrooms] and also descriminalised everything else.

"So I think it's really really positive and I think it's another reason our government just needs to stand up to have courage and to get on board with the global reform."

Hutton said the government should start working towards decriminalisation of cannabis.

Students are disappointed special votes were not enough to change the result on the referendum on cannabis legalisation.

An advocate for cannabis legalisation says despite the referendum decision, change is still needed.

Justice reform advocate Awatea Mita said Māori already bear the brunt of cannabis harms, and this referendum result means that will continue.

"If not now then it's really just a matter of when because we can't continue to have these detrimental outcomes for Māori communities because it will effect everyone in our community, and so a change in legislation will be a move towards more equitable outcomes."

Mita said people will continue to flout the laws.

After the election Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she had voted "yes" in the referendum on the legalisation of recreational cannabis.

She has committed to progressing legislation "in line with the will of the people following the release of the final results".

Changes have been made to the Misuse of Drugs Act regarding people in possession of cannabis to ensure it is treated as a health matter and this will need to be reinforced, Ardern said.

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