8 May 2019

Cannabis vote: National can't promise it will respect referendum

2:03 pm on 8 May 2019

The National Party wants answers to a lot of questions before it decides on whether to back the government's cannabis referendum.

Paula Bennett as she stood with National Party Leader, Simon Bridges, while he spoke to media about Jami-Lee Ross.

Drug reform spokesperson Paula Bennett agrees prohibition doesn't work, but is unsure about legilisation. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Justice Minister Andrew Little is forming a cross-party group of MPs to work on the bill, but National's drug reform spokesperson Paula Bennett isn't sure if she'll be one of them.

"I'm not sure what the purpose of the cross-party group is, so we just want to see terms of reference and perhaps have a conversation with Andrew Little before we commit to it," Ms Bennett told Morning Report.

"We'll just look at it when it comes up and we get a bit more detail."

Ms Bennett said she was unsure legalising marijuana would actually fix the problems associated with use in the country.

"We are identifying that there's a problem… yet we're leaping to legalisation of marijuana being a solution and I'm not sure that's right."

However, she acknowledges that prohibition doesn't work and the current regime is not working.

"I'm not denying there's a problem, but is legalising an answer?"

Ms Bennett has particular concern around edibles which she says are more potent. However, bringing marijuana into a regulated market would mean testing for THC levels.

But Ms Bennett says if you have to test, then the government will be "taxing high".

"It is true that they are more potent, there's no doubt about it."

She said there's also a higher risk of accidental use with edibles.

"If they look like lollies; children getting access to them, people thinking they can take more of them."

Ms Bennet said she does want to see the cannabis market taken away from the control of gangs.

Green MP and drug reform minister Chloe Swarbrick said displacing the black market is the goal of legilisation.

"We have to recognise that most New Zealanders are coming into contact with, and consuming, illicit cannabis by the age of 16 or 17. They're usually become exposed in high school," Ms Swarbrick said.

"We're not going to be making it easy to buy. What we're seeking to do here is to displace the black market and actually reduce that accessibility."

Ms Bennett said her aim is to see less cannabis in New Zealand.

"I want fewer young people smoking it. I want to see a motivated country," she said.

She said that, at this stage, she can't promise a National Government would respect the people's decision in the referrendum.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs