13 Sep 2019

Govt commits to helping cannabis debate focus on facts and evidence

7:40 pm on 13 September 2019

The government and the Drug Foundation say they are committed to keeping the public informed, fear mongering to a minimum and misinformation out of the news, ahead of the cannabis referendum.

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Photo: 123rf.com

MPs and the Drug Foundation addressed a symposium on drug law reform at Parliament today.

Justice Minister Andrew Little told the crowd, despite a lot of investment into the enforcement of prohibiting cannabis since 1965, it was still well and truly present in communities.

"It's estimated between a quarter of a million to 300,000 New Zealanders are regular users of cannabis, that's what prohibition has given us," he said.

Mr Little said there had already been a lot of debate on the matter ahead of the referendum, both for and against.

"Including, for example, declaring the proposition of legalisation as dopey and I have to say, this type of commentary, and we will see more of it, is big on assertion but light on evidence."

He said work was underway from the government to provide people with information.

"The Ministry of Justice is working on what a public education campaign will look like and it has to be neutral.

"There will advocacy groups on all sides who will want to contribute their part as well, but I think the government does have a responsibility to make sure information that is claimed as fact is genuinely factual, so that we keep it focused on facts and evidence," he said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has commissioned her chief science advisor for information and a draft piece of legislation will also be available next year, to set out how the regulations will work.

Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said his organisation has released their own report today on what those regulations should look like.

"The government has already put a broad framework in place, but they haven't got into the nitty gritty that I think the public are wanting to see, so our report today is trying to provide that next level of detail.

"The government has taken a little too long to do that, so we thought 'let's get some things out there'," he said.

In the government's proposed framework, people under the age of 20 would not be able to enter stores or buy products.

Advertising and the development of products that might appeal more to younger people, such as confectionery, would be prohibited.

Ross Bell said until recently there had been a vacuum of information, but he was relaxed a year out from the referendum.

"I think the public can make up their mind, they can see through the misinformation, the hysteria [and] fear mongering that has been put out there at the moment, we can address that," he said.

Among those championing the cause is Former Prime Minister Helen Clark and her foundation.

She said the time had come with the international movement to treat cannabis differently.

"Eleven [US] states have up front legalised cannabis and a whole lot more have legalised medicinal cannabis, you have Canada legalising, Uruguay, now Luxembourg will be the first country in Europe to formally legalise.

"The whole debate has shifted," she said.

Ms Clark said people needed to be upfront that it was a widely-used drug, less dangerous that alcohol and tobacco, so rules should be introduced.

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