23 Jan 2019

Marijuana has 'potentially devastating effects on young people' - Bennett

7:39 am on 23 January 2019

National's new spokesperson on drug reform says she has a raft of unanswered questions about next year's referendum on legalising cannabis.

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

Paula Bennett would vote no if the referendum was being held tomorrow. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

A binding referendum on legalising cannabis for personal use will be held at the 2020 general election.

Today National Party leader Simon Bridges announced that as part of a minor reshuffle, a new shadow portfolio on drug reform would be led by deputy leader Mrs Bennett.

Mrs Bennett told 5 o'clock Report that while she was still weighing up whether she supported the referendum, her main concern was the impact of legalisation on young people.

"I honestly worry about our young people and the evidence we've seen is that more of them access cannabis when their brains are still developing and it has the potential to have very devastating effects on them and I want to know the answers."

50549923 - marijuana background. cannabis joint, bud in plastic bag and hemp leaves on wooden table. addictive drug or alternative medicine.

Photo: 123RF

She said the government's smokefree goals clashed with its plans to hold the referendum and was contributing to its "ad hoc" and "confused" approach to drug reform.

She said other uncertainties included the wording of the question in the referendum, what would the administration regime look like, would THC levels be monitored, what would happen to illicit drug use, and the legal age for purchase of marijuana.

"In other jurisdictions we've seen car crashes increase under drug driving... part of my new job is to get answers for the public before we have the referendum."

She said if the referendum was being held tomorrow she would vote against it. She agreed there was still plenty of time for an informed debate, however, "questions we've given them (the government) thus far, from what we could see they hadn't even been thinking about..."

Mrs Bennett said she would be open to taking up Green Part MP Chloe Swarbrick's invitation for a cross-party debate on drug law reform, as long as that did not imply automatic support for legalisation.

She favoured a harder line on the use of other drugs such as synthetics and methamphetamine. Her party had already prepared a package of measures in 2017 that included more drug dogs, more X-rays of containers at ports and a stronger policing of gangs who were using drugs to make money.

All the measures had been ditched by the current government, she said.

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