It seems inevitable now that the country will soon end up in lockdown on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. This will cause a great deal of stress not only to our society and to our economy, but also to the minds of individual Kiwis. This essay discusses a simple, easy way that the Government could help the nation avoid much of the suffering coming our way: legalise cannabis.
When the lockdown happens, people are going to be trapped inside their houses for a long time. This sudden, forced, close proximity is going to sharply increase the stress levels of a great number of them. Kiwis are an outdoors people – for us community is found on the sports fields, the tramping trails and the beaches, not inside churches or auditoriums. Being stuck inside will be highly unnatural for us.
The Playstation will help for a while – a few days at most – but that will wear thin quickly. The lockdown will lead to sharply elevated levels of boredom and stress – emotions which, if felt for a prolonged period of time, lead to chaos and destruction.
New Zealand already has a serious problem with domestic violence, mostly due to the fact that alcohol is promoted while more peaceful alternatives are suppressed. In our culture, where most lack the self-confidence to speak eloquently, bashing someone is considered an acceptable way to discipline someone misbehaving.
We can predict, sadly, that the enforced proximity created by the lockdowns will result in a sharp rise in domestic violence. Having to live on top of each other for weeks will lead to more nagging and fighting, especially when some turn to alcohol to beat the tedium. As tempers fray, fists will fly. Because children will be at home from school, they will be exposed to it all. In some cases, this will cause long-term trauma.
The Government could pre-empt a great deal of this suffering today, if they had the wit and will to legalise cannabis.
One of the foremost benefits of cannabis is that it makes boredom easier to deal with. As Doug Stanhope said: “Boredom is a disease. Drugs cure it.” Cannabis can make all kinds of dull things exciting, and can make ordinary things seem interesting. Cannabis enthusiasts have found that weed adds to the appreciation of life in much the same way that salt adds to the appreciation of a meal.
If cannabis were to be made legal today, people could make plans to use it during the lockdown. Although it will not be possible to institute retail sales on such short notice, people could take measures to acquire it from those who already have it, who could themselves be temporarily authorised to sell it while a proper recreational system was being set up (although not to people under 18).
Such a move would ease a great deal of the extraordinary stresses to which Kiwis will be subjected in coming months.
The Government is going to have to deal with the prospect of civil unrest over the next few months. There has already been looting in London, if limited, as a result of the increased tensions. Although the nation is pulling in behind the Government now, this is only because the state of alarm is keeping people in line. As the lockdown wears on, people’s dissatisfaction will change their sentiments.
Legalising cannabis would make this much easier. It would provide relief to the great number of New Zealanders who will be suffering heightened stress and anxiety from the lockdown and from its economic consequences. It would provide relaxation to those disturbed by the disruption to normal life. Not least of all, it would allow for different patterns of thinking in these times of panic and despair.
Jacinda Ardern has already proven that the country is willing to accept extraordinary measures in this time of crisis. We have already accepted a shutdown of the national borders, despite the fact that this measure condemns to bankruptcy a proportion of our tourism, transport and hospitality operators. The general mood is akin to a siege mindset. It’s the perfect time to take bold measures.
A majority of New Zealanders have already accepted that legal cannabis is inevitable. The only holdouts are clinging to prohibition out of stubbornness, spite or malice. The COVID-19 lockdown offers the perfect opportunity to bulldoze through these last recalcitrants and to repeal cannabis prohibition.
Over and above all this, repealing cannabis prohibition would free up some $400,000,000 of Government spending and tens of thousands of Police man hours that is currently wasted every year on enforcing cannabis prohibition. Both of those things will be in desperate short supply over the coming months – time to acknowledge that they’re not well spent persecuting weed smokers.
If the Sixth Labour Government thought intelligently about it, they would understand that the COVID-19 epidemic had temporarily slapped the nation out of its usual slumber, and they would use this opportunity to do things that had previously been made impossible by obstinacy and cowardice. The Cannabis Control Bill that is scheduled to be put to a referendum this September could simply be passed into law by majority vote.
Vince McLeod is the author of The Case For Cannabis Law Reform, the comprehensive collection of arguments for ending cannabis prohibition.
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