Kiwi cannabis users have been buoyed by the demise of the Fifth National Government. It is already clear from the change in rhetoric that the incoming Sixth Labour Government will approach the issue with honesty, in contrast to the John Key/Bill English/Peter Dunne approach. However, honesty doesn’t prevent one from making errors – and the decision to hold a referendum about legalising the personal use of cannabis is one such error.
It’s widely accepted that the actions of the New Zealand Parliament in passing gay marriage legislation was a wiser, less divisive move than the actions of the Australian Parliament in holding a referendum on the subject. The Australian experience of having a referendum on such an emotive subject was that the country tore itself in two, with many people eventually choosing to vote against gay marriage out of sheer bitterness and resentment.
The New Zealand experience of making it legal by Parliamentary decree gave the country an opportunity to come together in mutual desire to right the wrongs of the past. Even conservatives like Maurice Williamson saw the need to give a passionate speech in favour of a law change, and the Parliament itself went as far as singing a song out of a will to demonstrate that the old days of hate were over.
It’s also widely acknowledged – by the New Zealand people, if not by the New Zealand ruling classes – that withholding cannabis medicine from sick people who need it is an extremely cruel thing to do, and something only done because of hate. Certainly it’s much crueler than withholding marriage rights from people, which, while inconvenient, are hardly a matter of life and death or daily suffering and misery.
Moreover, it’s obvious from the experience of the half a dozen American states that have already legalised the recreational use of cannabis that the downsides of doing so have been massively overstated for decades. The predicted crime explosion and spates of suicides never eventuated – indeed, some research suggests that suicide rates can drop by almost 5% in the wake of legalising medicinal cannabis, and this rises to almost 10% in the cases of young males.
So why not just do the obvious thing, acknowledge the evident truth, stop lying and just make the personal use of cannabis legal by Parliamentary decree, as the Labour Government intends to do with medicinal cannabis?
This way we can avoid giving a platform to moronic bigots like Bob McCroskie to further divide our society with fearmongering and lies. The Australian equivalents to McCroskie have polluted media space with hysterical predictions of doom, further alienating gay people from the mainstream, and the same will happen in New Zealand if we also put a question of basic human rights to referendum.
Ultimately, no-one has the right to prevent anyone else from using cannabis. No-one has the right to take this freedom away from other people, any more than they have the right to prevent them from watching cricket or eating parmesan. Therefore, there is no good reason to have a referendum about whether it should be legal or not, because there’s ultimately no good reason to obey any law prohibiting the use of cannabis.
Our law should simply reflect this reality and make it legal.
Vince McLeod is a former Membership Secretary of the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party and author of the Cannabis Activist’s Handbook.