The Helen Clark Foundation is an independent public policy think tank based in Auckland, at the Auckland University of Technology. It is funded by members and donations. We advocate for ideas and encourage debate, we do not campaign for political parties or candidates. Launched in March 2019, the foundation issues research and discussion papers on a broad range of economic, social and environmental issues.
In 2020, New Zealanders will have the chance to make a historic decision about whether or not to change the way we regulate personal cannabis use. If we miss this opportunity, the chance may pass for a generation. Cannabis use is a reality in New Zealand, and the results of our current policy approach damage our health, worsen social equity, and drive crime.
This paper argues that the status quo is unacceptable, and seeks to ask how we can do better? Our answer is that we should move to a health-based approach with robust regulation, effective public health education, and adequate service provision. Our key criteria for any policy are: what will best improve health and equity while reducing harm? Evidence suggests that up to eighty per cent of New Zealanders will use cannabis at least once before turning 25, making cannabis the most commonly used illicit drug in New Zealand.
Yet cannabis remains an illegal drug, and prosecutions for possession and use alone continue for those unlucky enough to get caught. The current approach to cannabis inflicts excessive punishment on those users who face prosecution who, in turn, are disproportionately Māori. In this paper, we argue that New Zealanders of all political persuasions should follow the evidence of what works and what doesn’t. The evidence points to a vote in support of cannabis legalisation and regulation in 2020.
Our view is that the New Zealand Government should adopt an approach to cannabis use which sees it as a health and social issue and not a criminal one. Regulation should seek to prevent the emergence of major corporate interests in the market which would have a profit motive to undermine public health objectives. In this respect New Zealand can learn from its experience with regulating tobacco and alcohol. Overall our analysis argues that the disproportionately adverse effects of current policies on cannabis use justify putting in place legalisation and effective regulation.