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Very shortly voting opens in this year’s General Election. It’s a big decision, who do you want as your MP and which party do you want to be in government. Heoi ano, this year is even more important than usual, as we will get the opportunity to vote on two big social issues, at the same time.

When you go to tick the box on 17 October, you’ll also be asked if we should legalise recreational cannabis, and if terminally-ill people should be given the right to die.

Both of these challenge the way we think as Māori, and no doubt over the next few weeks you will hear a lot of kōrero from politicians and ’experts’ about what it right and what is wrong.

It’s important to understand what we are being asked to vote on, so you and your whānau can kōrero and make up your own mind. So, we have pulled together some of the key points for you.

In this blog we’ve summarised the key points about the proposed cannabis reform below. There's also a review on the evidence in this video, and information on what the evidence says about legalisation, check out The Office of the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor on Legalising Cannabis: What does the evidence say? Or check out what will happen - at a glance with the pros and cons of each outcome.

Whatever choice you make whānau, the most important thing is to VOTE and make your voice heard. Kia kaha!

What Am I Being Asked To Vote On?

The exact referendum question is: Do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill? On election day, you’ll be asked to vote yes or no.

The proposed Bill sets out a way for the Government to control and regulate cannabis. It spells out how people can produce, supply, or consume cannabis. The Bill’s main purpose is to reduce cannabis-related harm to individuals, whānau and communities.

There is some confusion about this pātai. Medicinal cannabis use is already legal, so we are not voting on that. This is all about personal use, and for businesses to be able to set-up shops.

Do things change straight away?

No, this is a non-binding referendum which means MPs only have to consider the public’s opinion – they do not have to act on it.

If more than 50% of people vote yes, then the next government will decide whether to introduce the Bill to Parliament. The changes will go through the normal select committee process where the public can make submissions.

If more than 50% vote no, then the status quo will remain. That doesn’t stop the next government from proposing changes, but if most of us say no, then it’s unlikely to happen.

What Do I Need To Know?

The proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill will allow adults over the age of 20 to:

• Enter licenced premises where cannabis is sold or consumed – overseas these are like cafes with cannabis for sale
• Buy up to 14g of dried cannabis a day from licensed outlets
• Consume cannabis at home or in a licensed premise (not in public) – you won’t be able to smoke on the side of the street, but at home will be okay
• Grow up to two plants with a maximum of four plants per household
• Share up to 14g of cannabis with another person aged 20+

The Bill will also:

• Require cannabis products to carry health warnings
• Require all cannabis-related businesses to be licensed
• Regulate the strength of cannabis products
• Apply an excise tax on cannabis products
• Apply a levy that would fund health services to reduce cannabis harm
• Ban individuals from importing cannabis products
• Ban all advertising of cannabis products

How Will This Affect Māori?

Medicinal cannabis is already legal in New Zealand but it can be hard to access and is expensive. The statistics show that Māori suffer chronic pain and terminal illnesses at a greater rate than non-Māori, so allowing people to grow it themselves will make things easier and cheaper to get.

Many people believe addiction should be cured, not punished. If this Bill becomes law, more money will be put into addiction treatment and education services. Some of the experts say it will also make consuming cannabis safer because you’ll know more about where it came from.

One of the big selling points for the supporters of this Bill, is that people will stop being criminalised for minor cannabis offences. This would mean their job prospects aren’t ruined and more people could seek work without being afraid of their criminal conviction. Again, the statistics show that Māori are over-represented here also.

Use of cannabis would be relaxed, but the rules for things like driving under the influence won’t be. So, if people are stoned and driving the police can still charge someone.

Some rural Māori communities with ideal growing conditions could stand to benefit commercially from a legal cannabis market.

While these points all sound positive, there are plenty of arguments as to why people should vote no.

As many of our whānau know, cannabis can cause harm. It can ruin people’s lives and affect mental and physical health, connections to whānau, and relationships. If recreational use is legalised, it could encourage more people to use it more often.

Industries that employ a high percentage of Māori such as forestry, farming, fishing and construction, have raised concerns about safety and whether cannabis use might result in more workplace accidents and deaths.

Cannabis is often viewed as a ‘gateway drug’ because it’s readily accessible, leading people onto trying more dangerous substances. Some say the black market for cannabis will also grow and new users will be targeted by the gangs.

According to the Ministry of Health, 29% of 15-24 year-olds have reported using cannabis in the last year. Most New Zealanders have tried it at some point in their lives.

There is no question that Māori are over-represented when it comes to the health, social, justice, culture and economic harm cannabis can cause. What we must decide is whether legalising and regulating its use will make the situation better or worse.

Kia kaha whānau! Have your say, and make sure you cast your vote on Saturday 17th October. Make sure your details are up to date at vote.nz.

Mauriora!

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