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Legalise it! The Socialist case for Cannabis reform

Written By: - Date published: 1:13 pm, October 15th, 2020 - 18 comments
Categories: drugs, election 2020, referendum, Social issues, socialism, uncategorized - Tags:

Reprinted with permission from Socialist Aotearoa.

Should we legalise the recreational use of cannabis? Yes – because let’s be clear: the ‘war on drugs’ is a class and race war masquerading as a crusade to shield young people from harm.

The fact is Kiwis do and will use drugs at some stage in their lives – one British Medical Journal study found New Zealand and Australia had the highest rate of cannabis, meth and ecstasy use in the world. But while Pākehā and Māori use cannabis at the same rates, it’s Māori who face the toughest penalties for doing so.

This referendum is not about celebrating drug use; it’s about reversing the ‘punishment first, rehab second (or never)” mentality that disproportionately affects young working-class Māori. Without this urgent reform, we will continue to destroy lives over a drug that is relatively safe for personal use and whose wider impact is nothing compared to the social harm caused by alcohol.

Already heavily disadvantaged in housing, employment, health and education stats – and vastly overrepresented in our jails – tangata whenua are being criminalised for the possession and use of a drug that is scientifically proven to be safer than both smoking and alcohol. Ministry of Justice figures show that between 2007 and 2014, 16,729 young people between 17 and 25 were convicted of possession and/or use of an illicit drug or drug utensil.

But despite Māori making up 15% of the population, they made up 37% percent of those convicted of this relatively minor offence.

Legalising possession would also no longer give police an excuse to search people, cars and homes – which would restore mana and make a huge difference to Māori communities. The class bias is clear. How often do we see champagne-swilling corporate bosses or race-goers being wrestled to the ground and handcuffed, or having their multi-million-dollar homes raided on suspicion of cocaine possession? It’s the working poor who suffer disproportionately from discriminatory police practices.

The cost of making cannabis illegal is colossal. From 2007-2011, New Zealand spent more than $59 million imprisoning those who are convicted of minor drug offences and have to serve custodial sentences. This does not include costs to police, the courts, treatment or probation. This hard-earned taxpayer money could be far better spent providing rehabilitation for the seriously drug addicted – not to mention addressing social inequalities that make dependence on drugs of all kinds – most infinitely more dangerous than cannabis – both understandable and inevitable.

In an interview with The Spinoff, one mum and grandmother told how a brutal past of domestic violence made her turn to drugs as an escape from the painful reality of her life. After multiple stints in jail, she wondered how different her life might have been had she been offered treatment rather than incarceration.

She said that without drug law reform so many others, especially young wahine Māori, will get stuck in the same harmful cycles of trauma, drug use and prison. “There’s a whakapapa, a history to why people end up using drugs and end up in the justice system.”

Like any drug, cannabis can be harmful if used excessively. But studies have shown it is still far safer than alcohol, tobacco and multiple other illicit substances – not to mention the proven medicinal pain-relieving benefits for those with chronic or terminal illnesses.

One study published in Scientific Reports in 2015 compared the lethality of the recreational use of 10 common drugs, including marijuana, alcohol, tobacco, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, methamphetamine, diazepam, amphetamine and methadone. They found marijuana had the lowest risk of mortality and was safer than every other drug in the study. And a legal drug that is monitored for quality is far safer than the current black market alternatives which are untested, unlabelled, of unknown provenance and with no information as to what they contain.

This is not to say that addiction and over-use don’t or won’t occur. But throwing users into jail merely perpetuates a cycle of addiction and alienation, and is more likely to drive desperate and marginalised youth into harder drug use and further crime.

If cannabis were legalised, the New Zealand industry could employ about 5000 people and reap almost $1.1 billion in taxes a year, two in-depth reports by Business and Economic Research Ltd have shown.

But even with a ‘yes’ vote, our campaign shouldn’t stop there. Because we need to ensure any financial benefits of legalising cannabis go towards building and improving our communities, and not into corporate coffers.

It’s crucial that a) taxes from cannabis sales be poured back into rehabilitation and addressing social inequalities, particularly among disadvantaged groups like Māori b) government enforces tight rules to ensure big business is not allowed to reap huge shareholder profits from the drug.

Maria Hoyle is a freelance journalist and a member of Socialist Aotearoa.

18 comments on “Legalise it! The Socialist case for Cannabis reform ”

  1. Chris 1

    Every culture in the world uses mind-altering substances. It's what humans do.

  2. Matthew Whitehead 2

    Kia ora Maria- just advance voted yesterday, and this referendum is the one I gave the nod to.

  3. Byd0nz 3

    Should should, regardless, as a weed-smokin on a daily basis since 1965 left of Marxist, I wont be quitin' anytime soon.

  4. Draco T Bastard 4

    Because we need to ensure any financial benefits of legalising cannabis go towards building and improving our communities, and not into corporate coffers.

    Then we need to ensure that private business is not involved in the production and distribution of marijuana.

    I'm supportive of it but don't think that will go down too well in the wider community.

    • Chris 4.1

      I heard a guy at the pub say "I'm not voting for anything that turns hardened criminals into upstanding pillars of the community".

      • Matthew Whitehead 4.1.1

        So close to getting it, lol.

      • Draco T Bastard 4.1.2

        Present law already turns hardened criminals into upstanding pillars of the community. But tax dodging by the rich through legal means doesn't seem to upset most people.

  5. bruce 5

    I've been told by a few of the law enforcement types that its only because the police "can't get them for something else" that people are prosecuted for cannabis. Yea rite its not a good look when it says arrested for being brown on the charge sheet.

  6. ken 6

    Any health issue is merely a red herring.

    This is really all about repression and persecution.

  7. PaddyOT 7

    " Because we need to ensure any financial benefits of legalising cannabis go towards building and improving our communities, and not into corporate coffers." Good ideology but what's the preference or plans ?

    Went to school with this guy. Lord has positioned himself for years to play the market in NZ and he pays big beneficial taxes. Stopping corporate ownership seems a backwards step as it defeats a main purpose of legalising cannibis for the huge employment and tax take benefits.


    " It’s crucial that a) taxes from cannabis sales be poured back into rehabilitation and addressing social inequalities…."

    A commonly held understanding whereby the admittance of harm has been the reason for No votes, it is self- defeating to admit for a reform Bill.

    That the reform for legalisation of cannabis is expedited to the public before resourcing the dire shortage of varied 'help' services, addressing issues that underpin drug use, is poor strategy. " rehab second (or never)” Where's the plans ?

    Having written in law a limit on age and THC potency is not a deterrent. Who's running around sample testing homegrown potentcy ? Laughable and unenforceable.

    The 'alcohol is more harmful' excuse to validate legalising cannibis shouldn't be the distractor used in argument, it merely vindicates falsely that cannibis is harmless. Running across the road in front of a car is less harmful than running in front of a truck.

    When cannabis is no longer your soft drugs, ' flower power' era scenario , the Netherlands becomes a relevant longer term case study of the impacts over it's decades of development. Cannibis was not legalized in the Netherlands, decriminalizing instead as they decided to stop prosecuting cannibis users and make legislation that they thought would reduce the harm of cannabis.

    Now, " It was not unusual for children as young as 12 to be addicted to cannabis and referred to drugs clinics by their GPs, said Dr Ashruf.
    In years gone by, the age group for referrals was between 16 and 21 but now it has gone down to between 14 and 19," he said. "Children of 12 and 13 who are addicted to soft drugs are also brought in. It is an alarming development." Dr Ashruf, director of the Parnassia Clinic in The Hague, said that Dutch parents are largely unaware of the dangers because of the changes the drug has undergone since the 1960s."


    In law provisions, keeping the cannibis scene tightly regulated, quality ensured and out of 'gang' type control has not eventuated in the Netherlands.

    " Despite the government’s efforts, a substantial part of the Dutch cannabis trade is still controlled by criminal drug dealers. And, sometimes, the laws themselves make this situation possible."

    For the sellers, profit drive circumnavigates the law and overrides the safety of users. An 'honest' seller ," has to examine the cannabis he buys under a microscope to make sure that it’s not dangerous for his customers." Meanwhile, " Sometimes, coffeeshop owners or managers have to rely on the illegal cannabis trade to stock their shelves with fresh produce and keep their customers happy."

    This is predominantly because, "The complicated legal situation of cannabis has led to the growth of organised crime in the Netherlands. In a 2018 report, the Dutch national police union warned that organised crime has taken over the cannabis trade in many parts of the country. The report also mentioned that a parallel economy is emerging, fueled by the illegal drug trade."


    Even the most considered laws to make the people happy are subject to undesired consequences, an absurd 30 plus years of policy, " ..there’s one contradiction that goes to the heart of why Dutch drugs policy has lost its way, it’s this: that while it’s legal for “coffee shops” to sell cannabis for personal consumption, growing the cannabis they sell is illegal and subject to stiff penalties that have forced production underground." Profit is profit afterall, the biggest open secret in the Netherlands.

    " At the moment, drugs are regulated, but by a mafia".

    “It was crazy then and it’s still crazy now,” one former police officer says. “The cannabis comes to the back door of the coffee shops, where it’s bought illegally, with no tax. Then it’s sold legally at the front of the shop. That’s no solution to anything. It’s simply creating a new problem.”


    Still – " We’ve been brought up in a society that believes cannabis is not something criminal. So everyone says, ‘It’s only cannabis’. But the fact is that cannabis trafficking is involved in almost all major criminal investigations involving murder, weapons and drugs.”

    • gsays 7.1

      Well put arguments Paddy.

      I disagree with you, I don't think the corporate approach is the way to maximise returns to the community, either directly or through the taxation route.

      I watched a Netflix look at cannabis business in California. The amount of the cost of compliance kept a lot of small players out of the action. A rule of three was talked about, how, when a market is created, there ends up being three players.

      "But the fact is that cannabis trafficking is involved in almost all major criminal investigations involving murder, weapons and drugs.”

      That has more to do with the current status of cannabis in law as opposed to the substance itself.

    • PaddyOT 7.2

      "That has more to do with the current status of cannabis in law as opposed to the substance itself."

      That's why I asked what's the preference for ' the market' scenario . Isn't the proposed law really then about tax take from big suppliers rather than wellbeing or coincidental concern for injustice of convictions ?

      What you said is true gsays but the quote came from the actual state of play existing in the crime scene in the Netherlands where it IS a 'legal' substance. The development of a taxable, big player market with overheads also created products being unaffordable to many households, much like the exorbitant cost of alcohol.

      One example of current legal markets-

      Gabby's point is valid too, however consumer demand for "cheaper and better" ( cost, variety and hit pleasure ) " , IS what drove the growth of the illicit 'mafia' market. There's an horrific murder trial involving what would be deemed small time use coming up in the NZ courts. It illustrates that criminal acts occur whether the drugs are legal or not. Another recent example, was the fatal beating of a nice young guy for not fronting with a few pathetic dollars for his tick up. This will still happen, the new variety, high potency or crystalised weed will still be out of the shop activity and complete rubbish to say otherwise.

      If the aim is truly pragmatic to stop criminilising persons , or if NZ doesn't want big corporate takeover playing the tax evasion game, nor wants lower income households having money extracted to pay the market overheads and profits (adding to the cost for a buyer) , then get rid of the ridiculous 4 plants per household and make it more sensible for continuous personal supply. Notable is that the Netherlands prohibited personal home growing. Laughable though is that government thinks we'll stick to four plants. This puny amount also drives up what will be illicit supply and competition in the neighbourhood when users run out and the shop product is too expensive.

  8. Gabby 8

    The regulated stuff will need to be cheaper and better than the illegal stuff.

    • Naki man 8.1

      There is no tax paid on the illegal stuff so it will be cheaper

      • PaddyOT 8.1.1

        True Naki man and wee Peter the Pot Pro down the road with his plants is still going to grow his special hybrid and make his main income, whether legal or not.

        Because other countries data largely shows that legalising weed does not increase a whole populations uptake, home gardening for those who wish to imbibe cheaper beats the big player capitilism and 'gang' dominance.

      • Draco T Bastard 8.1.2

        The illegal stuff is higher priced due to the risk associated with it.


    Time they really gone back to when Hemp smokin arrived to Kiwi land. All the offshore investors made bulk Squillion!s, out of all those working who, not all, yet a large amount of workers smoked outside their workplace Hemp, Decades, of profits, and not a drug test in sight.
    All those monster profits and not a drug test inside a working employed place.

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