Do you support the legalisation of cannabis?

On Monday night Paula Bennett addressed the people of east Auckland on drug reform in New Zealand at a public meeting at St Columba Church in Botany.

As far as public meetings go, Simeon Brown’s drug reform meeting on Monday night with National Party Spokesperson for Drug Reform Paula Bennett was an interesting one.

One member of the public challenged Bennett’s explanation of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) levels in marijuana, while a man in his late 20s professed cannabis is life-changing for reasons he didn’t get around to explaining.

The biggest topic of conversation was next year’s non-binding (not automatically written into law) referendum where Kiwis will vote on whether personal, recreational cannabis use should be legalised.

The question will be asked according to a draft legislation which is due to be released in the coming months.

It would include a proposed minimum age of 20-years-old to use and purchase cannabis, regulations and commercial supply controls, and limited growing options.

Bennett again said she would be voting no in the referendum.

She said New Zealand has a serious drug problem and as a country we don’t have the health services and education programmes set up to manage the potential negative effects of such a vote.

“I think that instead of us having a real discussion on what we do with [the drug problem in New Zealand], the Greens have come up with this solution of legalising before we as a country work through the options of how we deal with some of the problems,” Bennett said in her address.

One member of the crowd urged people to be pragmatic and do their research before voting.

She said her research found marijuana to be less harmful and less addictive to her children than any other drugs out there.

The mother of boys made a point of saying marijuana isn’t the gateway drug; the gateway is the drug dealer.

“At the moment we have drug dealers who are dealing to our kids, who just want to move them on to the more profitable drugs. I’d rather it be [regulated by] the government.”

But her point of view was lost on a few who argued that many drug addictions started with marijuana use.

Bennett reiterated a point made by many people who work in the drug addiction centre and said while ‘weed’ might not formally be a gateway drug, all of the recovering drug addicts she had spoken to are opposed to the legalisation of recreational marijuana.

“It’s where their problems started and they are scared for themselves and for their children.”

Others simply expressed the need for greater investment into treatment for drug addiction and trauma that leads to drug use in the first place.

As well as general members of the public, there were speakers from Odyssey House and Higher Ground Drug Rehabilitation.

In a nutshell, it certainly wasn’t short of healthy debate and divided opinion.