Pakuranga MP Simeon Brown recently returned from a parliamentary exchange to the United States with a much stronger view that New Zealand should not be legalising the sale of marijuana.
He travelled with a cross party delegation of MPs visiting the US capital Washington DC and the State of Colorado. The delegation comprised Dan Bidois, Nicola Willis, Priyanca Radhakrishnan, Willow-Jean Prime and Darroch Ball.
Sponsored by the American Council of Young Political Leaders, the purpose of the exchange was to gain a better understanding of the American political system and to build relationships.
The delegation met with a range of political and government leaders discussing a range of topics, from trading opportunities with the United States, international security, and domestic policies such as the use of natural resources and law and order.
“These discussions were opportunities to learn, exchange ideas and bring that knowledge back to New Zealand,” says Brown.
“I also took a keen interest in the issue of legalised marijuana. Visiting Colorado was an opportunity to see first-hand what legalising marijuana might look like as it was the first State in the US to fully do so. This was particularly pertinent given the fact that we here in New Zealand will be faced with a referendum at next year’s election on whether we should legalise marijuana.
“What was clearly apparent from visiting Colorado was the ease of accessibility to marijuana which came as a direct result of legalisation. A common statistic provided was the fact that there are more shops selling marijuana in Colorado than McDonalds restaurants and Starbucks cafés combined,” he says.
Inside these marijuana shops was the availability of highly potent marijuana products that are marketed to be attractive to young people. These include marijuana lollies, popcorn, cake, chocolate and other similar products.
“A common argument in support of legalising marijuana is that it will take the sale of the product out of the hands of gangs and the black market. In Colorado the opposite has happened,” he says.
“Colorado now has a bigger black market than before the legalisation of marijuana took place. This is due to a number of factors including the tax rate on marijuana being set at a level that allows people to undercut the legal market and a growing export market with marijuana being illegally grown in Colorado and exported to other States in the US.”
When talking to state leaders on both sides of this issue it was apparent that the process of legalising via a referendum was considered fraught with challenges, Brown says.
Since legalising marijuana through a referendum, Colorado has needed to update regulations multiple times in order to close loopholes and issues which were not foreseen initially.
“If Colorado is anything to go by, legalising marijuana will lead to the increased availability of marijuana with highly potent products specifically targeting our young people being introduced and no guarantees of a reduction in gang activity in the drug market.
“In my view, New Zealanders should be very cautious before heading down the path of legalising marijuana, because once legalised it will be very hard to come back.”