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Public health experts urge a ‘yes’ vote in cannabis referendum

Friday, 9 October 2020

Leading specialists in addiction treatment, public health, health promotion and epidemiology are calling on New Zealanders to vote for cannabis law reform in the current referendum.

In an editorial printed today in the New Zealand Medical Journal, the public health experts say cannabis legalisation offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity for a rational law change which will promote public health and equity.

Professor Michael Baker Oct 2020 Image
Professor Michael Baker.

One of the authors, Professor Michael Baker from the University of Otago, Wellington, comments:

“New Zealand has distinguished itself globally in recent months as a world leader in innovative and evidence-informed approaches to tackling big public health problems.

“It’s time to take the same fresh approach to cannabis law and put public health first. Our prohibition model for cannabis is out-dated and doesn’t work. Supporting law reform is about reframing cannabis use as a health issue which opens up new, more effective ways of minimising harms caused by this drug.”

Professor Papaarangi Reid, the Head of the Department of Māori Health at the University of Auckland, agrees.

“With this legislation we can reduce the harm caused by cannabis by regulating potency, controlling the price and making it harder for young people to access,” she says.

“We’re particularly concerned that Māori have borne the brunt of biased enforcement and the negative health effects of illegal cannabis. We know that Māori are three times more likely to be arrested and convicted of a cannabis-related crime than non-Māori with the same level of use. This is an unacceptably high price to pay, especially for a policy that is not effective at reducing harmful use.”

Professor Louise Signal 2020 Image
Professor Louise Signal.

Professor Louise Signal, Head of the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago, Wellington commented:

“Legalising cannabis under the model proposed in the Bill will significantly improve health outcomes, particularly for young people and other vulnerable populations.

“It will also pay for much needed extra investment in cannabis-related health interventions. We encourage New Zealanders to vote ‘yes’, so the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill can be properly debated by Parliament. A ‘no’ vote just shuts down the conversation and leaves us with a status quo that is doing far more harm than good.”

Cannabis is New Zealand’s most commonly used illicit drug, with the latest New Zealand Health Survey figures indicating 15 per cent, or 590,000 adults, used cannabis in the past 12 months.

The editorial, ‘The Cannabis Referendum: why a yes vote offers a net gain for public health’, is published in the New Zealand Medical Journal and is co-authored by:

  • Professor Michael Baker, Professor of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington
  • Professor Papaarangi Reid, Head of the Department of Māori Health, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland
  • Professor Louise Signal, Head of the Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington
  • Dr Sam McBride, Community Alcohol and Drug Service, Te-Upoko-me-te-Whatu-o-Te-Ika Mental Health, Addictions & Intellectual Disability Sector 3DHB, New Zealand

For further information contact:

Professor Michael Baker
Department of Public Health
University of Otago, Wellington
Email michael.baker@otago.ac.nz

Professor Papaarangi Reid
Head of the Department of Māori Health
Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences
University of Auckland
Email p.reid@auckland.ac.nz

Professor Louise Signal
Head of the Department of Public Health
University of Otago, Wellington
Email louise.signal@otago.ac.nz

Cheryl Norrie
Communications Adviser
University of Otago, Wellington
Mob +64 21 249 6787
Email cheryl.norrie@otago.ac.nz