Cannabis debate more urgent than nation’s flag: Alexander Gillespie…

Almost half of all New Zealand adults have tried marijuana at some point in their lives. Photo / iStock

By Alexander Gillespie

You are being offered the wrong referendum. The matter to be decided should not be the design of a flag on which 6000 people have made submissions, but the status of a law which 400,000 people feel inclined to break each year.

The question of whether crime should be reduced, taxes collected and liberty increased on par with comparable risks, has been the subject of referendums in Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Alaska. It is likely California, Arizona, Maine and Massachusetts will also in the near future legalise the recreational use of marijuana.

The current position in New Zealand is that marijuana should be prohibited as the risks are too high to allow the public to have regularised access to it. The evidence shows that the risks are real.

Nine per cent of all people who use marijuana become addicted. All users run the risk of short- or long-term impacts. Immediate use impairs reaction times and hinders concentration, significantly increasing the risk of accidents.

Longer-term risks, especially with people who have a genetic predisposition towards particular mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, are strongly negative. All of these risks will heighten as improved growing techniques produce increasingly powerful products.

The difficulty is that if we use the test of risk as the benchmark for what should be prohibited, then tobacco, alcohol and gambling should also be banned. Tobacco, with an addiction rate of 32 per cent, kills around 5000 New Zealanders every year. Alcohol, with an addiction rate of 15 per cent, kills about 700. It is also connected to around 25 per cent of all injuries in medical emergencies; and half of all serious violent crime.

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