US activist Asha Bandele says cannabis legalisation would 'provide protection' for youth

As the cannabis referendum draws closer, arguments for and against its legalisation are heating up.

US author and activist Asha Bandele has been in New Zealand for the past week to discuss cannabis and her views on legalisation. She spoke to The Project on Monday night to offer her slightly different perspective on the debate. 

"We're asking people to have an adult conversation backed by science, backed by evidence. I'm here as somebody's mother... when cannabis is illegal, I know [my daughter] is exposed to all sorts of dangers, including the police," she told The Project.

"I don't want any child harmed. My son was harmed... [I hope] no other mother loses their child because we have an absence of regulation... that's why I hope everyone votes yes on the referendum to legalise cannabis... it's going to provide protection." 

Bandele, an active campaigner of the Black Lives Matter movement, saw her own son imprisoned for smoking cannabis. She says she has seen firsthand how racism contaminates every facet of American life - and says there are evident parallels between the US and New Zealand. 

Whether it be employment, prison rates, police harassment or drug laws, Bandele says many elements of New Zealand reflect the "painful reality" seen in America.

"The painful reality here is how [New Zealand] mirrors the targeting of the poorest and darkest members of this society," Bandele said.

"In the US, we incarcerate black people more than anybody else... it's the same thing here with the Māori community... not more of the people who use drugs, but more of the people who are targeted for drug use."

Bandele said that in reality, drug use is already "legal for certain people".

"Some people are not targeted or imprisoned... there is in fact legislation, it's just a very privileged few," she stated.

Bandele said she has been "deeply moved" by her visit to New Zealand, particularly as her week abroad aligned with the implementation of mandatory New Zealand history education in all schools as of 2022.

"I've been lucky enough to be here during a week where Māori culture is being put in the history books," she said.