High profile Kiwis advocating for cannabis legislation change

Numerous high profile New Zealanders are backing a new campaign advocating for Kiwis to see the positives in the new cannabis legislation.

The 'Vote yes - On our terms' campaign was launched on Tuesday by The Drug Foundation to educate Kiwis about the Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill. 

A referendum will be held on the bill during the 2020 general election.

The campaign has launched a series of videos featuring former police detective Tim McKinnel, law lecturer Khylee Quince and Ecostore founders Malcolm and Melanie Rands, and supported by former Prime Minister Helen Clark.

McKinnel talked to The AM Show on Tuesday about why he thinks it is important for the legislation to change.

"The system we have now is a complete and utter failure. It discriminates, the law is unevenly applied, and I think it is time for a change," he said.

"The way people are prosecuted, adjudicated and sentenced [is uneven].

"We know very clearly that Maori and Pacifica are overrepresented and discriminated against in the criminal justice system, and young people as well. And so we need to find a better way to deal with that...

"I think cannabis we know, in terms of harm, is less harmful than alcohol and so it is a good place to start."

He says his decision to back the campaign was influenced by his former career in law enforcement.

"It's something that has developed for me over many years, I mean I was personally involved in enforcing the drug laws quite extensively, 10-15 years ago… I think all of the science and reason points towards doing something differently than what we are doing now."

McKinnel says the current system where small-time dealers are "shamed and labelled" is an "inappropriate" way to deal with cannabis.

He said the money and time the police put towards enforcing the law around cannabis could be better resourced in other areas such as mental health.

The positives the campaign is trying to highlight from the reform include freeing up police to focus on serious crime, more tax money towards health and education programmes and improving access for patients on medicinal use.

The Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell says he hopes New Zealanders will consider saying 'yes' when they enter the polling booth in September.

"The Cannabis referendum gives New Zealanders a chance to make a positive change by voting 'yes' for a world-leading piece of public health legislation," he said.

"The bill puts strong controls over-cultivation, supply and use of cannabis, which will help reduce harms, particularly for young people. This is why the Drug Foundation is endorsing the 'yes' vote with our new campaign."

He says the legislation is specifically designed for New Zealand with several controls which is important to his cause.

They include cannabis remaining illegal for anyone under 20-years-old, limited potency, no public consumption, plain, childproof packaging and sales limited to licensed premises.

"Our campaign emphasises the new cannabis tax that will be reinvested in drug education and treatment, that police time will be freed up to focus on serious crime, and that there will be better access for people who use cannabis for medical treatment," Bell said.

The referendum will be held during the New Zealand general election on September 19, 2020.