Marijuana in the middle: How Gareth Morgan plans to smoke Winston out

Gareth Morgan's hoping to replace Winston Peters as the man in the middle of New Zealand politics.

The Opportunities Party (TOP) leader told The AM Show on Friday morning that's where the real power lies.

"We've got MMP now, so the guy in the middle actually has a lot of influence. That's where I'm trying to put The Opportunities Party. Not left, not right - doing the right thing."

One of those right things is an overhaul of New Zealand's drug laws, making cannabis legal for anyone over 20. National's ruled it out, and Labour's only interested in the medicinal kind.

The Greens, who've long been advocates of at least decriminalisation, now consider it a low priority.

"They're all too scared. That's what establishment politicians are like," said Mr Morgan.

"But the beauty of MMP is if we get the right guys in the middle, agitators that are progressive and trying to get New Zealand to do the right thing in a lot of areas, we can actually make progress now.

"[Labour and National are] not interested in evidence-based policy. They're interested in trying to do as little as possible to disturb the voters so they can get their jobs back.

"I don't even want to go into that zoo, to be honest. I'll have to go in if we get too popular, obviously."

No green light from Labour

Labour MP Grant Robertson told The AM Show TOP's policy goes too far, too fast.

"I think that's getting a bit ahead of ourselves... Leaping straight to the fully fledged proposal goes a bit far. There's a heap of issues to work through."

While he personally supports reviewing cannabis' status, it's not that important to him.

"I'm more worried about 41,000 people being homeless, I'm more worried the health system that's not keeping up... it's just not my number one priority."

Morgan no dope - experts

TOP's cannabis policy has backing from the Drug Foundation, which called it a comprehensive model of what reformed drug laws could look like.

"We could regulate and sell cannabis and tax it, and use the millions of dollars of tax income to put back into education. Other countries are doing that, and I think it's something New Zealand should be debating."

Mr Bell says the policy is a comprehensive model of what reformed drug laws could look like.

Mr Morgan says while it probably won't reduce cannabis use, it would at least keep kids away from gangs.

"Normal kids - your kids - have contact, in order to get this stuff, with the gangs. What that does of course it takes them to the next level. That is the gateway to heavier stuff. Cannabis is no more addictive than booze - it's who you associate with that provides the gateway."

He admits smoking cannabis when he was younger, but doesn't anymore. By taking the market out of the underground, putting the age at 20 and making parents responsible for their kids' consumption - just like with alcohol - many kids won't even bother to start, he believes.

"What you find out, is by the time people are 20, 21, they can't be fagged with it. They don't actually take it up."

Viewers toke a liking to Morgan

The AM Show has been running a poll on TOP's policy. During the interview, support for legalisation fell a few percentage points.

"That's my personality coming through," Mr Morgan joked.

At the time of writing, the unscientific poll had 74 percent in favour.

Reefer madness?

As Mr Morgan said, the Government if vehemently opposed to legalisation. Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett said his argument - that many Kiwis have at least tried it, so they can't all be criminals - is flawed.

"He stands there and we all have to say, 'Who in this room has smoked marijuana? Well you've been a criminal.' Well, who in the room has ever sped? If you've gone over the speed limit, you're a criminal, if you want to go for that kind of argument."

She says cannabis is far too "demotivating" to legalise.

"I don't know any young people that are smoking it every day and then are getting up and going to work."