Andrew Little says a scientific review of the Government's proposed cannabis legislation is anything but, after it suggested his ministry's public information campaign about the referendum made "inflated and unrealistic" claims.
The Justice Minister on Wednesday issued a scathing takedown of the "evidence-based assessment and critique" of the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Regulation Bill, which was published in the New Zealand Medical Journal earlier this week.
The review was carried out by Benedikt Fischer and Dimitri Daldegan-Bueno, two members of Auckland University's Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, ahead of the cannabis legalisation and control referendum on September 19.
The study made a number of criticisms of the draft cannabis legislation, but Fischer and Daldegan-Bueno reserved their most scathing condemnation for the public information campaign run by the Ministry of Justice.
They wrote that the "political promises" laid out in the ministry's resources - to eliminate the illegal supply of cannabis, restrict young people's access to it and limit public visibility - were "inflated and unrealistic" and "unlikely to be achievable as stated".
They also claimed the proposed Bill's age limits were inconsistent with limits for other legal drug use, and that the laws as they stand could bring "substantial" health risks.
Anti-cannabis advocacy group Say Nope to Dope claimed a win after the review was published, calling it "a scathing assessment of the sales pitch that the Government has given voters".
"The Government tries to argue through their pamphlet that 'the Bill's purpose is to reduce harm to people and communities', but that is purely the view of those lobbying for change," spokesman Aaron Ironside said.
"Those against the legislation are arguing that legalisation will lead to more harm to people and communities, and this latest analysis backs our position."
However Justice Minister Little has hit back, saying that while the study "claims to be a science-based review of the draft legislation, it is clear that it is not".
"There are no 'political promises' set out in the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, there are purpose statements," he told Newshub.
"The reason for purpose statements in legislation is to assist in interpretation and give a steer to the courts on how to apply its provisions. Without setting out a purpose statement the Bill would be pointless."
Little says he also "rejects entirely" the authors' suggestion that the purpose of harm reduction is 'inflated and unrealistic', and claims the report fails to take into account the social implications of cannabis use considered in the regulatory framework.
He also rubbished Say Nope to Dope's claim that the Government had parroted the view of those lobbying for a law change in its cannabis referendum materials.
"The Government does not have a position on the legalisation of cannabis, but rather sets out an alternative model for the public to consider at the referendum."
Little added that the extent to which the article is factually correct "can be measured against its assertion that there is no minimum age for the purchase of alcohol".
"There is a minimum age for the purchase of alcohol in New Zealand," he said.
While it's true there is a minimum age one can purchase alcohol in New Zealand (18), Fischer and Daldegan-Bueno's study didn't actually say there wasn't. It only referred to the legal age of alcohol consumption, of which it's accurate to say there isn't one.