Cannabis referendum: Chlöe Swarbrick responds to most common criticisms of legalising weed in New Zealand

Warning: This article discusses suicide.

The Project hosts have grilled Green Party MP Chlöe Swarbrick over her stance on the cannabis referendum, asking her to respond to some of the most common criticisms of voting in favour of legalisation.

Swarbrick - one of the most prominent voices in New Zealand's legal weed debate - is the Greens' drug law reform spokesperson and a driving force behind the 'yes' campaign.

Here are her responses to tough questions on the proposed 14-gram daily limit, making the legal age of purchase 20 and the potential mental health impacts of legal cannabis.

The proposed legislation only affects those 20 and over. Won't teenagers still buy from the black market?

"What we do by setting the age limit at 20 is say that this is something people shouldn't be using early in life.

"And if they happen to, through some backdoor or other, get their hands on what is ultimately a legal product, that will be labelled, it will be quality and potency-controlled, so therefore a far safer product than they would otherwise get from the criminal black market."

This daily limit of 14 grams is an enormous amount. Is it just encouraging abuse of cannabis?

"You can buy a boatload of vodka if you wanted to, but we're not presuming that people are going to take that home and skull it overnight.

"Also from a practical level, the cost of even purchasing that 14 grams is going to be the equivalent, based on research, of $1200 a day if you wanted to feed a habit to that level. I don't think even Snoop Dogg could smoke that much."

The law was amended last year giving police the option not to charge people over cannabis. Isn't that enough?

"The police did have the option - I fought long and hard for about a year-and-a-half for a change under Section 7 of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

"However what we're seeing under that police discretion is that it's not being used, unfortunately. Even under that decriminalised model, you would still have people needing to go to the likes of tinny houses, and that is where people end up getting upsold to far harsher substances."

We've got a big problem with mental health in New Zealand. Why legalise cannabis when it contributes to those issues?

"I had a flatmate who graduated to synthetics because his dealer offered him those when there was no cannabis. He then went home for the holidays feeling as though he was ostracised and alienated and stigmatised for the usage of that cannabis and then those synthetics. We got a call from his parents, and he had taken his life.

"If we want to actually deal with the mental health implications of particularly cannabis usage, of particularly youth usage, then we need to take it into the light and out of the shadows, where we have an opportunity to intervene on problematic usage and a duty of care on the suppliers. Right now none of that exists - drug dealers, for example, do not check ID."

Want to read more of our cannabis referendum coverage? Click here.

Where to find help and support: 

  • Shine (domestic violence) - 0508 744 633
  • Women's Refuge - 0800 733 843 (0800 REFUGE)
  • Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
  • What's Up - 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787)
  • Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
  • Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email or online chat
  • Samaritans - 0800 726 666
  • Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
  • Shakti Community Council - 0800 742 584