Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick thanks Family First for poll showing majority support decriminalising cannabis

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick has thanked the conservative lobby group Family First for funding a poll showing a majority of Kiwis support decriminalising cannabis. 

The Curia Market Research poll of 1000 Kiwis, funded by Family First, shows 48 percent support for decriminalising cannabis while 31 percent were opposed; 12 percent were unsure and 8 percent wanted all drugs decriminalised. 

"Thank you Family First for paying for a poll that shows us the majority of New Zealanders support decriminalisation of cannabis (with some going further in supporting decriminalisation of all drugs)," Swarbrick wrote on social media. 

Family First did not mention in its press release a majority of New Zealanders, according to the poll, support decriminalising cannabis.

"Support for decriminalising cannabis remains at similar levels to the Yes vote in the recent referendum," the conservative group said. 

It's true 48.4 percent of Kiwis - a similar number to the latest poll - voted in favour of legalising cannabis at last year's referendum, while a majority - 50.7 percent - voted against legalisation. 

But it's not accurate to say decriminalising cannabis remains at similar levels to the referendum, because the latest poll shows 8 percent support for decriminalising all drugs, in addition to the 48 percent support for decriminalising cannabis, bringing it to 56 percent - a clear majority. 

After Kiwis narrowly voted down legalising cannabis 50.7-48.4, the conversation moved to decriminalisation. A poll conducted by market research firm UMR for the Helen Clark Foundation earlier this year found more support for decriminalisation than legalisation. 

But information provided to Newshub by the Ministry of Justice last month showed the Government had not received any additional advice on decriminalisation since the cannabis referendum. 

Since 2019, the only material the Ministry of Justice had provided the Government regarding decriminalising cannabis was contained in a small section of a Cabinet paper about the 2020 cannabis referendum. 

"We had a referendum last year; it gave a very clear signal that New Zealanders were not ready for a greater level of liberalisation," Health Minister Andrew Little told Newshub at the time. 

"We are, however, working to make sure the way our recreational drugs regime operates is on a health basis, not a criminalising basis, and we are striving to achieve that."

Swarbrick told Newshub it was "disappointing".

Family First's poll found Green and ACT voters are more likely to back decriminalising all drugs, with 25 percent and 21 percent support, respectively. Labour voters back decriminalisation of cannabis with 56 percent support, while most National voters support the status quo. 

The 2020 Cabinet paper prepared for the Government ahead of the referendum says decriminalising use, possession and private cultivation of cannabis would be "particularly significant" for Māori who have borne the brunt of prosecutions. 

But it also notes decriminalisation would not address the issue of supply. It would leave supply unregulated, impeding the ability to control quality of products.

A model of decriminalisation is applied in the Netherlands, where authorities are required to refrain from enforcing the law against supply where no harm is evident.

In 2019 the Government amended the Misuse of Drugs Act to strengthen police discretion on drug possession, which the Opposition described as decriminalisation by stealth. A review of the law change is underway to find out if it has made a difference.

Police data provided to Newshub shows cannabis charges have decreased in recent years, from 495 in January 2017 to 238 in January this year. 

But 781 people were charged with cannabis offences in the first three months of this year - that's 781 people with criminal convictions to their name, when Family First's poll shows most Kiwis don't agree.