Joe Biden's historic pardoning of cannabis offences makes waves in New Zealand

The home of the so-called war on drugs has waved the white flag on cannabis.

US President Joe Biden is pardoning thousands of Americans convicted of simple possession of cannabis under federal law - and the move is making waves in New Zealand.

Instead of a press conference, Biden took to Twitter to make his historic announcement.

"I'm announcing a pardon for all prior federal offenses for the simple possession of marijuana… too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana," he said. 

And campaigners here want our leaders to listen to him.

"He's legitimised political leaders around the world to say, okay, it is time," said cannabis campaigner Dakta Green. 

Since 1980, more than 120,000 Kiwis have been convicted of cannabis possession and or use. In the last two years alone, that number's close to 5000.

Green's one of those statistics, spending 22 of the last 23 years either on bail, in jail or on parole for a range of cannabis charges. 

"I'm not so concerned about the pardon, an apology would be nice, but let's just get the law changed. Let's stop locking people up."

Sarah Helm, the executive director of the NZ Drug Foundation, said it can have a big impact. 

"People lose their jobs and their livelihoods and go on to then have far worse life outcomes," she said.  

Cannabis prosecutions disproportionately impact Māori, despite only making up about 17 percent of our population. Almost half of all cannabis convictions last year were handed down to Māori.

Biden's move reignites the decriminalisation debate after it was stubbed out by the failed 2020 cannabis legalisation referendum.

"Criminally prosecuting people for substances is not the way to address the harm that those substances cause," said Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick.

But Justice Minister Kiri Allan said: "There has been a radical reduction in terms of the way that police are treating the possession of cannabis in a New Zealand context."

However, America's now showing us what radical really looks like.