Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
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since 1987

Cannabis referendum discussion for young Pacific voters

The Pacific Youth Leadership and Transformation Trust (PYLAT) recently hosted a discussion on the upcoming New Zealand Cannabis referendum in Ōtautahi Christchurch for young Pacific voters.

The referendum will be held on 17 October 2020 in conjunction with the 2020 general election and a euthanasia referendum; anyone 18 and over can vote on the question of whether to legalise the sale, use, possession and production of cannabis.

In the first of PYLAT’s iSpeak events, Green’s Co-Leader Marama Davidson and National’s Christchurch Central Candidate Dale Stephens discussed their thoughts on the topic.

Stephens, a former police officer, voiced his view opposing cannabis legalisation.

“I believe this is not an issue about arresting people for using cannabis; it’s an issue about why do we let them near it in the first place? How can we educate them so that they don’t need to have cannabis in their lives?” he said.

“I say we don’t need to legalise the drug, which will give even more opportunity for our people to be using the drug.”

Davidson, whose party supports cannabis legalisation, said the prohibition of cannabis has not worked for decades, and said it was important to treat cannabis as a health issue.

“This is not about voting for whether cannabis exists or not, because it already does, and even in the illegal and prohibited status, it is already in our communities,” said Davidson.

“The criminal system, and the justice system, it is very clear, has been racist systemically and casually towards Māori and Pacific young people forever.”

“Even though Māori are just as likely and use cannabis at the same rate as non-Māori, Māori are three times more likely to be apprehended and convicted for cannabis use, which makes it clear that the discretionary application of the drug being illegal is not being applied fairly in our Māori and Pacific communities.”

The cananbis referendum question. Photo / Newshub

However, Stephens said he believes it has always been treated as a health issue.

“I get really disappointed when I hear us talk about whether it should be a crime issue or a health issue. It’s always been a jolly health issue, it always should be a jolly health issue, and you don’t have to make it legal to [treat it] as a health issue.”

“When I was in the police many many years ago, we didn’t lock up users. We wanted to get to the importers, because those are the guys who were creating havoc for us.”

Davidson refuted, “It has only been treated as a health issue for some users, not for Māori and not for Pacific.”

“Built into the cannabis bill, the draft bill that is behind the referendum, is an absolute commitment to education, to directing people towards harm reduction services, to funding better Māori and Pacific cultural appropriate services for drug and addiction, and that will come with the legalisation.”

Further topics of debate included the politicians’ views on the impact the law could have on young people, ways to reduce harm to the community, and whether they had ever tried cannabis.

Watch the full discussion above.

Film copyright Selwyn Gamble and PYLAT 2020
iSpeak TV Crew
Selwyn Gamble – Videographer, editor and producer
Maria Pula – MC
Josiah Tualamali’i – Discussion Facilitator

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