The Green Party this week abstained from supporting the Government’s botched roll out of a ban on legal highs. We like the bit that says there will be no more animal testing. We do not like the bit that places a ban on legal highs. So this was a very difficult decision to make.
Many people have been contacting me publicly and privately to question this decision. Some of you have been furious. I understand your concerns and am keen to give a response.
What the Greens do support is a transparent and regulated market as the best and safest way to manage any harm caused by synthetic drugs. I too share everyone’s fear around access to these drugs and have three teenage daughters to remind me that there are real lives at stake here. I want a community that protects them.
Previously I have stood with the communities of Manurewa and Gisborne to ban legal highs and get them out of our local shops. To this day I totally support their fury and their cry for safer neighbourhoods for our young people. I have since had to educate myself on the pros and cons of banning legal highs in this way and whether a ban will end the damage.
What I have learnt is that a black market of legal highs will likely happen. This will push the harm underground. In the underground, no age checks occur and other harmful substances become available. This seems dangerous to me.
I agree with my Southland Green colleagues who have stated that “…. the main priority of any controls on drug use should be about minimising harm. The knee jerk reaction and ham-fisted management of legal highs by this Government may solve some problems but potentially creates many more.”
Green candidate Jack McDonald also reminded me that a ban will criminalise users and that includes young Māori. Jack and I agree that driving their fiending underground is the worst possible outcome. How many users will seek help if they fear being criminalised?
What I have come to terms with is how much of a principled stand this is from the Green Party. It is consistent with our drug policies and is not about winning votes. We are going against popularity here because we believe this is the right way to reduce harm. That courage is something I have always admired of the Greens.
Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to personally contact me with your confusion. I am aspiring to become a Green Party politician so I look forward to these ongoing conversations.
We all care about our young people and I accept that we might have different feelings over how this is achieved. At this time I also acknowledge how difficult it will be for synthetic high users during their withdrawals. I hope users and their loved ones who are struggling seek medical and community-based support.