Time to be adults on Cannabis debate



Opening the paper on Thursday and seeing an old photo of myself on the front page, tattoo on display next to a large marijuana leaf caused me to choke on my early morning cup of tea. Why the photo? Well I guess the Heralds rather quaintly links tattoos and marijuana, so it seemed like a logical entire front page….the budget was relegated to page 8?

The article when I finally found it was a reasonable one despite the front page tabloid treatment. It covered the discussion we had at a meeting earlier on in the week. The item for discussion was how to proceed with the preparation of a local policy for the siting of sale outlets for Legal (now illegal) highs. Considering the law change, I thought that the discussion was missing the point and that we needed to engage in the much larger debate on how to address the real problem: with synthetic highs now back underground, where do we go from here? Slowly releasing legal highs back onto the market after some sort of dodgy testing regimen may not be the answer, time to open up a wider discussion on alternatives.

As chair of the councils working party on “legal highs” I have done a lot of research into the issue and have blogged about my belief that we need to now open the discussion on where marijuana fits into the picture as we realise how damaging synthetic cannabis is proving to be. I raised this at the meeting and ended up on the front page of the paper.

Simply raising the issue hardly seems newsworthy but it appears to have got things moving.
Having been contacted by drug counsellors, neurologists, users, parents and advocates, I realise that the time is right to call together a well informed group of thought leaders to have a rational, non political and informed forum on how to move towards a more sensible approach to marijuana. I am not advocating for legalisation, I don’t know yet what the right answer is but I want us to have the debate. We took on the issue of prostitution and dealt with it well, time now to deal with this issue.

As a mother and grandmother I worry about our young people, I worry as I look at the faces of smokers using these highs in our parks and streets, I worry that we think we can wash our hands of this now as we have driven things back underground. I also worry about the fact that we are spending a huge amount of time and energy criminalising people when we could spend the resources on prevention education and rehab.

Finally I want to thank all the wonderful people who took time to wish me well and have sent through information and ideas in the many emails and messages. To the two people who berated me for even daring to raise the issue, have a look at how well prohibition is working and get back to me.


  1. I agree completely. We do not see cannabis users at casualty, but the ‘synthetic highs’ have not proven to be as safe in practice. That these poorly tested products were legalised is not a credit to the politicians responsible. I haven’t smoked it for thirty years, but if I had I doubt it would have been the end of the world.

  2. About time there was an intelligent conversation about cannabis. I would push for legalisation. After all it has been tested on a vast human population for centuries, and proven safer than any legal chemicals. All we need is safe age limits and work requirements. As a relaxation element, it is the best.

    • Some sensible cost-benefit analysis needs to be done on this issue as a huge amount of police and legal system resources are absorbed trying to deal with the cannabis growing, distributing and use issues.

      We and the rest of the world seem to be chasing our tails on this one, and nobody seems to have the answer however the “definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again trying to get a different result”. Figure that one out.

  3. Saddening today to hear of a cannabis growing arrest and sentencing of a 70yr old bailiff and his 63 yr old mate.

    At their ages it will probably not ruin them, but often the criminalizing itself contributes to substantial harm in and of itself.

    One day hemp growing will be on Country Calendar. Stock feed will be high in cannabis leaves and seeds, and fallow paddocks may be seeded to provide animal feed

    The value of hemp products alone to the NZ economy will be very large.

    • If it wasn’t for the dottiness of the Moral Minority we could be doing this now. The crop grown for fibre and food is usually very low in the compound that delights the recreational drug users.

      And if scientists can muck around with milk to produce strains with health benefits – surely they can do so with weed? (Let’s skip the GMOs, though…)

  4. I am not advocating for legalisation, I don’t know yet what the right answer is but I want us to have the debate.

    The right answer is legalisation of marijuana.

  5. Well said Penny.

    Drugs should be a health issue not a crime issue.

    As we have with sex ed, we have realised that young (and old) people will have sex (or do drugs) and the best thing is not to tell teens to abstaine (unless you are a delusional Christian funadmentalist) but to realise that teens will have sex the best thing to do is show them how to be safe while doing it if they choose to. Should be the same with drugs.

    Smoking cannabis is a victimless crime anyway. Responsible adult use in ones own home should in no way be a crime. Some people like pokies, booze and ciggies and they can idulge to their hearts content. But if I grow and eat/smoke a plant I am a criminal? I don’t even…

    Read this for the slam dunk argument against victimless crime:


  6. Thanks Penny for standing up as a voice of reason. Hope the flack hasn’t been to bad, but know that there are a ton of regular people who agree with you. It’s time to start the conversation!

  7. We need Labour to make it part of their campaign. Labour don’t need to say they will decriminalise weed, but they can say the conversation will start and they will push for a referendum because it is a health issue.

    Doing this will probably mean that Labour and the Greens will win the election. If Labour want to stick with the failed war on drugs, then they can forget about addressing our neoliberal prison system

  8. We’ve just seen what happens with the legitimised sale of imitation cannabis and it wasn’t pretty, so why legalise the real thing? To hear some people its as natural as water is to the human body!

    What is wrong in life when you’ve got to self medicate be it booze or drugs? If it were so good why don’t we give it to our baby’s?

    I would love to see an advocate who recommended we look after our brains rather than anaesthetise them with some drug no matter what it is. You only have one and in 2014 no one can fix it when it goes wrong.

    • What does legitimate sale of cannabis have to do with recommending cannabis use?
      Sure, a few people promote the use of cannabis, but most people who want to see a change to the law do so because they think it can be a harmful drug.
      Perhaps you should ask google about ‘harm minimisation’.
      Take the Greens drug policy for example – they suggest a change to drug laws, but clearly advocate a drug free lifestyle as the healthiest lifestyle.

      When do you think the war on drugs will start to be effective? Next year?
      Are you aware the government distributes free needles to intravenous drug users?..harm minimisation is already used in NZ and it is effective.

  9. I always have a laugh about James Cameron, billionaire movie mogul, happily growing hemp somewhere in the Wairarapa, http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/9837999/Teens-raid-film-moguls-hemp-crop
    …last week I watched a wonderful man building homes from hempcrete, ‘social housing’ it was. He put natural wool insulation in the roofs and one resident said she hadn’t needed to turn on any heating. This was Nigel McLeod in the UK. We desperately need visionaries like this who think beyond the status quo.
    Thank you, Penny.

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