Press Release: Support from criminal justice reform advocates for Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill

May 1, 2020

The Government today released the full and final Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill that New Zealanders will be voting for at the referendum on 19 September. 

JustSpeak is strongly supportive of the proposed legislation which moves Aotearoa New Zealand closer to our vision of a world where justice and public health systems support our collective wellbeing.

JustSpeak director Tania Sawicki Mead said the Bill will have a positive influence on criminal justice in Aotearoa.

“Cannabis legalisation is a meaningful step in the right direction for transforming our justice system. This Bill will help to divert people out of the courts and prisons systems, which punish people at the expense of access to meaningful health treatment.”

Ms Sawicki Mead said the Bill will also have a positive impact for Māori communities. 

“Māori are disproportionately targeted by drug laws that are out of date and lead to bad outcomes for everyone. We applaud the provisions in the Bill to support communities disproportionately harmed by cannabis, including Māori and people from economically deprived areas, in accessing the benefits of the regulated market.”

Younger people are another group that will benefit from legalisation, with the Bill imposing age restrictions, regulations on supply and potency of cannabis and provisions to keep kids out of the criminal justice system for drug use. 

Ms Sawicki Mead applauded the emphasis on a health-based response for anyone under 20 found in possession of cannabis, but said using fines as a deterrent was problematic given the burden would likely fall hardest on young people who are already disproportionately targeted by police.  

“The Government needs to do more to make sure that the age and possession limits do not inadvertently criminalise young people, Māori and people of colour. Initial data from Colorado and Washington suggests that racial profiling and targeting of young people for low-level breaches of cannabis laws initially increased under legalisation. 

“JustSpeak applauds the Government’s efforts to create a modern, compassionate and effective regulatory system for cannabis. Improved access to education resources will significantly help reduce drug-related harm and the stigma associated with seeking support.”

“We also support the proposed levy to fund services to reduce cannabis harm, which have suffered from a lack of investment by successive Governments and unnecessarily pushed people into harmful justice systems.

Cannabis legalisation will move Aotearoa towards a more equitable country that honours Te Tiriti O Waitangi and supports all communities to flourish. For these reasons, JustSpeak endorses a ‘Yes’ vote at the 2020 referendum.