Don't let Kiwis go to pot

Bob McCoskrie

COLUMN

Recently-released polls on cannabis have consistently shown a decreasing appetite for the legalisation of recreational dope use.

It seems that while we all strongly support a compassionate response to those in real need with a cautious and researched approach around cannabis medicine, when we thoughtfully consider the real implications of legalising the recreational use of cannabis, we completely reject the proposal, and rightly so.

Recent polling by Curia Market Research found that 85 percent of New Zealanders think that cannabis use can damage the brains of young people, 81percent think that drivers using cannabis are more likely to cause accidents, 63 percent think that cannabis-users aged under 25 are less likely to get a job, and half of us think that cannabis usage will increase if restrictions are reduced (35 percent think usage would remain the same).

When people think about ‘cannabis’, they probably immediately think about the same overused photos by the media of a marijuana plant and a joint being smoked. Think Woodstock Weed.

But legalising today’s marijuana will be far more than that. Big Marijuana’s aim will be to have people popping it between classes, sucking on it while driving, drinking it before work, chewing on it while they talk to others, and eating it as a dessert. The potency of edibles and dabbing (significantly more than that of an average joint) and their attractiveness to kids will lead to serious problems.

Evidence shows that marijuana — which has skyrocketed in average potency over the past decades — is addictive and harmful to the human brain, especially when used by adolescents.

In the US states that have already legalised the drug, there has been an increase in drugged driving crashes, youth marijuana use, and costs that far outweigh tax revenues from marijuana. These states have seen a black market that continues to thrive, sustained marijuana arrest rates, and tobacco company investment in marijuana.

Two key arguments are used as a basis for legalising dope.

Firstly, that legalisation will disempower the gangs and get rid of the black market. But the black market in Canada is absolutely thriving, with over 79 percent of marijuana sales in the last quarter of 2018 occurring outside the legal market — a similar trend to California, Oregon, Portugal and Colorado.

The problem with regulation — however well-intentioned and devised — is that as soon as you put restrictions on potency, product and availability, and create a commercial price, this simply creates a black market. The goal is to get drugs, and to get high, at the cheapest possible price.

Organised criminal syndicates and gangs adapt to changing political and economic environments, because their ultimate goal is not to break the law but to commercialise and exploit human nature. It’s about the money.

The second argument is that people shouldn’t be in jail for smoking a joint. The problem with that argument is — they’re not.

Statistics obtained from the Ministry of Justice show that fewer than 10 people have been given a prison or home detention sentence for cannabis possession offences in each of the last three years, and that these sentences will have been ‘influenced by their previous offending history’. International studies show that most are imprisoned for drug ‘related’ offences — that is, crimes committed while on drugs (murder, armed robbery, theft, assault, child abuse, etc.) or crimes committed in order to obtain drugs.

The law has an important deterrent effect. Most people don’t want to break the law. It sends an important societal message, similar to our drink-driving laws which can also result in a criminal conviction.
Ironically, legalisation would mean more use, and therefore more breaches of marijuana-related regulations (including under-age violations), and more drug-driving convictions.

There is no adequate reason why the government can persistently and successfully target smoking and not do likewise with drugs. The end goal of the SmokeFree 2025 campaign is not ‘slow down’ or ‘moderate’ but ‘QUIT’, and a realistic understanding about the effort required to reach that end, with numerous strategies and support agencies assisting on the journey. And the numbers overwhelmingly suggest that it is working.

Yet supporters of marijuana are peddling the same myths that we believed for far too long about tobacco — that marijuana is harmless, not addictive, and won’t be targeted at young people.

Keeping marijuana illegal through an appropriate application of the law which focuses on suppliers and dealers, that caters for “youthful indiscretions”, and provides an opportunity to intervene with addiction services and stop the progression of use, is as much a public safety policy as it is a public health policy.

At a time when New Zealand’s mental health system is bursting at the seams, why would we go and legitimise a mind-altering product which will simply add to social harm?

This is not a “war on drugs” — this is a defence of our brains and mental well-being.


• Bob McCoskrie is the national director of Family First NZ.

Recently-released polls on cannabis have consistently shown a decreasing appetite for the legalisation of recreational dope use.

It seems that while we all strongly support a compassionate response to those in real need with a cautious and researched approach around cannabis medicine, when we thoughtfully consider the real implications of legalising the recreational use of cannabis, we completely reject the proposal, and rightly so.

Recent polling by Curia Market Research found that 85 percent of New Zealanders think that cannabis use can damage the brains of young people, 81percent think that drivers using cannabis are more likely to cause accidents, 63 percent think that cannabis-users aged under 25 are less likely to get a job, and half of us think that cannabis usage will increase if restrictions are reduced (35 percent think usage would remain the same).

When people think about ‘cannabis’, they probably immediately think about the same overused photos by the media of a marijuana plant and a joint being smoked. Think Woodstock Weed.

But legalising today’s marijuana will be far more than that. Big Marijuana’s aim will be to have people popping it between classes, sucking on it while driving, drinking it before work, chewing on it while they talk to others, and eating it as a dessert. The potency of edibles and dabbing (significantly more than that of an average joint) and their attractiveness to kids will lead to serious problems.

Evidence shows that marijuana — which has skyrocketed in average potency over the past decades — is addictive and harmful to the human brain, especially when used by adolescents.

In the US states that have already legalised the drug, there has been an increase in drugged driving crashes, youth marijuana use, and costs that far outweigh tax revenues from marijuana. These states have seen a black market that continues to thrive, sustained marijuana arrest rates, and tobacco company investment in marijuana.

Two key arguments are used as a basis for legalising dope.

Firstly, that legalisation will disempower the gangs and get rid of the black market. But the black market in Canada is absolutely thriving, with over 79 percent of marijuana sales in the last quarter of 2018 occurring outside the legal market — a similar trend to California, Oregon, Portugal and Colorado.

The problem with regulation — however well-intentioned and devised — is that as soon as you put restrictions on potency, product and availability, and create a commercial price, this simply creates a black market. The goal is to get drugs, and to get high, at the cheapest possible price.

Organised criminal syndicates and gangs adapt to changing political and economic environments, because their ultimate goal is not to break the law but to commercialise and exploit human nature. It’s about the money.

The second argument is that people shouldn’t be in jail for smoking a joint. The problem with that argument is — they’re not.

Statistics obtained from the Ministry of Justice show that fewer than 10 people have been given a prison or home detention sentence for cannabis possession offences in each of the last three years, and that these sentences will have been ‘influenced by their previous offending history’. International studies show that most are imprisoned for drug ‘related’ offences — that is, crimes committed while on drugs (murder, armed robbery, theft, assault, child abuse, etc.) or crimes committed in order to obtain drugs.

The law has an important deterrent effect. Most people don’t want to break the law. It sends an important societal message, similar to our drink-driving laws which can also result in a criminal conviction.
Ironically, legalisation would mean more use, and therefore more breaches of marijuana-related regulations (including under-age violations), and more drug-driving convictions.

There is no adequate reason why the government can persistently and successfully target smoking and not do likewise with drugs. The end goal of the SmokeFree 2025 campaign is not ‘slow down’ or ‘moderate’ but ‘QUIT’, and a realistic understanding about the effort required to reach that end, with numerous strategies and support agencies assisting on the journey. And the numbers overwhelmingly suggest that it is working.

Yet supporters of marijuana are peddling the same myths that we believed for far too long about tobacco — that marijuana is harmless, not addictive, and won’t be targeted at young people.

Keeping marijuana illegal through an appropriate application of the law which focuses on suppliers and dealers, that caters for “youthful indiscretions”, and provides an opportunity to intervene with addiction services and stop the progression of use, is as much a public safety policy as it is a public health policy.

At a time when New Zealand’s mental health system is bursting at the seams, why would we go and legitimise a mind-altering product which will simply add to social harm?

This is not a “war on drugs” — this is a defence of our brains and mental well-being.


• Bob McCoskrie is the national director of Family First NZ.

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Peter Jones - 2 months ago
Prohibition puts a commercial price on a natural plant that anybody can grow for nothing in their own back yard. At a time when New Zealand's mental health system is bursting at the seams I would say what is wrong with freedom of choice? I would venture that the cost is more destructive than the actual drug.
Family First NZ seems silent on the mass fluoridation of our water, silent on
injections containing mercury and aluminium, glyphosate contamination of essential food supplies and on it goes, yet they claim they are about the defence of our brains and mental well-being? How convenient to blame marijuana for the mental health explosion. Time you looked at the big picture Bob.

Mary-Ann de Kort - 2 months ago
This article appears to be extraordinarily inflammatory and biased.
I don't smoke pot but can certainly see the benefits of decriminalisation. If we look at the Netherlands, we see a wealthy, productive and well adjusted country with many of the world's innovators living within. Yet pot has been legal there for decades.
When I visited I can say I saw little evidence of a depraved society but with caring, busy and friendly people. Pot doesn't appear to have done their youth and people a lot of harm at all.
NZ has a real problem with underlying issues like poverty, inadequate housing, bad health statistics and those also need to be addressed.
The use of alcohol and drugs is a symptom of our sad and broken society. Cannabis is already well used but is one of the least harmful drugs. Alcohol and prescription drugs are far worse and do actually kill people.
It should be controlled legally as prohibition is not working and is expensive in both lives and monetary value, and drives unhappy people to other alternatives like the cursed 'p'.

It is well worth noting that the Curia market research company quoted in the article is owned by David Farrar who was frequently cited in the book "Dirty Politics". Nicky Hager the author said that book is "not about awful people; it is about a negative and destructive style of attack politics".
In addition, Family First is a fundamental Christian lobby group and far from impartial as well, and Mr McCoskrie himself is known for his extreme views.
This article should be taken with a large pot of salt.

Beverley Aldridge, Maungaturoto - 2 months ago
Mary-Ann de Kort's comments are indisputable, except for blaming fundamental Christians for McCoskrie's fanaticism. I know fundamental Christians who will be voting for re-legalisation, even though they will not be smoking cannabis themselves. Many people, including fundamental Christians, still have their intelligence, and can discern what is propaganda and the truth. In other words, they have not yet been intellectually castrated. He cannot base his arguments on any Christian belief, as in Genesis we read that God gave us all plants for our use. Cannabis, in my opinion, is a God-given blessing. Therefore, we question the power he is supporting to try and stop people from being healed and living a healthy life. Our Christian God is a God of love, not destruction. Christ healed. People came to Him to be healed. To even think that people must suffer and die needlessly when they could be healed is NOT an act of love, so therefore is not Christian.

Jed Williams, Christchurch - 2 months ago
All the statistics quoted in this article are phoney.

Jarrod Peregrine, Wellington - 2 months ago
Could we get a link to the statistics you provided? My opinion is they are bullshit, much like your opinion.