Opinions polarised over cannabis referendum

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JACK.CONROY@nullcluthaleader.co.nz

With two months until the nation’s general election, The Clutha Leader continues its dive into the issues that matter to you.

A October 17 referendum on the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill will be an extra issue to focus on this time around.

This will involve the legalisation of recreational cannabis use.

Views across the district are varied on the topic.

Kaitangata Church pastor Alex McLaughlin was against the idea, questioning the record of other countries that tried legalisation.

“What happened in other countries with their criminal activity once it was legal?” Mr McLaughlin said.

“What percentage of users become substance addicted, develop lifetime mental health illnesses, or become unreliable at their work?”

Mr McLaughlin said he worried people would turn to cannabis use as a substitute for “dealing with their personal demons’’.

Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party Clutha-Southland representative Kevin O’Connell took a different tack.

He said he “had faith in the people of New Zealand” to pass the referendum and bring about a “huge range of benefits’’.

“Why would you want to have a black market when you can have something that is actually regulated?”

Legalisation would bring cannabis out of the hands of criminals, into the arena of tax and retail revenue, he said.

“It would reduce policing costs, create thousands of jobs. So many reasons.”

A Clutha Health First spokesman said he was concerned about “wildly inaccurate information out there on both sides’’.

“I think legalisation will allow for more open honest discussions within society as well as in a medical setting about use and the harms associated with cannabis use,” the spokesman said.

‘‘It will also allow for regulation of quality et cetera. People who use cannabis will have more of an idea what they are using.”

He said passing the Bill could lead to more use by vulnerable people. “The use by young people is particularly concerning.

The regulatory framework around it will be critical.” Overall, the referendum was an important issue, he said. “Here in Clutha, use of cannabis under the status quo is common.”