Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Kate Hawkesby: Will calls for another cannabis referendum be taken seriously?


God bless the 20 year old Young Greens activist who wants a citizen initiated referendum on the decriminalisation of cannabis.

All he’s doing is highlighting how the government got this wrong first time round.

How much the pro lobby shot itself in the foot with its attempts to legalise? Mixed messaging, confusing misleading statements about medicinal, the advantage it would give big business, the smattering of weed shops around the country. It over shot the mark, went too far, and it didn’t convince enough New Zealanders to make it a reality.

It should've focused on decriminalisation not legalisation in the first place. It should have kept the messaging simple. But that’s all history now. The fact is, they lost.

But it was close. So close it’s not remotely surprising that someone has popped up and said let’s try that again.

A citizen-initiated referendum needs 355,000 signatures within a year to get to referendum status.

It’s not binding - and here’s the key - it’s up to the government to decide at that point if they want to go ahead with it.

Two problems here. One, even if it gets enough signatures, historically governments don’t do anything with citizen initiated referendums other than ignore them.

Two, they’ve missed the point. The government has already put in place policing measures which see most cannabis offences overlooked, given a warning - anything but actual prosecution.

They’re effectively decriminalising it by proxy anyway. The number of people arrested for cannabis offences has been in steady decline. Police know not to rush people to courts with a cannabis charge. Unless it’s attached to a string of other more serious offences, you’re highly unlikely to find yourself in court having smoked a joint.

This referendum showed that almost half of New Zealanders are cool with that. But what it also showed was that a greater number of Kiwis just don’t want weed for sale on their main street - they don’t want it normalised. It’s not to say they don’t know and accept weed is all around them, it’s just they didn’t necessarily want a government mandating it and saying it’s OK go right ahead, no worries.

So will this government - with its vote catching move to the centre - choose to bash us over the head with cannabis issues again?

I wouldn't have thought so. But the Greens activist floating this idea says he hasn’t talked to Chloe Swarbrick yet. Maybe if he gets her on board (Helen Clark won’t be far behind surely), then probably the Drug Foundation , and you may just get enough momentum and media coverage to spark the whole thing up again.

But I can’t help thinking of all the things we could be getting signatures over for important referendums in this country, decriminalising something that’s barely criminalised as it is, seems pointless.

So maybe the lesson here for those on the losing side of this debate now is - just let it go.

Kate Hawkesby is a political broadcaster on Newstalk ZB - her articles can be seen HERE.

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