By Chris Fowlie – Originally published on The Daily Blog, September 18, 2022

As voting packs arrive in the mail, progressive voters in Auckland now face a tough choice in the contest for Mayor: should they hold their nose and vote for socially conservative Efeso Collins, backed by Labour and the Greens, or support the ‘independent’ bid of socially liberal but right-leaning Wayne Brown?

Call me predictable, but I think their stance on cannabis reform is a bellwether issue. It shows what they really think about much more than just cannabis, and how their thinking is organised. Conservatism here, while professing to be a liberal on other social issues, should be serious cause for concern. It could be a sign of muddled thinking, or appealing to base instincts to “lock ‘em up”, or they could be beholden to vested interests or may be letting their religion get in the way.

Certainly, worth scrutinising further as we decide who should lead Aotearoa New Zealand’s largest city. Auckland voters are ready for reform, with significant chucks of the city going green during the cannabis referendum – especially the diverse central isthmus, the heartlands of West Auckland and all the Māori seats.

Local laws and approaches to drugs are possible. We already have local liquor licensing and different models in parts of the city, with West Auckland and Mt Wellington operating trusts which must return profits to the community. Auckland Council already has a Psychoactive Substances Local Approved Products Policy, and – once the supermarkets back off – it will have a Local Alcohol Policy.

Local councils can also petition central government to pass local laws which affect only their area (an obvious example is the Act which established Auckland Council, or the recent law for Tamaki housing intensification).

Auckland Council could design a Local Cannabis Policy which could, for example, create trusts like the liquor trusts in West Auckland, or designate safe consumption spaces giving police clear rules about who they should not be targeting. This is all possible – and especially so with a supportive mayor.

The trouble with Efeso

I was at Auckland University with Efeso Collins in the early 90’s. He was part of a clique who took an intense dislike to the campus NORML club. Upon being elected as Student Union president he made the area smokefree, took away the Upper Common Room safe space for cannabis consumers, and oversaw a reversal of AUSA policy so it no longer supported cannabis legalisation – a position it had held since the 1960’s.

It was obvious even back then that Efeso came from a conservative, religious, background and he held those beliefs deeply. As he has every right to.

But fast forward 25 years to the cannabis referendum in 2020, and this leopard had not changed his spots. Efeso strongly advocated for the Nope campaign, with public speaking, appearing on Christian panels, and media appearances including Q&A.

Efeso wasn’t a bit player in the Nope campaign, he was a main star. And it turned out that in those intervening years he had campaigned against marriage equality and abortion reform.

I’m reluctant to give him any credit for Nope’s narrow win. But Efeso’s predictions of doom, and appeals to liberal guilt, may have cost Yes a few percentage points. In the end that’s all it took, with the difference being a mere 37,000 voters going the other way.

After going hard for Nope, and after the result was declared, Efeso said he would have supported decriminalisation. If only he had said that at the time!

But credit where credit is due, at least Collins does support decriminalisation – confirmed by Family First. And he claims to have apologised for what he describes as his previous stance against marriage equality and abortion, acknowledging that he hurt people with what he had said.

In fact, at a recent forum organised by the Karangahape Business Association, all the leading candidates expressed support for cannabis law reform.

Quizzed by moderator Russell Brown about his opposition to the cannabis referendum, Collins said he would support decriminalising cannabis but couldn’t back legalisation due to what he said was the damage he had seen in young people.

Wayne Brown says legalise it, man

At the same forum Wayne Brown was reported as winning the crowd’s favour with his clear support for making cannabis legal, citing methamphetamine as a worse scourge on the community.

Brown calls himself socially liberal but fiscally conservative. He voted Yes.

I really don’t know much more than that. But I like a candidate who backs legalisation and I suspect he could find a way to make it happen.

But of course, candidates have positions on a myriad of issues and, despite me saying their stance on cannabis is a bellweather which informs voters of their true character, there are lots of things progressives may consider when casting their vote.

So, a tough choice.

The most important thing is to cast your vote.

Last time we had a pathetic 35% turn out, dominated by conservatives and older/elderly voters who get to decide how our city is run.

As our dear editor Martyn Bradbury would say: Fuck. That.

So, roll up and vote. Pro tip – voting is even better when you’re high!

Nandor for Mayor

Elsewhere, my good friend and former Green MP, Nandor Tanczos is running for mayor of Whakatane where he has been councillor for six years.

Please encourage any friends or whanau you have there to vote Nandor for Mayor.

If you’re already enrolled your voting pack should have arrived or will do soon. Post your vote back by 8 October. Enrol at or call 0800 36 76 56 now.

Chris Fowlie is the president of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws NZ Inc; developer of the CHOISE model for cannabis social equity; CEO of Zeacann Limited, a cannabis science company; co-founder of the New Zealand Medical Cannabis Council; co-founder of The Hempstore Aotearoa; resident expert for Marijuana Media on 95bFM; cannabis blogger for The Daily Blog, and court-recognised independent expert witness for cannabis. The opinions expressed here are his own.