Frequent questions

1. If we change the law then use will increase.

Every major study of drug policy has found no evidence to support this claim. There is no difference in use between the 10 US States that decriminalised in the 1970s and those that kept a strict prohibition. In Europe, several countries have decriminalised cannabis and actually seen a significant drop in drug use, largely because the ‘forbidden fruit’ syndrome is removed, there is an emphasis on education, and in the case of the Netherlands cannabis sales are restricted to those aged over 18.

According to a December 1995 editorial in the British Medical Journal, regular cannabis use by 17-18 year-olds in the Netherlands dropped from 13 per cent to 6 per cent between in 1976 and 1985. The latest research, also published in the BMJ, confirms this trend.

By contrast, teen use in New Zealand continues to rise as a result of the uncontrolled black market and glamorisation of cannabis use. The Christchurch Health and Development Study’s 1999 report found 49.8% of 18 year olds had tried cannabis, and 68.9% had tried cannabis by the age of 21.

2. We must keep cannabis illegal to protect our children

We all agree that children must be protected from drug abuse. That’s why we are looking for a better solution – because what we are doing now is obviously not working. More young people use cannabis now than ever before and at ever younger ages. Cannabis is more easily available to young people than beer, or even pizza.

Cannabis prohibition makes it profitable to get young children into drugs. We believe that reducing the black market by allowing adults to grow their own, and spending at least some of the tens of millions of police money saved from that on drug education and treatment would be a far more effective way of protecting our young people.

3. Cannabis law reform sends the wrong message

How many people should we arrest, convict, fine and jail to send the right message? Is this really the best way of communicating with children? Perhaps we need to be spending our money on some simple courses in basic communication or child-rearing. Laws and regulations are not designed to ‘send messages’.This is the role of parents/family/iwi, churches, schools, and other social institutions.

We must also recognise that at present young people are receiving very mixed messages with respect to social policies surrounding recreational drugs.Young people easily see through the hypocrisy and dishonesty of an approach that encourages the use of the most harmful drugs (alcohol and tobacco) while dealing harshly with those who prefer cannabis.

Regulation does not imply endorsement; rather, society has an obligation to regulate and control widely used substances with significant potential for harmful use.Abdicating this responsibility to the black market itself sends the wrong message: that New Zealand society cannot cope with cannabis in a manner consistent with sound scientific evidence and reasoned analysis.This message should be rejected.

4. My child was turned into a psycho by drugs

The fact that your son/daughter became a victim of drugs is proof that the current policy did not work for you and your family. All it really does is to make it harder to get treatment for those who need it. People with problems are often unwilling to admit to an illegal activity for fear of arrest (or being thrown out of school or the family home). Drug education and rehabilitation services are poorly funded in NZ, and funding has been capped for the past five years. At the same time we are spending more and more each year on arresting by and large moderate and responsible adult users. How would giving your child a criminal conviction have helped? Shouldn’t we at least look at the evidence to see what works best?

5. Those who promote cannabis law reform are promoting cannabis use

This is quite wrong. We are promoting an effective and workable alternative to cannabis prohibition, a policy that has clearly failed in all it’s stated goals. We share the same concerns about problematic cannabis use, and we are trying to find an effective policy that actually works to address our concerns.

6. We have so many problems with alcohol and tobacco already. Why add another?

Cannabis is already here, and has been for decades. Even the police admit that they have never had a significant impact on the cannabis market at any time. It is a not a question of adding to anything. It is a question off finding the most effective way to deal with a problem we already have.

Legislation cannot repeal the law of supply and demand. Experience from overseas shows that when we stop arresting adults the use of cannabis does not substantially increase.

7. Gangs will turn to selling hard drugs such as Heroin if they can’t sell marijuana

Gangs might try (as they do now) to sell hard drugs, but there isn’t much of a market for them in New Zealand — nor would gangs likely succeed in creating such a market.The cannabis experience is nothing like that associated with heroin and cocaine, and very few people would be interesting in using these latter drugs if cannabis were readily available.As far as gangs turning to burglary etc, most people – including gang members – see a distinct difference between selling a widely available substance to willing consumers, on the one hand, and breaking into houses, on the other.In any case, it is obviously fallacious to argue that we must keep cannabis illegal in order to prevent gangs from turning to worse forms of crime. Besides, even if gangs did attempt this, our police would be much more able to stop them as they would not be wasting their scarce resources arresting cannabis users.

Evidence from the Netherlands does not support the concern that making cannabis more freely available to adults might increase hard drug use amongst young people. Government figures for heroin addicts have consistently dropped every year following cannabis law reform, and the average age of heroin addicts has increased every year. The controlled availability of cannabis has coincided with a reduction of young people becoming addicted to opiates.

8. I used to be a junkie and I know that drugs should not be legalised!

It is illegal now and that didn’t stop you. All it really does is keep most people from getting help sooner because we are spending all of our money on prisons and we cannot provide adequate treatment.

9. They tried this in Europe with Needle Park and it didn’t work

Absolutely not true. Europe, in general, is committed to decriminalisation and we invite anyone to talk to the law enforcement officials in Rotterdam, Amsterdam, or Liverpool, and see for themselves. There have been some policies which the European officials admit did not work as well as others, such as Needle Park, but they are still committed to a non-criminal approach to drugs. Australia, Great Britain, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Czech Republic, Greece, Germany, and Colombia have all taken steps toward the legalisation or decriminalisation of drugs. In addition, the heads of Interpol, the British Association of Chiefs of Police, the UK Police Foundation, the Canadian Chiefs of Police, and even the New Zealand Police have called for an end to drug prohibition.

10. Why don’t we just legalise murder and robbery and then we won’t have a crime problem?

There is a great deal of difference between personal use of cannabis, which only directly effects the user, and crimes which have victims. NZ has the highest rate of cannabis arrests in the world, with 25 293 cannabis offences reported in police statistics in the 1998/99 year, up from 24 899 the previous year. Most New Zealanders would agree that they would rather see scarce police resources spent on investigating violence and theft than on arresting people for using cannabis.

11. OK, so what do you want to do about it?

Firstly, NORML opposes the introduction of instant fines, which are just another form of prohibition. The South Australian experience has shown that fines make prohibition easier for the police to administer, but do nothing to prevent the unrestricted access by young people to cannabis, or the sale of cannabis by organised criminals. The number of cannabis users before the courts has actually increased because of widespread non-payments of fines and police using the tickets as a revenue-gatherer.

NORML supports decriminalisation – the immediate removal of all penalties for the use, possession and cultivation of small amounts of cannabis by adults. We recognise that there will always be a market for cannabis, and we believe it is best to regulate and control that supply than to hand over control to whoever is willing want to break the law. To this end, we support the establishment of a Royal Commission to investigate effective regulatory models to control the availability of cannabis.