By Chris Fowlie. Originally published on The Daily Blog, 8 August 2020.

What is driving two academics to criticise the Government’s information campaign for the cannabis referendum?

In a review published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, two members of Auckland University’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences say the Ministry of Justice has made “inflated and unrealistic” claims in their public information campaign.

One of them, Prof Benedikt Fischer, was a member of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor’s cannabis expert panel which recently published a summary of information about the effects of voting Yes or No in the referendum.

It’s a really useful, balanced, summary that I thoroughly recommend everyone read and share. They even produced a video:

The cannabis panel’s report says it “did not reach uncontested conclusions or agree on every single point. But we tried to reach a consensus on as many aspects as possible.”

That consensus has been blown open, with Fischer now saying the “political promises” made in the information campaign – to to eliminate the illegal supply of cannabis, restrict young people’s access to it and limit public visibility – were “unlikely to be achievable as stated”.

That has created an opening for the Nope campaign to falsely claim a “win”.

Aaron Ironside, the former Radio Hauraki jock and recovering drug addict who offers counselling services and is now spokesperson for the Say Nope To Dope campaign, called the review a “scathing assessment” that backs his position.

The Nope brigade is a coalition of busy bodies, wowsers and moralists that includes Family First and Bob McCroskie, a bunch of conservative small town religious leaders, owners of drug testing companies who stand to lose much of their income, and the US anti-cannabis lobby group SAM, which has lost most cannabis reform campaigns in US states.

Ironside thundered that “The Government tries to argue through their pamphlet that ‘the Bill’s purpose is to reduce harm to people and communities’, but that is purely the view of those lobbying for change.”

This is all a bit rich coming from those moralising propagandists. They are backed by American anti-cannabis lobbyists who are well versed in spreading fear, misinformation, and outright lies.

The Nopers lie when they claim cannabis use among teens will inevitably go up. In Canada underage use fell by almost half in just one year following legalisation. That is a roaring success.

They mislead when they say legal products would be stronger. In fact, potency will be limited.

They twist the facts when they say gangs will just do something even worse. In fact, police would have much more time to go after them.

They distort the truth when they claim any reform would inevitably create a “Big Cannabis” industry. In fact, there would be limits on the market size, a ban on all advertising and promotion, and licensing rules that favour small social enterprises and non-profits.

They push propaganda when they say “Legal marijuana has a kid’s menu“. In fact, legal cannabis would be restricted to adults over 20, unlike the current law which allows unfettered access, and products such as gummy bears won’t be allowed here.

They lie to your face when they call the current approach a “Smart Approach to Marijuana”. We’ve all heard the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result.

They expect us to believe them when they say keeping the current failed policy is “smart”.

The Nopers are pushing a huge pile of hogwash. So what is it that now has them all riled up?

Well, the information sent to voters includes the “statement of purpose” contained within the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill.

This is the piece of legislation we are voting on in the referendum. It will allow adults over 20 to legally use, possess, purchase or grow small amounts of cannabis for themselves. It won’t create a Big Cannabis. Driving and workplace safety will continue to be regulated separately. It won’t be a free for all.

It is the opposite of the claims made by the Nopers.

The statement of purpose is that the Bill aims to “reduce the harms associated with cannabis use by individuals, families, whanau and communities in New Zealand”.

Yes, that is what has offended Aaron Ironside and his Nopers. Reducing harm. Making New Zealand a better place. Putting health and education first.

These are offensive concepts to the wreckers and haters who want continued prohibition.

After decades of “Reefer Madness” hysteria promulgated by the Nopers and their friends, it should be obvious their word cannot be trusted.

Chris Fowlie is the CEO of Zeacann Limited, a cannabis science company; co-founder of the New Zealand Medical Cannabis Council; president of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws NZ Inc; developer of the CHOISE model for cannabis social equity; 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.