Hard News by Russell Brown


Starting the cannabis conversation: The "other" law reform

The famously torrid debate over Homosexual Law Reform in 1985 was not the only racous public meeting to take place at Auckland Town Hall in that era. The year before saw The Great Marijuana Debate, which was chaired by the late Peter Williams QC. The two events even had an antagonist in common – Invercargill MP Norman Jones, who was reliably against all those sorts of things.

As we all know, reform of the law around homosexuality took place in 1986, and there followed the anti-discrimination provisions of the Human Rights Act 1993 (which may or may not cover discrimination on grounds of gender identity), civil unions and the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act, which effectively rewrote a swathe of statutes.

And yet, the law on cannabis – which also affects human rights – has seen no meaningful change in those 30-odd years. The law is now so troubled that New Zealand police have been practising (if selectively) a de facto decriminalisation. It's wholly out of line with the country's National Drug Policy.

The participants in 1984 were not alone in believing they were on the cusp of reform. And 10 years later, at a follow-up event at Waikato University, Helen Clark made a strong speech holding out the hope that "a consensus on a new, more rational approach" to cannabis regulation was within reach. Two Parliamentary select committees and the New Zealand Law Commission have recommend cannabis law reform. Nothing has happened.

And yet, if only because other democratic countries are acting, we may finally act too in the next few years. So what should a new environment look like? The options, from commercialisation a la Colorado to the most modest decriminlaisation, are many. And then there's medical cannabis and the accommodation with health practice that must be devised there.

These are the things we'll be discussing next Monday evening at – yes – the Auckland Town Hall. Start the Conversation is a public panel discussion featuring:

Professor Max Abbott: CNZM, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Dean and Professor of Psychology and Public Health, Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences, AUT; Past President and Senior Consultant, World Federation for Mental Health

Helen Kelly: Former President of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions and current medical cannabis campaigner.

Dr Warren Young: CNZM, Former Deputy President of the New Zealand Law Commission

Dr Chris Wilkins: Senior Researcher and Leader of the Illegal Drug Research team, SHORE Whariki Massey University.

Dr Huhana Hickey: Research fellow in Taupua Waiora Centre for Māori Health Research at AUT University

Tony Bouchier: President of the Criminal Bar Association.

I'm chairing the discussion, asking questions of the panelists and, later on in the proceedings, marshalling a few questions from the floor.

The event also launches the "Let's Start The Conversation", a national campaign for community discussion and debate around on the impacts of current cannabis laws. 

Like Professor Abbott, I was at the original 1984 debate (but in the cheap seats, rather than on stage).This korero might not be quite the uproar of 1984, but I can promise you it won't be boring. See you there, eh?


Start the Conversation

6.30pm, Monday June 27

Auckland Town Hall concert chamber

The organisers would be much obliged if you were able to RSVP here in advance of attendance.

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