New Zealand’s rejection of legalising cannabis is a triumph for fear-mongering | Fiona Hutton

Sadly New Zealand has voted no to legalising cannabis, however it was shut: 48.4% voted in assist of the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill and 50.7% voted towards.

As somebody who campaigned onerous for a sure vote, for a lot wanted reform of our drug legal guidelines, I’m decreased to tears. I’ve been receiving heartbreaking emails from folks thanking me for my work to try to get the proof on the market, to try to stem the tide of fear-mongering and misinformation about cannabis and those that use it.

People are weeping for their communities, households and buddies who’ve been affected by drug legal guidelines over the many years for the reason that Misuse of Drugs Act, 1975 was launched in Zealand, for the misplaced alternative for reform, and most of all for these marginalised and weak communities who will proceed to bear the brunt of our outdated drug legal guidelines which are now not match for function.

The consequence additionally doesn’t assist those that need to dwell with the stigma of drug-related convictions. During a current analysis challenge, I talked to New Zealanders residing with the stigma of drug-related convictions. Consider the one who mentioned: “I was broken for quite a long time [after being convicted of cannabis possession], I was always living with that in the background.”

Or the one who famous that after being convicted it was “just shame, you just carry this terrible shame”. Or the one who mentioned of the stigma of cannabis-related convictions: “I just felt depressed and anxious and stressed out, I didn’t need that sort of negative attention.” Or one other one that mentioned that “the worst thing about having a drug conviction is that if forces you to live on the margins”. We have failed them, we now have voted for a system that continues to marginalise, stigmatise and criminalise them.

After greater than 20 years of working, instructing and researching within the medicine area, the proof is very clear: that criminalising folks for low-level medicine offences is damaging, that prohibition has not stopped the use of cannabis and different medicine. It’s clear that it has not decreased hurt, has not protected younger folks, or these with psychological well being points and addictions, and that is has entrenched stigma in direction of those that use medicine made unlawful in our society. That stigma makes it more durable for individuals who have issues with medicine like cannabis to get assist.

Nowhere was stigma so clear than within the commercials of the no marketing campaign – primarily based on outdated moralised notions of those that use medicine, influenced by rightwing non secular teams from the US. This is one of essentially the most devastating issues concerning the outcomes, that the enjoying area was by no means degree, that completely implausible teachers, neighborhood teams, organisations and campaigners, many working on shoestring budgets, in their very own time, sought to coach, to tell, to flow into proof, to offer folks clear and balanced info, fought to get their voices heard in amongst swirling misinformation and misdirection. The outcomes are a resounding triumph for stigma, fear-mongering and myths and a horrible blow for proof, fairness and hurt discount.

So in case you assume I sound bitter, rattling proper I do! Perhaps it’s true that cannabis and different legal justice associated points ought to by no means be determined in referendum – they’re simply too open to misinformation primarily based on sensationalism, notably in an period of faux information and clickbait headlines.

I’m saddened that the teams who’ve suffered essentially the most from our drug legal guidelines, those that are pushed to the margins of society, will proceed to be criminalised and harmed by our present drug legal guidelines. Māori, who make up round 16% of the inhabitants, however over 50% of the jail inhabitants (about 40% of these in jail for medicine offences) , are thrice extra more likely to undergo authorized issues than Pākehā (European New Zealanders) attributable to their cannabis use.

However, I’m additionally angered on the insufficient and underwhelming governmental response to the consequence. Jacinda Ardern said that there will probably be “no attempt by labour to legalise or decriminalise cannabis in the light of the referendum result,” and I discover this unforgivable – particularly from a authorities that by no means actually backed their very own invoice, and have dropped the concept of reform just like the political hotcake it sadly stays.

As different international locations make leaps and bounds of their drug regulation reforms New Zealand appears certain to the drained and worn path of prohibition.

Although the very fact the ultimate margin of the vote was solely round 2% is vastly constructive, and a step ahead, albeit as small one, in the suitable course. It reveals that New Zealand does have an urge for food for reform.

People narrowly voted no to a particular piece of laws, and other forms of reform shouldn’t be dominated out, particularly by a authorities that helps a well being -elated strategy to medicine. Even those that campaigned for a no vote famous that the present system is not working, so now is the time for the federal government to take a stand, to enact a lot wanted reform, to take a social justice strategy to substance use, and to guide on this necessary difficulty.

This is all of the extra necessary within the midst of a world pandemic, and when there are powerful occasions forward.

The onerous work of the sure campaigners that highlighted key debates round cannabis and drug regulation reform has positioned these points, and extra importantly the proof, firmly within the public area – there is no going again from this, this data won’t go away, and the onerous work begins over to realize some a lot wanted reform to our outdated and dangerous drug legal guidelines.

The harms associated to cannabis (and different drug) use and criminalisation will keep on unabated for generations to come back until we and our governments have the braveness to face them.

Dr Fiona Hutton is an Associate Professor, Institute of Criminology, Victoria University, Wellington.

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