"We're here to campaign for a yes vote."
That was the simple message at the conference held today by organisations who want to see cannabis legalised in the upcoming referendum.
The Government has said there will be a referendum on the matter no later than the 2020 General Election.
Cannabis Referendum Coalition board member Chris Fowlie described the organisation as a "broad church" when talking to 1News at the conference in Wellington today.
"While we don't know for sure exactly what the question will be, or when it will be, or whether it will be binding - we're here to campaign for a yes vote either way," Mr Fowlie said.
"We want to get consensus among all the people that do support the referendum so we're all on the same page and we're not working at cross purposes....we also want to give the Government some confidence in us as a campaign group - that we're capable of running a good campaign."
He says coalition will be a "grass roots campaign by the people, for the people to make sure that those who are most effected by the law change have some input into it".
"What we're really trying to get across is that while yes, there is some uncertainty around what might happen around legalisation we know for a fact that the current law does not work and it makes absolutely no sense to persist with that, while we wring our hands worrying what might happen under legalisation."
That was echoed by the former policeman and current Labour MP for Ohariu Greg O'Connor who told the conference it was his personal view, not necessarily the Labour Party's.
"You get to a stage with cannabis and any drug, where it's illegality does more harm that the potential harm of the drug...that's where I've arrived."
Mr O'Connor said it was when he worked as an undercover police officer that he began to realise that the law had little impact on people's use of drugs.
"The fact it was illegal, the fact it was against the law...didn't actually make a great deal of difference to a lot of people's lives.
People did get busted, but it was almost an aside."
But he said the best reason for legalising cannabis is the synthetic cannabis crisis in which dozens have died.
"There is an alternative."
The Green Party's spokesperson for drug reform Chloe Swarbrick told the conference marijuana must be a lot better regulated than alcohol.
"Alcohol is one of the most harmful drugs on the planet and we do not regulate it accordingly and I think that's got a lot to do with the lobbying powers and commercial interests that are within that space."
"And that's actually to be perfectly honest and frank with you, is what I'm concerned about when it comes to cannabis.
I understand that there are people here who are interested in starting up companies and otherwise and I think that entrepreneurship absolutely has to be encouraged and has to be part of what we're looking at...but I do not want to see an eventual cannabis market be captured solely by commercial interests.
Particularly international commercial interests."
Cannabis Referendum Coalition coordinator Sandra Murray says they have a short term goal - "to get out there and get the Yes vote."
"We will coordinate all the different groups that want to campaign for a yes vote, help them with resourcing - put them in touch with each other, help them network and share information."
The recent 1News Colmar Brunton poll showed 46 percent of the public would vote to legalise cannabis, while 41 percent would say no - with the remainder uncertain.
Sandra Murray expects that will change.
"The public haven't had any information yet - they know there's going to be a referendum but no one's really being putting out information about what that would mean - what a change would be."
Once the education campaigns begin she's predicting many people will vote to legalise cannabis.
"Yes, we're definitely expecting to get a win for the yes vote - I'm personally aiming for about 80 percent."
Regional economies are the biggest winners of rule changes that allow hemp seed to be treated as just another edible seed, Food Safety Minister Damien O’Connor
“This is great news for the local hemp industry, which has argued for decades that the production of hemp seed foods will stimulate regional economies, create jobs and generate $10-20 million of export revenue within 3 to 5 years,” Damien O’Connor said.
“Diversification is key to the health of a regional economy and the Government is committed to work with our primary sectors to get more value from what they do.
“Hemp is currently grown under permit and is used for fibre and hemp seed oil.
“Hulled, non-viable seeds and their products will be now be viewed as just another edible seed. Growing, possession and trade of whole seeds will still require a licence from the Ministry of Health.
“Hemp seeds are safe to eat, nutritious and do not have a psychoactive effect.
“The Misuse of Drugs (Industrial Hemp) Regulations 2006 and the Food Regulations 2015 will be amended to allow the sale of hemp seed as food. Hemp flowers and leaves will not be permitted.
“We will continue to ease pathways for our farmers and growers to produce the finest food and fibre for the world’s most discerning customers,” Damien O’Connor said.
Regulatory changes come into force today 12 November.
The New Zealand Government recently announced it intends to conduct a national referendum on cannabis law reform by 2020. The Government is also currently in the process of developing a regulatory regime to improve access to medicinal cannabis. But what do Kiwis want?
The latest research bulletin from Massey University’s SHORE & Whāriki Research Centre outlines data relating to a range of policy options for cannabis law reform in New Zealand. The anonymous online survey, which was part of the New Zealand Drug Trends Survey, was promoted via a targeted Facebook campaign between November 2017 and February 2018. More than 6,300 people competed the survey, with respondents given a list of 10 policy options, including the option to retain the current approach.
Associate Professor Chris Wilkins, who led the study, says 41 per cent of survey respondents who answered the question on cannabis policy indicated a preference for the regulation of medicinal cannabis using a doctor or pharmacy provision.
“This was by far the most popular option. Following that preference, 14 per cent supported prohibition with ministerial exemption – the current approach – and a further 14 per cent supported home production with no selling. One in ten respondents supported a profit-driven medicinal cannabis market with only light restrictions, similar to alcohol,” he says.
For recreational cannabis use, three quite different approaches received significant levels of support. “Twenty-seven percent supported home production with no selling, 21 per cent supported a profit driven market with light regulatory restrictions, like alcohol, and 19 per cent supported continuing with the current prohibition.”
Dr Wilkins says it is important that the public referendum presents the full range of reform options available, including the home production, not-for-profit and heavily regulated market options, rather than just a binary choice between prohibition and a commercial market.
“Our research shows that four quite different policy options for the regulation of recreational cannabis in New Zealand attract significant support. Interestingly, more than one third [36 per cent] of the survey respondents did not yet have a policy preference for the regulation of cannabis, suggesting that additional information and public debate on different policy options for cannabis law reform is needed,” he says.
“Some business leaders and members of the farming industry have welcomed the prospect of cannabis law reform as a significant new commercial opportunity. Some Māori groups have also called for a legal medicinal cannabis sector as a means to boost regional economic development and employment, including the Hikurangi Cannabis Group.
“However, concerns have been raised about the profit-driven legal cannabis regimes established in the United States, including declining cannabis prices, increasing use of high-potency extracts, accidental poisonings from cannabis edibles, use of unregulated pesticides, aggressive marketing of new cannabis products and cannabis industry influence on regulation,” Dr Wilkins says.
“Drug policy experts have pointed out a range of reform options available for cannabis, including not-for-profit regimes with a focus on returning sales income to the community. However, the full range of reform options are rarely presented to the public and this narrows both the public and political debate, and ultimately the types of regimes which are considered.”
This research bulletin was co-authored by Dr Wilkins, with Jitesh Prasad, Dr Marta Rychert, Dr Jose Romeo and Thomas Graydon-Guy from the SHORE & Whāriki Research Centre. The researchers would like to acknowledge the support of the Community Action on Youth and Drugs (CAYAD) programme, with special thanks to Te Runanga O Ngai Te Rangi Iwi Trust.
A "community cannabis licensing trust" could be a viable model for selling cannabis if its use was legalised, a researcher believes.
Massey University is conducting the research, which looks at how alcohol licensing trusts work and whether their use could translate to a different substance.
Lead researcher Marta Rychert said a community cannabis trust would follow in the footsteps of alcohol licensing trusts that were seen in West Auckland and Invercargill.
Rychert said communities could decide in a local vote if they wanted a trust to be responsible for meeting the demand for cannabis in their district.
Off-license cannabis dispensaries would be operated by the trust, with all revenue from the sale of cannabis to be spent for the benefit of the community, she said.
Communities would then elect board members to serve on the trust and ensure it met its statutory obligations.
"We have this natural experiment with alcohol trusts, so it's good to learn from that before we think how this could be applied to cannabis," Rychert said.
The model could be applied to avoid a profit-driven cannabis market, she said.
Establishing requirements to distribute profits back to the community could suppress the commercial incentive by removing financial obligations to shareholders and private owners.
"There are problems with the commercial-driven market so that's why we are looking for alternatives for New Zealand."
In the United States, profit-driven markets had increased drug use through lower prices and higher potency products, she said.
A referendum on legalising marijuana was part of the confidence and supply agreement between Labour and the Greens. However, no date is yet set for a referendum.
Rychert it was important that New Zealanders had an understanding of different options for cannabis legalisation before they voted.
It was "critical" people knew what they were deciding on the day of the referendum as it would have huge implications for how access would be regulated, she said.
NORML president Chris Fowlie said using the community trusts model for cannabis would be a great idea. "The distribution is really where you influence whether something is done in a responsible way and this also raises money for the community."
Researching an existing model was helpful, as people knew what the trusts were and could understand how they could work for the cannabis market, he said.
"It's really important the referendum is based on facts and evidence and we need those studies to be available or just a part of the conversation."
Research for the study was underway and Rychert was looking for people to complete a survey looking at how satisfied they are with the alcohol trusts model.
Simon Bridges says National would be an ally in Donald Trump's War on Drugs.
At least 124 countries have signed on to the President's 'Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem', which Mr Trump is promoting at the UN this week, but New Zealand has said no.
The Opposition leader says he can't understand why Jacinda Ardern won't back the new drug war, calling it puzzling.
"Very strange. I really can't work out why the Coalition Government wouldn't sign up to this," he told RadioLIVE.
"It's American, yes, but it's very much under the auspices of the United Nations."
Mr Trump would require countries to develop national plans to cut demand for illegal drugs, stop supply at their borders and increase international cooperation. The policy has a special emphasis on synthetic drugs.
US media reports some of the 124 countries which have signed up have done so to avoid antagonising Mr Trump. But Ms Ardern says New Zealand won't be one of them, and a health approach is needed.
"No it's not our intention to and there are a number of other countries who haven't either," she says.
"We have an agenda that is focused on addressing issues around drug use. We have a number of challenges that are quite specific to New Zealand and the type of drugs that are present, but also I'm taking a health approach.
"We want to do what works, so we are using a strong evidence-base to do that."
But Mr Bridges says it should be a joint approach.
"Literally our best friends have, from the US and Canada to Britain, and to Australia, and more than that I think what we recognise it this is something with obviously serious impact," he says.
Ms Ardern has previously said the war against methamphetamine has failed, with the drugs now more accessible in New Zealand than cannabis.
"If we want to get to the issue, we actually have to look at what drives people's drug use in the first place," Ms Ardern told The AM Show in March.
"It's one thing to look at supply - dealing with people who are using solely through the criminal justice system hasn't worked. We do need to make sure we have proper services."
University of Otago proctor Dave Scott acknowledged this afternoon he was wrong to enter a flat while no-one was home and confiscate bongs.
In a press conference this afternoon, Scott said with the "benefit of hindsight" he was wrong to enter the flat and he would not make the same mistake again.
"I'm a human and I have made an error of judgement on this occasion [and] I've apologised to the flat in question this afternoon for what I did."
"I have made a mistake here and I am willing to learn from it."
He said he had the best interests of students at heart and was trying to deal with the situation without involving police.
Asked if he broke the law, he said he was not above scrutiny and acknowledged he was wrong
"Does that make me a criminal? I don't believe so.
"This was a situation that could have been dealt with differently."
Scott entering Dunedin student flats to take bongs used to smoke cannabis is an "abuse of power", "out of line" and "unacceptable", according to a tenant of one of the flats affected.
Scott, a former police officer, entered student flats in Dunedin and took bongs in what Otago University Students' Association (OUSA) labelled "outrageous" behaviour.
A bong is a water pipe that is commonly used to smoke cannabis or tobacco by filtering burning plant material through water before being inhaled.
The University of Otago is standing behind Scott, despite acknowledging neither he nor the university can claim a right to search private premises.
One of the students who had their bongs confiscated spoke to the Herald anonymously.
The proctor had come around to tell the tenants to clear up a mess outside of their flat and saw the front and back doors were open, the tenant said.
"He closed the one in the front, then walked around back to close the other one. Then he saw the bongs on the table through the glass sliding door."
"He had a meeting with one of our flatmates because we were in trouble for something else, and he be banged the bongs down on his desk and asked, "what is this?""
He took the bongs but told them he wouldn't take it any further.
"No one was home - he just waltzed in and took them. It's pretty out of line. Pretty unacceptable. Like imagine if your work boss did that. Some members of the flat aren't even students at the university."
Members of the flat were more upset about the proctors abuse of power rather than losing the bongs.
"We know what we used them for wasn't right, but two wrongs don't make a right."
The flat members plan to attend a protest of the proctors actions late this week.
Scott's actions have been met with outrage from students, with OUSA recreation officer Josh Smythe launching a petition demanding Scott resign as well as a official condemnation of his methods from the university.
"We feel that he has abused his position of power within our community as the disciplinary representative of the university.
"Imagine never really feeling relaxed in your lounge ever again, wondering if the proctor was about to walk in."
Scott, speaking about the initial incident, judged the occupants of the flat would rather deal with him informally than have the police search the flat so he decided to enter the flat and take the items.
The flatmates were told of what happened and the matter was resolved in a way the university was confident was to their advantage.
The bongs, which the flatmates acknowledged had been used for consuming illegal drugs were destroyed.
Abe Gray, cannabis activist and owner of the Whakamana Cannabis Museum, told the Otago Daily Times he understood correct police procedure would be to send the bongs for forensic testing and establish they had been used for cannabis before prosecuting their owners.
Comment has been sought from police.
The Whakamana Cannabis Museum has offered to sponsor brand new water pipes for the flat.