Helen Kelly pushes for an overhaul of cannabis legal status
New research from the NZ Drug Foundation suggests that almost two-thirds of New Zealanders think possessing cannabis should not be a criminal offence.
Polling shows 33 percent believe possessing a cannabis for personal use should be legal, while 31 percent think it ought to be decriminalised. Thirty-four percent want to keep it illegal.
The survey of 1029 people found that while most Kiwis support decriminalisation, 70 percent don't want to see cannabis sold in stores.
NZ Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell told Paul Henry on Monday morning that he's "surprised by the scale of support" for the decriminalisation of cannabis use.
"We've had a sense that the public mood has been shifting. People have seen that changes are happening around the world and it's not too much of a scary thing," he said.
Prime Minister John Key, also speaking to Paul Henry, said he's "not a big fan" of a law change.
"I just don't terribly like the message - and I think that at least at best, for sustained use, the health implications are potentially severe," he said.
"My personal view - it's my long-held view and I don't think I should necessarily change it - has very much been, 'What is the message that Parliament would ultimately be sending those youngsters?'
"We'd be telling the young people of New Zealand that it's okay - and I just don't know if we want to."
Family First NZ have backed that view, saying decriminalising cannabis is "the wrong path" if the country cares about young people and public health.
"The Government should maintain the drug's illegal status," the national director Bob McCoskrie said.
"There is a false dichotomy that criminal sanctions apparently haven't worked so we should ditch them altogether and we should focus only on education and health initiatives - we should maintain both."
However, Mr Key admits that public perception on the issue is changing rapidly, and police are taking a relaxed approach towards people using the drug for medicinal purposes.
"There's no doubt there's been a trend in the United States and other countries for legalisation - and the arguments run around things like [being able to] tax it, not having the underworld basically producing it," he said.
"Police, in fairness, take a fairly generous view there; I'm not saying that they won't prosecute, because clearly in some instances they do - but they're not necessarily overzealous about that fact."
However Mr Bell says while it's true that they don't prosecute people for medicinal cannabis as regularly as other uses, it still happens too frequently.
"The advice to the Government before is that they have a policy of non-prosecution; so you don't have to change the law, you just tell the police, 'Don't go after people who are using cannabis,'" he said.
"It's happening in some cases but we are still seeing, almost on a weekly basis, people who are getting before the courts for growing cannabis for their medical use, so people are still getting convicted for this."
The survey suggested that 82 percent of New Zealanders want to see cannabis used for terminal pain relief either decriminalised or legalised.