Ross Bell: Someone you love might need your YES

Even in these uncertain days, for many of us life is not too bad. That could be a problem. It can be tempting, when we’re asked to consider a new way of doing things to say: “Yeah, nah, pretty happy the way things are actually.”  But as Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell says the way things are with cannabis right now might seem good enough for many people, but it’s far from good for others. 

If you’re on the fence or maybe thinking you’re going to vote no, we really want to invite you to put yourself in other shoes, and picture how things might be in another home or another place where things are not so easy.

Imagine, for example, being the parents of a son or a daughter with cannabis problems.  It may not be your story but there can’t be many of us who don’t know a family that can tell one. For some people, just as it does with alcohol, things can go badly. That’s happening now, it’s already a problem we need to be dealing with.

And here’s the thing about legalisation: ‘Yes’ it will make it easier for adults to use cannabis, but it will also make it easier to stop. If we choose legalisation, the doors will swing open to good timely expert help. People with problems will be able to come forward and get access to far better help.

Imagine, for another example, being the parents of a son or a daughter whose right to work and travel overseas has just been derailed by a conviction. A yes vote takes that off the table.

If we vote yes, we make it possible to protect people who use cannabis. We make it possible to direct them toward safer ways to consume. We make things safer and saner.

Imagine living with the injustice Māori have known for decades: Far more likely than other cannabis users to be stopped, searched, arrested, and handed a conviction that stays with them for the rest of their lives. Legalisation stands to bring an end to that. Under this regime, in place of a conviction they get a health intervention and are kept on a positive track.

You might be hearing that police are changing their enforcement practices for many people, and wondering if that takes care of it, but legalisation creates a far better protection than a promise of good practice.

Imagine the agony of chronic pain for years, imagine the ordeal of pain in terminal illness. Remember Helen Kelly and the hoops she had to jump through, the emotional toll it took on her trying to legally access medicinal cannabis for her pain relief. Imagine having a regime that can properly help you, rather than trying to get doctors to support a treatment they are unlikely to know much about.

We keep hearing medical cannabis is legal. Try telling that to people who have stubborn doctors, or who cannot afford the pharmaceutical product that has approval but no subsidy.  Let’s not deny people relief, let’s give them safe access.

Maybe consider also all those adults who do choose to use cannabis. Think about how much fairer it is to let them have well-regulated access to the nation’s second most popular drug after booze.

And think of the indirect benefits a YES vote may bring to you even if cannabis is not part of your life. The consumption will go on, whatever the outcome of the vote. This way there will be funding for good drug education in your kids’ or grandkids’ schools, access to the health services people may need, and police time freed up enabling them to focus on more important things.

Maybe you’ve been saying “sure I can see things are not great right now, but what if they get worse?” We want to say in the strongest possible terms, many many people have made it their life’s work to find safer and better ways to deal with this. They can assure you that what is being proposed is a safer, better way to go.

This is about justice. This is about fairness. Kiwis deep down are decent minded and caring people. What’s decent and caring here is to say “yes”. It’s the better way to go, for all of us.

  • Ross Bell is the Executive Director of the NZ Drug Foundation.
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