In 2020, New Zealanders will have the chance to make a historic decision about whether or not to change the way we regulate personal cannabis use. If we miss this opportunity, the chance may pass for a generation.

Cannabis use is a reality in New Zealand, and the results of our current policy approach damage our health, worsen social equity, and drive crime. On 4 September the Helen Clark Foundation will release a paper that argues that the status quo is unacceptable, and seeks to ask how we can we do better? Our answer is that we should move to a health-based approach with robust regulation, effective public health education, and adequate service provision.

Our key criteria for any policy are: what will best improve health and equity while reducing harm?

Evidence suggests that up to eighty per cent of New Zealanders will use cannabis at least once before turning 25, making cannabis the most commonly used illicit drug in New Zealand. Yet cannabis remains an illegal drug, and prosecutions continue for those unlucky enough to get caught.

The current approach to cannabis inflicts excessive punishment on those who face prosecution who, in turn, are disproportionately Māori. Māori aged 17 to 25 account for 37 per cent of all convictions for drug possession.

The legal prohibition on cannabis also drives people towards more potent and riskier substances.

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