The Red and the Green: the Communist Party View On the Cannabis Referendum

The Communist Party supports the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill and encourages a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum. In this editorial, we explain why.

It is less than a month until the general election and the referenda that go with it. On the 17th of October, New Zealanders will be able to vote on the legalisation of cannabis, with the potential of ending our decades-old racist and punitive system of dealing with cannabis users.

Prohibition isn’t working. According to the NZ Drug Foundation, by the age of 21, 80% of Kiwis have tried cannabis. Despite this near universal usage, Māori and other ethnic minorities are incarcerated at disproportionate rates, bloating our prison populations and funding the network of private prisons around Aotearoa. Treatment and rehabilitation, especially for petty offences such as drug possession, prove to be more effective, cheaper, and better for society as a whole than imprisonment. This is evidenced in Portugal, where since 2001 a rehabilitative model and ‘dissuasion commissions’ handle people suffering from drug addiction rather than the police. Since the introduction of these policies, the harm resulting from drug use has significantly declined.

Our Party’s basis for supporting the legalization of cannabis lies not in organisational desire for individual consumption or for a new market for monopoly capital, but for the positive effects legalisation will have on the Māori community who have a three times higher rate of prosecution for cannabis possession than Pākehā, even though Pākehā aged 20-25 are much more likely to use cannabis. 

Legalisation allows for far greater regulation, accountability and openness. Such regulations are present in the proposed bill, which will still be required to go through Parliament even if the referendum passed. It sets out a minimum age of 20 years, and other restrictions such as how cannabis can be grown and advertised. A legalised model allows cannabis to be treated as a public health issue in this way.

If or when the referendum passes, the Communist Party also supports changes to the bill as it travels through Parliament. The legislation should forgive or shorten all sentences for people currently incarcerated for possession of cannabis if it is truly about ‘reducing harm to people and communities’.

The ‘war on drugs’ approach, born in the United States, has a considerable influence in this country. The war on drugs has always been an inherently hypocritical campaign, rife with contradiction. On the one hand, drugs are allowed to spread throughout, and subsequently destroy, the communities of racially and/or nationally oppressed sections of the population – such as Black workers in the US and Māori workers here. This tactic, on full display in Reagan’s crack epidemic, has its roots in colonialism – with opium being infamously used by the British Empire as a means of dominating and exploiting the people of China. On the other hand, the ‘tough on crime’ model further punishes these communities through militarised policing and mass-incarceration. This is part of a larger project for the subjugation of the working class and the dismantling of its organisations, a project which bolsters prisons and modern day slavery in the form of prison labour.

The impact of this referendum will be a step forwards for public good, while the continuation of punitive models, black markets, stigmatisation, and systemic racism have done nothing but harm. Drug addiction should be treated as a health issue, free from stigmatisation, rather than a crime deserving of punishment. It should be regulated and made safe through a legal market. More than this, to win the war that is being waged on working communities, we need to strike at the root of institutionalised racism in this country: the monopolists who created and maintain the New Zealand state that enforces the capitalist system and the oppression of Māori.

The referendum on the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill is one practical reform which will improve the lives of Māori people and the working class as a whole. For this reason the Communist Party supports the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill. We encourage a yes vote on 17 October.

Authorised by J Morgan, 126 Vivian Street, Te Aro, Wellington