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New Zealand’s Cannabis Eradication Operation Is A Complete Waste Of Money

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New Zealand came very close to becoming just the third country to legalize cannabis for adult use, and if it had done so, would have become the first to legalize cannabis via a citizen vote.

Uruguay was the first to legalize cannabis the better part of a decade ago now, and Canada became the second country to legalize cannabis for adult use nearly 4 years ago. Both countries legalized cannabis via legislative action.

In New Zealand, where activists have worked very hard for many years, voters got to weigh in on a cannabis referendum measure back in 2020. Unfortunately, the measure was narrowly defeated by a vote of 51.47% to 48.53%.

As we now know, the failed vote in New Zealand paved the way for a different country, Malta, to eventually become the third country to legalize cannabis for adult use.

So where does cannabis reform stand in New Zealand roughly 1.5 years after the failed cannabis legalization vote? Two top lawmakers in New Zealand recently published a rare dual op-ed (for Stuff).

The op-ed provided a ‘for’ argument in support of cannabis reform by Arena Williams (Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Ngāi Tahu, Ngāi Tūhoe), Labour MP for the Auckland electorate of Manurewa, and an ‘against’ argument in support of continued prohibition by Stuart Smith, National MP for the South Island electorate of Kaikōura.

The first paragraph, copied and pasted below, really summed up how ineffective prohibition is in New Zealand:

Senior police say the annual cannabis eradication operation, costing $700,000, a year, does nothing to reduce the supply or raise the price of marijuana on the street and distracts from targeting gangs, guns and meth.

The ‘core operating budget‘ for New Zealand’s current fiscal year is in the billions, so from that perspective, $700,000 is not a lot. However, it’s still a huge waste of money, as apparently pointed out by ‘senior police.’ So what is the point?

From my perspective, the country’s cannabis eradication program is nothing more than symbolic, presumably meant to serve as something for prohibitionists to point to as ‘proof’ that the country is fighting the unregulated cannabis industry.

How many school books does $700,000 buy? Meals for children? That money could be better spent on virtually any other public need.

In his portion of the op-ed, MP Smith seems to argue that cannabis prohibition should be the law of the land forever, that the public voted, and the result is final. That is unfortunate and does not actually reflect reality.

Yes, voters in New Zealand defeated the measure that was put before them in 2020. However, it’s just one general form of legalization, and with just a few policy tweaks it’s likely that more people would support it.

Prohibition is a failed public policy and is tremendously harmful to society. That is true in New Zealand, and everywhere else that prohibition exists. Rather than cling to prohibition, all lawmakers in New Zealand need to get on the rights side of history and pass reforms that make sense for the country.

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