Organisations who want cannabis legalised band together at conference

Benedict Collins
Source: 1News

"We're here to campaign for a yes vote."

The Ruatoria company has just become the first business in New Zealand granted a licence to cultivate the plants.

That was the simple message at the conference held today by organisations who want to see cannabis legalised in the upcoming referendum.

The Government has said there will be a referendum on the matter no later than the 2020 General Election.

Cannabis Referendum Coalition board member Chris Fowlie described the organisation as a "broad church" when talking to 1News at the conference in Wellington today.

"While we don't know for sure exactly what the question will be, or when it will be, or whether it will be binding - we're here to campaign for a yes vote either way," Mr Fowlie said.

"We want to get consensus among all the people that do support the referendum so we're all on the same page and we're not working at cross purposes....we also want to give the Government some confidence in us as a campaign group - that we're capable of running a good campaign."

He says coalition will be a "grass roots campaign by the people, for the people to make sure that those who are most effected by the law change have some input into it".

"What we're really trying to get across is that while yes, there is some uncertainty around what might happen around legalisation we know for a fact that the current law does not work and it makes absolutely no sense to persist with that, while we wring our hands worrying what might happen under legalisation."

That was echoed by the former policeman and current Labour MP for Ohariu Greg O'Connor who told the conference it was his personal view, not necessarily the Labour Party's.

"You get to a stage with cannabis and any drug, where it's illegality does more harm that the potential harm of the drug...that's where I've arrived."

Mr O'Connor said it was when he worked as an undercover police officer that he began to realise that the law had little impact on people's use of drugs.

"The fact it was illegal, the fact it was against the law...didn't actually make a great deal of difference to a lot of people's lives.

People did get busted, but it was almost an aside."

But he said the best reason for legalising cannabis is the synthetic cannabis crisis in which dozens have died.

"There is an alternative."

The Green Party's spokesperson for drug reform Chloe Swarbrick told the conference marijuana must be a lot better regulated than alcohol.

"Alcohol is one of the most harmful drugs on the planet and we do not regulate it accordingly and I think that's got a lot to do with the lobbying powers and commercial interests that are within that space."

"And that's actually to be perfectly honest and frank with you, is what I'm concerned about when it comes to cannabis.

I understand that there are people here who are interested in starting up companies and otherwise and I think that entrepreneurship absolutely has to be encouraged and has to be part of what we're looking at...but I do not want to see an eventual cannabis market be captured solely by commercial interests.

Particularly international commercial interests."

Cannabis Referendum Coalition coordinator Sandra Murray says they have a short term goal - "to get out there and get the Yes vote."

"We will coordinate all the different groups that want to campaign for a yes vote, help them with resourcing - put them in touch with each other, help them network and share information."

The recent 1News Colmar Brunton poll showed 46 percent of the public would vote to legalise marijuana, while 41 percent would say no - with the remainder uncertain.

Sandra Murray expects that will change.

"The public haven't had any information yet - they know there's going to be a referendum but no one's really being putting out information about what that would mean - what a change would be."

Once the education campaigns begin she's predicting many people will vote to legalise cannabis.

"Yes, we're definitely expecting to get a win for the yes vote - I'm personally aiming for about 80 percent."