While the dream of taking a legal toke is getting closer to reality for advocates of medical marijuana in New Zealand, stoners hoping that recreational use will follow have a long wait on their hands.
Results of a new poll released late last week by market analysts Colmar Brunton show a healthy 47 percent of New Zealanders believe cannabis should be legalized for medical use—a 10 percent bump from the same survey conducted more than a decade ago.
Paired with the constant flow of anecdotal evidence and increasing scientific support, the polls are well-timed to potentially impact the current review of National Drug Policy being spearheaded by Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne.
Medical marijuana has been known to help relieve a wide range of ailments from chronic pain and neurological disorders to nausea and cancer-related atrophy, seeing it gather backers from unlikely corners over the recent years.
But while Dunne is open to more medicinal products being available if they undergo a comprehensive testing regime, he has put his foot down on recreational cannabis bluntly stating he has no intention of legalizing it.
According to the New Zealand-made documentary ‘Druglawed,’ directed by Arik Reiss and released last month, marijuana has a long history of therapeutic use in New Zealand. The film claims that cannabis was first cultivated in New Zealand around the late 19th century by a catholic sister named Suzanne Aubert who used it in brews to treat menstrual cramps and alleviate asthma.
Her work treating the sick in general has put the late Mother Aubert in line for a sainthood, currently being considered by authorities in Rome. However, the the Catholic Church has disputed the claims she used pot in her pharmaceutical toolkit.
Also outlined in the film is the government’s central argument against lifting marijuana prohibition, which stems from three drug-related treaties set in place by the United Nations in the 70s and 80s.
The third treaty was finalized in 1988 and represents an escalation of the war on drugs, which was launched by Richard Nixon in 1972. Ironically, the United States is now being accused of violating the treaties and ultimately breaking its own resolve by having legal cannabis markets in four states. And several others are poised to legalize pot by 2016.
For pro-cannabis activists in New Zealand, the government’s inflexibility is somewhat of a sore point. Organizations like the local arm of NORML are strongly advocating for cannabis regulation with one of the core drivers being the high rate of cannabis convictions issued under the current regime.
To help potheads, a.k.a. a sizable chunk of the New Zealand population, avoid conviction the organization has published an informative blog on how to contest a cannabis charge. In 1999, New Zealand topped the list of arrests, beating out countries like the United States with an incredible average of one arrest every 30 minutes.
If convicted for possession the fine is relatively modest with the maximum penalty being three months imprisonment and/or a $500 fine, but the real damage is in the recorded conviction that can severely limit job and travel prospects. Interestingly, of the people surveyed by Colmar Brunton, 21 percent indicated that possession of a small amount should only incur a fine and no criminal conviction.
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