Rainbow community and the cannabis referendum

On 17th October we will vote not just for who our government is to be but on two other key issues: cannabis legalisation and end of life choice. Whilst the later is according to the latest polls likely to be “Yes”, when it comes to the cannabis referendum, things are a little less clear with some polls indicating a close result and one suggesting support for “Yes” to be dropping.

As a rainbow community the referendum has parallels to our own community experiences and is important for a number of reasons. 

Wind the clock back to the mid 1980’s and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Homosexual Law Reform was achieved in 1986, the push for reform came from a human and civil rights perspective including from health organisations. In the fight against HIV, the criminalisation of homosexuality was recognised as a barrier to public health. On the back of fears and concerns about the pending HIV crisis, sex work was also legalised, and New Zealand became the first country in the world to introduce a national state sponsored needle exchange. 

Despite these significant social reforms during the late 80’s, the laws relating to drugs and drug use to this day continue to be predominantly controlled through the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. The criminalisation of drugs and drug use has fuelled the stigma and discrimination towards people who use drugs. As a rainbow community we understand the impact this has.

The cannabis referendum is an opportunity to move towards a health-based approach to drugs. The ongoing criminalisation has had a disproportionate impact, most notably in our Māori communities including takatāpui. 41% of those charged for minor drug offences are Māori, and 50% of people imprisoned for those same offences are Māori1. It has also impacted on our rainbow community where higher levels of drugs use, drug use problems and mental health issues are reported than in the wider community as a whole. As a community we tend to be socially liberal, and if you’re not yet convinced of the arguments for why cannabis should be treated as a health issue check out https://www.onourterms.org.nz or the Chief Science Advisor’s report https://www.pmcsa.ac.nz/topics/cannabis/

With the polls indicating a very close call, this one could go either way and every vote will count. Here’s four reasons why as a rainbow community we should think about voting “Yes” in this referendum:

  1. With the higher use of drugs and alcohol in our community, this is a rainbow issue and it is an issue of human rights;
  2. Legalisation will address stigma and discrimination, we know and have experienced the burden that this places on individuals and communities, as well as the barriers it creates;
  3. Whilst we have achieved equality in many areas of our lives today, the higher use of alcohol and drugs in our community means that our current laws are having a disproportionate impact on us as a community as a whole and particularly on our takatāpui
  4. Medicinal cannabis is legal, yet it is not widely or easily available and cost is prohibitive for many. A legalised market will increase accessibility and remove barriers for those that wish to use cannabis including members of our community who are HIV positive.

  1. https://www.healthnothandcuffs.nz/why_is_this_an_issue_for_maori
Kathryn Leafe

Kathryn Leafe

A strong advocate of user-led approaches, Kathryn has fronted several peer-based services including New Zealand’s Needle Exchange Programme and has advocated at a national and international level for rainbow inclusive services. She is currently on the Board of Directors of the International Drug Policy Consortium, a global network of drug policy reform NGO’s based in London, and has previously served on the Board of the New Zealand AIDS Foundation.

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