The NZ Drug Foundation presented recommendations in Parliament last week, advising retailers and other players in a potentially legal cannabis market on how to protect young people.
The recommendations include restricting the purchase of cannabis products and entry to cannabis retail stores to those aged 20 and older and prohibiting the advertisement of products that might appeal to younger people, such as confectionery.
They also include setting maximum potency levels and developing child-proof packaging and health warnings, as well as stating portion sizes on products, so young people who consume cannabis despite the law would still know how much is too much.
“New Zealanders deserve better public health safeguards around cannabis than currently exist,” said Ross Bell, the NZ Drug Foundation’s executive director.
“When we leave distribution of cannabis to the black market we’re leaving young people and our vulnerable citizens to fend for themselves.”
Bell said the best way to protect young people and reduce the risk of health harms from cannabis is to take control.
“This is what legally regulated cannabis can achieve, and that’s why we’re backing a ‘yes’ vote at next year’s referendum,” he said.
At the general election in 2020, NZ will get to vote on whether cannabis should be legalised and regulated. The people will vote on whether a draft Bill to regulate cannabis should go through Parliament and become law, or not.
Bell said right now there is zero control over the cannabis market and legalising its sale will ensure people are protected.
The NZ Drug Foundation’s new report, “Taking control of cannabis: A model for responsible regulation,” outlines the steps that can be taken to ensure young people are protected, Bell said.
After consultation with Māori working in social justice, public health and academia, the Drug Foundation is pushing for whānau, hapū and iwi Māori to be engaged at each point in the development of the regulations in a process of co-design. A kaupapa Māori agency with a broad mandate should be established to lead this on behalf of Māori.
“There is a treaty obligation on the government to involve Māori in the formulation of rules around which cannabis will be legalised,” Bell said. “In the last 40 years it is Māori who have borne the brunt of bad drug law. This should be acknowledged, and we must find practical ways of redressing this.”