Māori encouraged to be well-informed about cannabis referendum

By Regan Paranihi

The debate over legalising cannabis is likely to be one of the most heated conversations this coming general election year. Earlier this month, the final version of the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill was released by Justice Minister Andrew Little. The Māori public health organisation, Hāpai Te Hauora, are encouraging Māori to be well-informed about the referendum as they will be the most impacted by it.

CEO of Hāpai Te Hauora, Selah Hart, says it is really important that Māori are supported to be informed and to vote in this referendum.

"We already understand that Māori are disproportionately affected by cannabis-related harm, harm in a sense from a health perspective but also very much from a justice perspective."

She says Māori incarceration statistics have revealed the impact the current drug law has had on Māori. 

"More than 50 percent of low-level drug offences are of Māori descent and what that really shows us is that we are being totally affected by how the current law system treats our people."

Many Māori whānau may not have the same opportunities to have their say on this matter due to their lack of information and education.

"I think that it's really important that there is more. So right now, a lot of education and information sharing poured out to our whānau and our community so that they can have the opportunity to make the call for themselves whether they wish to participate or not."

Hart says Māori should be included in the decision-making when it comes to this reform. 

"We also want to ensure that we are at all levels included and given the right to ensure that decisions are made by us, for us and not on behalf of us. If we could see some really dedicated approaches from a kaupapa Māori and equity lense it would be really beneficial for our people."

Hāpai is encouraging whānau to engage with the referendum process, whether in support or against, as whānau need to be involved with making this decision themselves.