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The Government should consider a "double majority" for its intended referendum on cannabis to give Maori an equal voice on potential law reform regarding a drug which affects them disproportionately, an academic says.
As part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement between Labour and the Greens, a referendum on legalising the personal use of cannabis will be held at or by the 2020 general election.
Maori make up 51% of the prison population and 44% of those have been jailed for drug offences. Studies have found Maori cannabis usage rates are double that of non-Maori.
Given those statistics, the Government should consider sounding out Maori opinion on cannabis law reform by making the planned referendum a double majority referendum, University of Otago law professor Andrew Geddis said.
That would result in two results being declared — one for voters on the general roll and one for voters on the Maori roll. Majorities for both options would be required for it to pass.
"You would be using the votes in the Maori electorates as a proxy for Maori opinion on the issue: whether that is valid is questionable," Prof Geddis said.
"But given the impact of this drug on the Maori community and given that Maori have been very vocal in saying there should be nothing done about us without us, it is going to affect us so heavily we ought to be involved right from the beginning and right through the process of deciding what to do, should that then apply to the final stage when we are voting on what to do as a society?"
One potential issue would be that many Maori voters are enrolled on the general rather than the Maori roll.
And not all Maori are enrolled to vote — although that was an issue which affected all voters, Prof Geddis said.
There was also the question of whether on an issue which touched all in society whether a minority interest — even a strongly affected one — should have an effective veto.
"It is a valid argument: if you are a Pakeha pot smoker who does it recreationally, why should you then continue to be deemed a criminal just because Maori think that is the way the law should be?" Prof Geddis said.
Government-initiated referendums are instigated by an Act of Parliament, which frames the question and how the referendum is conducted — which meant the Government could opt for a double majority referendum if wanted to, he said.
Prof Geddis first raised the double referendum at the recent Law and Society Association of Australia and New Zealand conference in Dunedin.
Drug Foundation chairman Tuari Potiki said it was appropriate for Maori to have a say in cannabis law reform.
He said there was an inherent conservatism in Maoridom about cannabis law reform, but that was slowly changing, as statistics about Maori use of the drug and prosecution rates became more widely known.