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Legalising cannabis is the most effective way of containing damage associated with the drug, University of Otago students have been told.
The argument was raised in a panel discussion yesterday organised by the Otago University Students’ Association that featured former prime minister Helen Clark, New Zealand Drug Foundation chairman Tuari Potiki and university researcher Reremoana Theodore.
"The most potent tool to reduce cannabis harm is by voting yes and legalising it,"
Mr Potiki said.
New Zealand had one of the highest rates of cannabis use in the world but banning the drug had not worked, he said.
Mr Potiki reflected on a childhood memory — he was about 10 when his 18-year-old brother was caught with cannabis.
"He was a gentle soul and went to prison, and we nearly lost him."
Mr Potiki said he had cannabis convictions too, but had now been "off drugs for just over 30 years".
He worked as a drugs and alcohol clinician in prisons and is the University of Otago’s Maori development director.
Asked about whether decriminalisation might be a better approach, Mr Potiki said this allowed the black market to control the drug scene and it put "discretion in the hands of police".
Miss Clark called decriminalisation of cannabis an "unsatisfactory halfway house".
Legalising the drug would bring profits from it into the legal economy, she said.
Dr Theodore said studies showed cannabis had an impact on young adults’ brain development.
People aged under 20 who were caught with the drug would receive a "health-based response" under the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, she said.
Voters will be asked whether they support that Bill in a referendum being held at the same time as this month’s the general election.