New Zealand Leader Backs Marijuana Decrim, Ignites Debate


Sarah Ivey/NZ Herald
Marijuana opponent David Parker wasted no time in putting up a sign across his billboards: “Vote Banks – Get Both Dopes!”

​Party leader Dr. Don Brash of New Zealand’s ACT political party on Sunday suggested that marijuana should be decriminalized, igniting a lively political debate which has split his own party and sent shockwaves through the Kiwi political scene.

The cannabis debate was still smoldering in New Zealand’s Parliament on Tuesday after Dr. Brash’s suggestion that marijuana, a Class C drug in the island nation, should no longer be illegal, because it’s tying up police resources, reports 3 News.

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Don Brash: “The ACT Party stands for the maximum possible personal freedom”

​”The ACT Party stands for the maximum possible personal freedom,” Brash told the press when he announced his support for cannabis decriminalization.
Brash’s brash comments split his party, with fellow ACT Party candidate and former police minister John Banks — well-known for his “strong views” on drugs and alcohol — saying there’s no way he’d back such a policy.
“So what? So many of our vulnerable young people are at sea with alcohol and drugs and often both,” Banks claimed. “They need life-rafts, not concrete boots.
“Just because it’s the view of the leader doesn’t mean it has a paradigm effect on my free thinking around drugs,” Banks said with more than a little irony.
“I’m telling you, the decriminalization of marijuana is not going to happen,” Banks said. “It’s his personal view, not a party view. It’s not [party]policy, and it won’t be.

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John Banks: “Anyone that smokes marijuana and thinks that they’re clever, is stupid”

​”I say no to drugs,” Banks self-righteously told the press. “I’ve always said no to drugs.”
“We need a public conversation around all of this,” Banks said. “What we don’t need — and I respect other people’s views, including the leader of the ACT Party — is to send out a message that we’re going to go soft on marijuana.”
As hardline as that is, it’s not quite as bad as a statement Banks made this year to a gathering of marijuana legalization activists.
“Anyone that smokes marijuana and thinks that they’re clever, is stupid,” Banks told them.
Brash noted his fellow Act Party member’s opposition to decrim, but sounded a conciliatory note with Banks.
“We are close friends and I accept his judgment,” Brash said. “We don’t agree on this particular issue. We agree on virtually everything else.”
Meanwhile, David Parker, Banks’ opponent for the Epsom seat in Parliament, wasted no time in putting up a sign across his billboards: “Vote Banks – Get Both Dopes!”
“This is a circus,” Parker said. “Mr Banks is anti-abortion, anti-gay and now he’s tied up with someone who is pro-decriminalization of marijuana.”
But amidst the ensuing lively debate, some people commented that this is the first time they have ever agreed with anything Brash has said, reports MSN NZ.
New Zealanders are reportedly among the heaviest marijuana smokers in the world, using about three times as much per capita as in the Netherlands, according to Jeremy Muir of the Gisborne Herald.
Half of all adult New Zealanders have tried cannabis, and 400,000 of them admit to currently using it, according to NORML NZ.
Both of New Zealand’s major political parties rushed to pour scorn on Brash’s suggestion, and Labour leader Phil Goff said even though he’s tried pot, his MPs wouldn’t be getting a conscience vote if the issue comes up in Parliament.
Goff claimed that Brash has gotten himself into “an impossible situation” by advocating the decriminalization of cannabis.
“There is now a very clear split between himself and the candidate on whose coat tails he hopes to come into Parliament,” Goff said. “I don’t think the ACT Party’s position is sustainable in any way.”
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key also rushed to say he is not interested in liberalizing marijuana laws.
“I don’t actually accept the argument that the bulk of police resources are being deployed to someone who smokes a joint on Saturday night,” Key said. 
The prime minister claimed he’d never been interested in smoking cannabis, even as a university student, and said there’s “zero chance” of it happening now.
Goff was less definitive in his statements.
“I’ve made the comment that I’ve never been a smoker — tobacco or otherwise — but I was a student in the 70s,” Goff said. “I’m not going beyond that comment.”