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Māori more supportive of cannabis 'yes' vote than general public, new poll shows

A 1 NEWS-Colmar Brunton poll has found more Māori are in support of ticking the 'yes' box at the upcoming cannabis referendum than the general public.

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A new 1 NEWS-Colmar Brunton poll shows the issue is still highly divisive. Source: 1 NEWS

Voters are weighing up a new law that sets out how people can produce, supply and consume the drug, but it's an issue that's still highly divisive.

"I have some questions... we have to be real about the impact," social worker Ngahau Davis says. 

A recent 1 NEWS-Colmar Brunton poll found 56 per cent of Māori say they'll vote for cannabis reform at the election.

Davis says legalisation will hit places like Moerewa, in the Far North.

"When it's in communities like mine where you have limited opportunity, high unemployment, high social deprivation... and the only thing that makes you feel good, taking a trip without leaving the farm, is dak," he says.

"The evidence shows the younger you use marijuana, the more effect it has on brain development.

"It's the first thing people wake up in the morning that makes them feel good and it's the last thing they take before they go to bed. And it's not about use, it's about the chronic abuse of it."

The issue has divided Māori, but there's broad agreement about who's most affected. 

It's an issue that hits young Māori unevenly.

Researchers say they're three times more likely than non-Māori to be arrested and convicted on cannabis charges, even allowing for similar use rates of the drug.

"If you're young, male and Māori, then you're squarely in the category of people who are going to be arrested, charged and convicted," AUT Centre for Indingenous Rights and Law's Khylee Quince says.

She says the lifelong consequences don't match the level of offending.

"Currently we have a position where it's not lawful but everybody uses it... and people respond to it in quite fearful and quite ignorant ways."

Otago University's Reremoana Theodore says she thinks there are a number of positive suggestions in the proposed bill.

"Those are things like age restrictions, so that a young person under the age of 20 is not able to purchase or use cannabis, but if they are caught using cannabis they will receive a fine or a health response but they won't be convicted," she says.

A recent study suggests cannabis use is dropping among young people, but there's concern about what legalisation will do to those rates.

"I'm a social worker... If this is where we're going to open up, is it a Pandora's box? Why would we do that?" Davis says.

Quince says the debate is "pretty much on a knife edge".

Both sides are bracing for the result come October 17.