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Q+A debate: Should cannabis be legalised?

New Zealanders are set to vote in the upcoming referendum on whether or not they support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill.

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MPs Chlöe Swarbrick and Nick Smith appeared alongside NZMA's Dr Kate Baddock and Associate Professor Kylee Quince. Source: Q+A

TVNZ1's Q+A brought MPs Chlöe Swarbrick and Nick Smith together, alongside the New Zealand Medical Association's Dr Kate Baddock and criminal law associate professor Khylee Quince to debate the legalisation of cannabis. 

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It comes as the country heads to a referendum on whether to legalise the drug or not. Source: Q+A

Swarbrick said it was a question of what kind of "legal, social, economic, criminal response do we want to have to a substance". 

"We all fundamentally agree cannabis causes harm, the question then becomes, how do we respond to that harm?"

"All of that harm has happened under the criminal status quo."

She said to legalise cannabis was "recognising the reality... cannabis exists". 

Smith disagreed, saying legalising cannabis would not make New Zealand "a happier, a safer, a healthier country or a more successful country" and that it would exacerbate problems around mental health. 

"Happiness doesn’t come in a bong or a bottle."

He said corporations would profit off communities most at risk if New Zealand was to legalise cannabis. 

When asked by host Jack Tame about who currently profits, Smith answered, "gangs and we need to go after them".

He said the claim the criminal/gang element would disappear with legalisation was “not correct”. 

Dr Baddock of the NZMA sad legalising a drug that causes harm would not help.

"The more you ingest, the more the harm risk.

"It does have an effect on driving, it does slow your ability to concentrate, it does slow your psycho-motor effects, so you don’t respond as quickly in emergencies."

She said New Zealand would see 15- and 16-year-olds using cannabis, with the younger a person starting, the higher the risk of issues. 

Quince said Māori were overrepresented in the health, justice, social, cultural and economic harms of cannabis. 

"It’s about harm reduction – it’s not about a binary issue of is cannabis good for you? Because its medical and scientific status will not change with legalisation, but what will change is the way in which we respond to those justice outcomes."

She called the suggestion by Dr Baddock that cannabis should be decriminalised an "uncomfortable halfway house from a legal perspective".

"Police officers should not be making the law."

If a majority aren’t in favour of the bill and vote no in the referendum, recreational cannabis remains illegal.

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1 NEWS online’s political reporter Anna Whyte explains what the proposed law means and what both sides of the issue are saying. Source: 1 NEWS

But even if most people vote yes, cannabis doesn’t automatically become legal.

The next Government can introduce a proposed law to Parliament after the election and from there the public can share their thoughts and ideas on legalising cannabis.

Figures from TVNZ's Vote Compass showed 50 per cent of respondents were in favour of legalising cannabis, 39 per cent were against and 10 per cent of people were neutral.