Salvation Army suggests decriminalising cannabis, rather than legalising it

The Salvation Army says it does not support the legalisation of cannabis in New Zealand, ahead of the upcoming referendum, but does believe decriminalising casual use would be beneficial.

Cannabis plant. Source: 1 NEWS

Spokesperson Lynette Hudson said "it is extremely unfortunate that the referendum process has been designed in a way that provides little option between the inadequate law that currently exists around cannabis and the legalisation of it."

The organisation said it would support a shift away from punishing casual cannabis use, towards a more compassionate health-based response, but said it would still advocate for "strict legal prohibition" to be enforced on those growing or dealing the drug.

"The Salvation Army believes that New Zealanders do not have enough information to make an informed decision for legalisation at this point.

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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

"It would be unwise to introduce legislation legalising cannabis use before we understand the long-term consequences of this decision.

"The Salvation Army has seen the consequences of liberalising gambling and liquor legislation and the insurmountable difficulty in dialling back the legislation once negative consequences emerge.

"Cannabis is not the benign substance that many people would have us believe - cannabis can have significantly harmful effects related to addiction, mental illness and motivation and we see this in our addiction treatment services."

The organisation said, if the "yes" vote prevailed in the upcoming referendum, measures to tightly restrict the market would be needed.

Should the 'no' vote prevail, the Salvation Army said criminal sanctions should be removed for casual cannabis use.

In both outcomes, more funding would be needed for cannabis addiction treatment, and a clear emphasis should be put on health promotion and education with the aim of reducing use.

The referendum takes place on October 20 on the same day as the General Election.

More information is available at the government website.