Kia ora koutou

This month we are kicking off work to develop a short, accessible summary of the evidence base surrounding cannabis. Our expert panel has been charged with pulling together as much information as we can about the impacts of cannabis, and to present it in a way that is easy to understand for voters, ahead of the referendum. This will provide a summary to help New Zealanders who want access to reliable information, endorsed by experts from across disciplines.

In our cannabis project, the panel’s terms of reference sets out the scope of the work. Broadly speaking, the work will cover:

  • the health, social, and criminal justice impacts of cannabis use in the current legal framework in Aoteoaroa New Zealand
  • the evidence for what changes have occurred overseas when access to cannabis is decriminalised or legalised
  • the confidence level around the evidence base, and how applicable is it is to Aotearoa New Zealand

It’s important for New Zealanders to make up their own minds about how to vote, so we won’t be making any recommendations. This is about distilling a broad range of complex research into a useful resource, and of course we’ll be including a full bibliography so that anyone who wants to dig deeper can easily do so.

Aotearoa New Zealand has a collection of amazing researchers in cannabis research, more than could possibly fit around our table. So how did we choose? Firstly, we wanted our panellists to be recognised experts, which means researchers who have published on cannabis and related issues and have deep practical knowledge of its impacts on society. We chose people who are independent of government and industry, and who represent Aotearoa New Zealand’s diversity. Have a look at their biographies here. A huge thank you to all of them for giving their time to this important mahi. We will draw on others in our community to referee the work as we proceed.

The panel is co-chaired by myself and Professor Tracey McIntosh, and we started proceedings on a high this week, with a lively all-day discussion. Most of the panellists are actively engaged in this public debate, and will continue to be so as we work, as individuals.

As someone new to this field, I have entered this project with a genuinely open mind and no fixed view of where I personally will land in the referendum. There is a lot of evidence to digest about the degree of harm that cannabis does, and doesn’t, cause to individuals, whanau and communities, and importantly the differential harm to specific communities. There are stories from overseas to learn from, but none that apply directly to our situation here. One thing that was immediately clear in our first meeting was that the evidence won’t be clear cut, so our most valuable contribution may well be a clear explanation of how confident we are in the data.

We will be uploading information onto the website as we go – so check back for updates.

Ngā mihi

Juliet