A legal cannabis dispensary in downtown Vancouver, Canada. (City Cannabis)

Emmaline Pickering-Martin on why she’s voting “Yes” in support of the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill.


Like most people, my views on legalising cannabis have been influenced by my experiences and my position in life.

First and foremost, I’m a mother. I have three children. One is a teenage son who’s the same size as his favourite NRL player Jason Taumalolo from the Cowboys. I also have a 10-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son.

I’m a migrant from Fiji. I live in West Auckland. And I’m a teacher.

I’ve lived in what many would consider poverty — without running water and without power. Such is life in Fiji and also in Aotearoa when you can’t pay the bills.

I’ve been a pregnant high school student, a teenage mum, a solo parent on a benefit, a university graduate, a post graduate student, a health professional, and an education professional, too.

I’ve lived on food grants and had my power and water cut off in an overpriced rental. I’ve been married and gone through a separation, and also been a child who went through my parents’ separation.

All of these experiences, I’m sure, have influenced my political beliefs and the way I vote not only for representation in parliament but also in referendums.

I’ve used cannabis. According to the New Zealand Drug Foundation website, by the age of 21, around 80 percent of the population have tried the drug. But what’s more relevant I think, in this discussion, is that 12 percent of us have used cannabis in the last 12 months.

That means around 590,000 New Zealanders have used an illegal substance in the last year and could all be charged with a criminal offence, whatever their age, gender, ethnicity, employment or background.

It also means that, over the last 12 months, more than half a million people in Aotearoa have bought and used an unregulated substance from a “black market” — where its potency isn’t known and the sellers haven’t had any rules in place to keep themselves or the buyers safe.

Some of those 590,000 people have used cannabis to help with their health. Some will have mental health issues. Some will have been trying cannabis for the first time, for fun, or because they’re grown adults who choose to.

Go to any outdoor concert in New Zealand and you’re guaranteed to smell cannabis. It’s been here forever and it’ll stay forever.

The important question we have to ask ourselves now is whether we want people to continue using cannabis without legalisation, regulation and control. Do we think it’s okay that people are getting criminal convictions for using a drug that’s relatively commonplace?

We know that the convictions disproportionately affect Māori and Pacific people. We also know that we have a police force who have openly admitted that they operate with an unconscious bias at play, and that they’re trying their best to mitigate this.

And although the police now can use their “discretion” in arresting or charging a person who they find with, or using, cannabis — we’ve also seen the statistics which show that the discretion isn’t being used for Māori and Pacific people.

So, is it okay that we allow one part of our society to be criminalised while other parts of society are being let off the same types of charges?

Fortunately, there are intelligent, well-versed lawyers and others within the justice system who’ve written clearly and concisely about the many issues to do with the referendum. Like Khylee Quince here and the Drug Foundation here.

And there’s plenty of evidence overseas to say that moving towards a legalised controlled market can be good.

Some of the important issues are around medicinal use. For instance, the people who can’t access it because it can cost anywhere between $150–$1,200 a month and must be prescribed by a GP. So there are equity issues on top of the major barriers in accessing healthcare that already exist for parts of our society.

Money plays a large part in this. In order to get a GP appointment, you must phone ahead (assuming you have a phone), make arrangements for the kids, travel to the GP whether that’s in a private car (which requires petrol) or public transport (which requires a Hop card or fare), then paying for the GP visit and for the product.

We assume that privileged people are able to do this easily. But the reality for others is that this process isn’t straightforward — and when you have debilitating chronic pain or anxiety and depression, it becomes almost impossible.

So is this okay? Are we happy about having a somewhat elitist system whereby only those with resources can access cannabis for medicinal purposes?

As we try to make up our minds about whether we should be saying yes or no to the proposed legislation, it’s useful to look at other countries. For instance, in Canada, which has relatively new cannabis laws, up to 60 percent of their users now buy from a legal market — and that market funds education and healthcare programmes surrounding cannabis use.

In Aotearoa, the projected tax boost from the legalisation and control of cannabis is $490 million a year. This money would be ring-fenced for health and education. We’d be able to fund health and cannabis-use education programmes.

We already know people are using cannabis, so why not control the economic impact as best we can and use the money to make things better? We’ve done it with smoking cessation, so why can’t we do it with cannabis use?

I’ve had people ask me how I’d feel if my children used cannabis, or how I’d explain the proposed bill to them — and this is my response.

I have good relationships with my children. We discuss pretty much everything that’s appropriate. I’m sure that, at some stage of their lives, they’ll be in a situation where cannabis will be offered to them. If they choose to use cannabis, that’s their choice, but I know as a mother I’ll have done my very best to educate them.

My children and I have had people in our lives who’ve been convicted on cannabis-related charges. We’ve seen how these convictions have changed their lives. My children are very aware of the possible consequences when it comes to drug use, and, to be completely honest, my role as their mother is to ensure that they are respectful, kind, informed, and confident young people.

I’m voting “Yes” in support of the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill because we need meaningful change in an area that has, for far too long, marginalised our young Māori and Pacific people.


Emmaline Pickering-Martin was born in Suva and raised between Ba and Nadi in Fiji. She migrated to join her whānau in Aotearoa in the late ‘90s, and has three children who share Fijian, Māori, Sāmoan and Tuvaluan whakapapa. Emmaline is a teacher who has taught in primary and intermediate schools across Tāmaki Makaurau. She is currently finishing her master’s degree while tutoring and guest lecturing in Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland.

© E-Tangata, 2020

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