One less way for state to put the boot into Ma¯ori
As Stuff has pointed out previously, from 2010 to 2014, Ma¯ ori made up 51 per cent of prison sentences, and 41 per cent of prosecutions and convictions, for weed-related offences. So in a nutshell, Ma¯ ori were more likely to be convicted and go to jail than Pa¯ keha¯ for being caught with weed.
I don’t know what it’s like to go to prison, but I hear it can alter the course of people’s lives. Too many Ma¯ ori have had their lives irrevocably messed up by courts and cops, rather than by the weed they consumed to get there. Eliminating this law would mean one less set of double standards working against Ma¯ ori.
The Police Association is now trying to get to grips with the potential use and abuse of the drug by officers while they are working, if it becomes legal. Frankly, given the force’s application of existing laws on Ma¯ ori, perhaps cops should have been using weed more for the past decades and chilling out a bit.
But I shouldn’t joke. As long as weed has been a joke, it’s been tough to deal with the problems seriously. There are a couple of problems facing the average weed consumer. For some there is the old double standard. Morally speaking, what is harmless fun for the middle class is criminal for the poor (refer back to the disparities for Ma¯ ori).
And then there is the double-standard moral panic over the impacts of drug consumption. This starts with the fact weed was presumably listed as an illegal drug by the usual bunch of clear-headed moralists – you know, the group of randy, chainsmoking boozers otherwise known as our politicians.
I am too square to consume weed (and these days I only drink in a single-beer-at-christmas kind of way). But some of my best friends like the herb. You might know someone who has fallen prey to weed and vanished into stoner limbo. Certainly I have heard stories of people turning into smelly outcasts: forgetting to wash, and refusing to work or do anything presumably useful. But I have never met any of these people myself.
Generally the people I know who use the drug seem to be getting on with what would count as everyday life for the rest of us non-users. They work. They read books, exercise, catch up with friends at the weekend, watch the news. They are more socially responsible, and more meaningfully connected to our society, than I am. They are less defined by their drug of choice than I am by my addiction to coffee. (I was fine until I tried coffee 18 years ago and realised I couldn’t do without it.)
It is absurd that these people are breaking the law. I’m not saying there aren’t health problems – mental and physical – related to pot use. I’m simply saying we must stop making recreational marijuana a criminal issue.
Of course, for Ma¯ ori, making it a health issue doesn’t necessarily improve things. If anything the inequality problems that Ma¯ ori face in the health system are as bad or worse than the ones we face in the criminal system. Let’s face it, trying to deal with all of the inequality at once is enough to drive you to the bong.