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Reeferendum Bill Shows Continued Arrogance of Government’s One-Size-Fits-All Approach

Most of the Government’s proposed model for a legalised cannabis market seems pretty sensible, even though there are a few details that still need filling in. 

However, there was one big missed opportunity: the option for local communities to have a greater say. This is a continuation of successive governments’ one-size-fits-all approach, and amounts to an arrogant dismissal of localism and rangatiratanga. 

Local Choice

For some people, a major concern about legalising cannabis is the spectre of having a “tinnie house” nearby. Of course, this concern is probably overblown. Retail outlets in a carefully regulated legal market would be quite different to those in a criminalised market. Nonetheless, this could be a major factor in keeping some people from voting for a legal market. 

If some areas don’t want retail outlets in a legalised cannabis market, why not let them have the choice? Online sales could be allowed so that people in remote areas or places without retail outlets would still have access. Meanwhile, some areas would no doubt embrace outlets, e.g. Wellington may integrate cannabis into its already-strong café culture. 

Even better, the proceeds of local sales could be reinvested locally, as under the alcohol licensing trust model. This would mean that local communities that choose to have retail outlets would see direct benefits from the revenue.  

One Size Fits All

Of course, this approach doesn’t fit the game plan of successive governments. Our central government politicians – whether red or blue – prefer to keep the power to themselves. New Zealand is already the most centralised country in the world in terms of who holds the purse strings and makes decisions. And why would our central government politicians want to change that? They quite like having all the power.  

Instead of giving local areas the power to make some decisions, the Government is instead proposing a Cannabis Regulatory Authority to completely oversee the market. This authority would presumably be appointed by ministers. The money raised by the cannabis levy would presumably also be spent by ministers. And ultimately, ministers would take the credit. 

This is a massive missed opportunity, similar to what has happened with alcohol. The last round of regulatory reforms discussed giving local government greater power, but in the end, the changes were completely toothless. 

Rangatiratanga for All 

Localism is also important for honouring the Treaty. One interpretation of rangatiratanga, which was guaranteed to Māori in Te Tiriti, is simply “devolution”. In other words, give communities greater say over the services that affect them. That might be iwi, or local authorities, or the local rugby club. We can have rangatiratanga for all. 

Postcode Lottery

One of the major concerns some have with localism is that it would create a ‘postcode lottery’ – where people have different outcomes because of where they live. 

I don’t actually see this as a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s a good thing because it allows for greater variation, reflecting the culture of the people who live in a place. Think of it as a natural experiment in policy making. Areas with good policy would prosper, and others would have the opportunity to learn from their good decisions. 

When local authorities have such little power, it’s no wonder that people don’t participate in local elections. It doesn’t matter who you vote for, because they can’t do anything that will affect your life. 

We should give local authorities real powers over the retail sale of alcohol and cannabis, then sit back and watch local body election turn-out rise!

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