A Vast "Cannabis Economy" Is Propping Up Remote New Zealand Communities.

The flourishing black market in the drug is particularly active on the East
Coast and in the Far North, where third-generation use is common in some
communities, says a parliamentary select committee investigating the drug's

Both regions are characterised by high unemployment, rural isolation, a
majority or high Maori population and widespread cannabis use.

In those regions the cannabis economy provides seasonal employment and
ready cash.

"But it also causes widespread social harm, including cannabis dependency,
truancy, youth exposure to cannabis, contact with criminal gangs, and the
consequences of criminalisation, with many of the people in these
communities imprisoned for minor cannabis-related offences," says the
committee's report.

There have been no studies of the profits from selling cannabis in New
Zealand. But a 1998 National Drug Survey suggested the amount of cannabis
bought on the black market was 7.3 tonnes - almost 15 million joints - at
an estimated wholesale value of $52.2 million and retail value of $84.3

"Other estimates of the value of the cannabis market vary wildly from $140
million to $900 million a year in Northland alone."

The Far North has huge problems. Te Runanga o Te Rarawa community
representatives told the committee that children as young as 6 were selling
cannabis in schools.

Opotiki community representatives said cannabis supported their entire region.

"When the cannabis crop is harvested, there is more disposable income,
people are able to buy new cars and serious social problems are averted,"
the report says.

Submitters said the drug provided relief from the stresses of poverty and

But the flipside was that people sacrificed basic needs to buy the drug and
"schools experience an increase in truancy during the harvest".

Opotiki submitters said dependence on cannabis use and cultivation had to
be viewed within the context of "poverty, unemployment and other issues
relating to public health; self-determination, Maori cultural identity,
physical, sexual and emotional abuse; and low self-esteem".

Submitters believed other economic opportunities were needed to break

The potted facts

* Cannabis is the third most popular drug in New Zealand, after alcohol and
tobacco. The committee says it is widely used for its "euphoric" effect.

* Use in New Zealand is comparable to the US, lower than Australia and
higher than the Netherlands.

* Most recent survey results (Public Health Research Unit) indicate just
over 50 per cent of 15- to 45-year-olds tried cannabis in 2001, up from 40
per cent a decade earlier.

* Heaviest users were 18- to 24-year-olds.

* Health Ministry estimates in 1999 that nearly 20 per cent of population
will suffer an alcohol use disorder and 2 to 3 per cent are at risk of
cannabis dependence disorder.

* About 22,000 people a year arrested for cannabis offences between 1994
and 2000.

* Maori convictions are disproportionate to the Maori percentage of the
population and Maori cannabis use rates.

* Over the past five years, about 65 per cent of cannabis offences resulted
in prosecution, with about 26 per cent resolved by warning or caution.

* 9399 people were arrested for cannabis use in 1999.

* Cannabis offences accounted for 94 per cent of all drug offences in the
past decade, and 4.6 per cent of all offences.

* Cannabis law enforcement accounted for $19 million of the $790 million
police budget (2 per cent) in 2000-2001.

* 552 written submissions (439 from individuals) to committee, nine expert
submissions and 1978 form submissions stating that a public health
perspective should replace a criminal justice approach.

* 52 per cent of submissions supported legalisation and regulation of
cannabis, and a further 20 per cent supported decriminalisation in some
form. Only 21.7 per cent supported the status quo.

* Most opposed any change allowing under-18s to use cannabis.

Pubdate: Sat, 09 Aug 2003
Source: New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2003 New Zealand Herald