We are sharing with you a very useful brief statement issued yesterday by the National Church Leaders of Aotearoa New Zealand, which is a gathering of the senior leaders of most of New Zealand’s church denominations. From across that wide denominational spectrum, the undersigned church leaders speak with one voice to urge New Zealanders to vote very carefully in the two Referendums, ‘because both decisions carry the risk of inflicting serious long-term damage on our society, endangering vulnerable people, and making our country less safe for everyone’.
The statement we are sending today is about the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill (and we will send you the NCLANZ statement on euthanasia, when it is issued next week).
Through its National Director, the New Zealand Christian Network is an active participant in the National Church Leaders of Aotearoa New Zealand.
We recommend you share this statement with your family, friends, and churches.
A joint statement by the national leaders of most New Zealand church denominations
We urge the people of Aotearoa New Zealand to vote very cautiously in the two Referendums, because both decisions carry the risk of inflicting serious long-term damage on our society, endangering vulnerable people, and making our country less safe for everyone.
The Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill
We support the recent new provision in law (2019) for cannabis-based medicine to be available on prescription.
We also support the general move towards decriminalising cannabis users, and instead concentrating on a non-punitive health-based approach of helping those being harmed by cannabis use and addiction. We note that police are generally no longer prosecuting recreational cannabis use (and we want them to apply that discretion without any bias).
However we do not support the legalisation of recreational cannabis use, as proposed in the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill. We believe legalisation would help normalise cannabis use and increase its use (as has happened overseas). Cannabis use remains addictive and dangerous for some people, especially those under 25, and can induce psychosis, depression, loss of cognitive function, lung (and other) diseases, suicidal tendencies, and foetal harm.
Legalisation, and the rise of a cannabis industry with a network of retail shops in many communities, would undermine societal messages about reducing drug use (and also undermine the campaigns against tobacco smoking, and about driving under the influence of drugs).
The evidence from overseas is that legalisation would not end the black market in cannabis. In Canada, over 70% of cannabis is still purchased on the black market). Illegal dealers including gangs would continue to sell cannabis (at lower prices, with unsafe levels of THC, and also to those under the age of 20).
We are concerned that legalising and normalising cannabis use will increase domestic violence, cannabis-related road deaths, workplace accidents, and educational failure. We are also worried that society’s socio-economically disadvantaged groups are likely to suffer most from the increased availability and use of cannabis.
We suggest that voting ‘No to the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill carries significantly fewer risks of long-term damage to New Zealand society than a ‘Yes’ vote.
We also suggest that a ‘No’ vote still leaves space for New Zealand to further decriminalise cannabis law in relation to users, while retaining penalties only in relation to producers and dealers. At the same time it could strengthen a health-based approach towards those affected by drugs, while continuing to warn society about the risks of all drug use.SIGNED…Bishop Jay Behan
, Church of Confessing Anglicans in Aotearoa New ZealandPastor Steve Burgess
, Regional Overseer, Senior Leader, C3 ChurchesCommissioner Mark Campbell
, Territorial Commander, The Salvation ArmyCardinal John Dew
, Archbishop of Wellington, Roman CatholicPastor Iliafi Esera
, General Superintendent, Assemblies of God in New ZealandRev Dr Jaron Graham
, National Superintendent, Church of the NazareneRev Tale Hakeagaiki
, Chairman, Congregational Union of New ZealandRev Charles Hewlett
, National Leader, Baptist Churches of New ZealandRev Brett Jones
, National Superintendent (Acting), Wesleyan Methodist Church of NZThe Right Rev Fakaofo Kaio
, Moderator, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New ZealandRev Dr Stuart Lange,
National Director, New Zealand Christian NetworkPastor Brent Liebezeit
, President, Christian Churches New ZealandRev Andrew Marshall
, National Director Alliance Churches of New ZealandPastor David MacGregor
, National Director, Vineyard Churches Aotearoa NZPastor Sam Monk
, The National Leader of Acts Churches NZ & Equippers ChurchPastor Peter Mortlock
, Senior Pastor, City Impact Churches of NZAssistant Bishop Jim Pietsch
, Lutheran Church of New ZealandPastor Boyd Ratnaraja,
National Leader, Elim Church of New ZealandPastor Eddie Tupa’i
, President, New Zealand Pacific Union Conference of the SDA ChurchRev Setaita Taumoepeau K. Veikune
, President, Methodist Church of New ZealandPastor Adam White
, Leader, New Life ChurchesFor further contacts for this statement:Rev Dr Richard Waugh QSM
Ph 022 5339400 Email: email@example.comSenior Pastor David MacGregor
Ph 022 1572018 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
If approved by a majority of voters in the coming Referendum, the End of Life Choice Act will allow eligible terminally ill people to request ‘assisted dying’, either by a doctor or nurse practitioner directly administering lethal drugs (euthanasia) or by a doctor or nurse practitioner setting them up with lethal drugs to take themselves (assisted suicide).
Many New Zealanders like the idea of euthanasia as an option for those terminally ill, and assume the End of Life Choice Act must be okay. They have thoughts like ‘I wouldn’t want to die in unbearable pain. I would like the option to die, in dignity, at the time of my own choice. It’s my own life.’ Or that euthanasia is compassionate, because they feel it could prevent suffering. Or that ‘We do it for our cats and dogs. Why not for human beings?’ These thoughts make it easier to accept the politicians’ claims that similar euthanasia legislation has ‘worked well overseas’, and that the End of Life Choice Act contains ‘rigorous safeguards’.
But here’s a dozen very serious reasons why the End of Life Choice Act is so wrong and dangerous for New Zealand, and why we need to vote AGAINST it.
- Legally and practically, New Zealanders already have a ‘right to die’. Nobody is forced to have their lives unnecessarily prolonged. People may freely decline tests, treatment, or surgery. Doctors do not continue treatment or keep life-support going, when there is no hope of recovery. People may sign a ‘Do not resuscitate’ order, and state their wishes for end-of-life care in an Advance Directive. We already have a right to as much pain relief as needed (even if this has a double effect of shortening our lives).
- In reality, very few people die in unbearable pain. Many die peacefully, or in their sleep, or having become unconscious. Modern palliative care can control most pain.
- Those final days are important. The last week or so of someone dying with a terminal illness can often be a time when both patient and family come to peace with the impending death and bereavement, and is a factor in healthy grieving. Euthanasia interrupts the natural ‘letting go’.
- New Zealanders need to realise the chilling long-term risks: we are very unwise to allow anyone (including doctors and nurse practitioners) to legally kill someone else, or to actively help them commit suicide. That is a highly dangerous line for society to cross. It is at our peril that we allow another form of killing to be introduced. It is not just that killing people is regarded by most people as ethically or culturally abhorrent, it is also a matter of safe-guarding the long-term public safety of our society.
- It makes no sense at all for society to deplore high rates of suicide, and then to legalise medically-assisted suicide. The legalisation of medical suicide will give another reason for vulnerable people to feel suicide is an acceptable option.
- Similar euthanasia legislation overseas has NOT worked well: it has led to a steady increase in inappropriate and wrongful deaths.
- The End of Life Choice Act does NOT have rigorous safeguards, and in particular does not protect against coercion. It is loose and poorly-drafted legislation, and would be one of the most liberal euthanasia laws in the world. Many obvious safeguards are missing…
● Above all, there is no effective protection against people being subtly influenced by others into requesting euthanasia. Many older people are very anxious about not ‘becoming a burden’ for loved ones. They may feel obliged to sign a request for euthanasia when it is mentioned as an option by a medical professional (the Act only restricts doctors making the suggestion during appointments), or when hinted at by family eager to receive their inheritance before it is all spent on care, or when euthanasia becomes much more common.
● There is no requirement that euthanasia be a last resort, after treatment has failed.
● There is no requirement that someone first sees a palliative care specialist.
● There is no requirement that one of the doctors actually knows the patient.
● There is no mandatory psychological assessment, for instance for depression.
● There is no mandatory cooling-off period.
● There is no provision for an independent witness at any part of the process.
● There is no requirement for anyone to consult or tell their parents or children.
● There is inadequate protection for those medical staff for who object to euthanasia on ethical and conscience grounds.
● The reporting required is inadequate
- Medical diagnoses and prognoses can often be wrong. People with terminal illnesses can live much longer than expected, or recover. Under this law, some will die who would otherwise have survived.
- The majority of doctors are strongly against euthanasia: they see it as contrary to their commitment to healing and caring for patients, and want nothing to do with it. Many are also worried that euthanasia will undermine proper funding for palliative care, and that it will erode patient trust. The New Zealand Medical Association is very opposed to euthanasia.
- The inevitable expansion of this new ‘human right’.Once society crosses the key threshold of allowing doctors (on request) to actively kill people with terminal illness, within a few years Parliament will inevitably start extending this ‘right’ to other ‘unbearable’ conditions, such as disability, mental illness, depression, chronic illness, dementia, and old-age frailty. That is exactly what has happened in most overseas jurisdictions that have allowed ‘assisted dying’. Because of that, many disabled people feel very deeply concerned about the End of Life Choice Act.
- The inevitable increase of involuntary euthanasia. Once voluntary euthanasia becomes legal and common, instances of involuntary euthanasia will likewise steadily increase. The climate of thought will steadily change, and some doctors will begin quietly euthanising patients who they decide have no ‘quality of life’, and who are taking up costly space in hospitals or care facilities. They will rationalise this as compassion, and as responsible stewarding of public resources. This too has happened in a number of countries, which began with ‘assisted dying’ as in this Act.
- As euthanasia becomes normalised, society’s disadvantaged and vulnerable people are those most likely to be euthanised, in increasing numbers. Poor and vulnerable people have less access to financial reserves, to expensive treatments, and to first-rate palliative care, and may feel they have fewer options.
A statement by the New Zealand Christian Network, September 2020
I’ve received some great feedback from my last article, ‘Is the legalisation of cannabis racist?’ One reader in particular pushed back on my argument, which I have paraphrased as follows (to make good sense of this, I recommend you also re-read my article).
Thank you, Mark, for your article.
I believe you argue in good faith, but I think there is a deep flaw in your argument. Currently, cannabis IS sold in low-income neighbourhoods through gang-run tinny houses, and other places of wider criminality. No amount of policing has ever changed this. The involvement of gangs in the cannabis trade increases the likelihood that users are also turned towards other drugs, like methamphetamine. But by legalising cannabis and taking this market away from gangs, there is the potential to dramatically reduce harm in these neighbourhoods, even if legal shops move in.
Thank you for your email and counter-argument. I really appreciate it. You raise a great question. This sort of interaction helps move the discussion forward.
First, I want to acknowledge that your argument is one of the better reasons to support legalisation. I think most people can agree that it would be better to buy cannabis from a government-regulated business than from a seedy criminal organization or gang. I think we can all agree that buying from a regulated business would be better than buying from a gang.
Unfortunately, just because people would have the option to buy from a reputable business doesn’t mean that they will. It appears that in places such as the USA and Canada where cannabis has been legalised, the black-market cannabis industry continues to thrive. Why? Because it is not subject to government regulations, and thus can provide cheaper and stronger forms of cannabis. Given that other nations and states that have legalised cannabis have seen a marked increase in usage, I don’t think it’s a far stretch to imagine there will also be an increase in people wanting stronger forms of cannabis.
Secondly, my intention in writing the article was to respond to the claims that the argument against legalisation was racist. My main argument is that legalisation, at least as it has been presented by the NZ government, is a form of racism, or at the very least classism. Your response demonstrates that legalisation could be seen as less racist than the status quo, but that doesn’t mean it still isn’t racist (or classist).
Third, I haven’t made this argument before, but it is something to consider. Gangs and others who currently do profit from selling cannabis may, to make up possible loss in revenue, seek to sell an even more devastating product in higher quantities. Where are they going to sell these more devastating drugs? In the same communities that they currently sell cannabis. I very much doubt gangs are just going to lie down and let the government take all their profits. Gangs will realise they can make a whole lot more money when they don’t follow the rules.
Thank you again for your really thought-provoking argument. I still think though, that on the whole, proper, genuine decriminalisation is a better pathway forward than legalisation. Therefore, I would still encourage people to vote no in the upcoming referendum on cannabis legalisation.
There is a common accusation from those who support the legalisation of cannabis that the illegality of cannabis causes disproportionate harm to ethnic minorities. Joseph Boden, a professor in the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Otago, Christchurch and who sits on the government’s Expert Panel on Cannabis asserts that “Prohibition is racist, it operates in a racist manner, and you see this everywhere and that’s one of the main reasons, to me, to get rid of it. It’s actually a tool for white people to oppress minorities. The trouble with police discretion”, he argues, “is that it then goes down to the individual officer who isn’t necessarily accountable for their motivations and may not even understand their own motivations…Māori are two and a half times more likely to be convicted for cannabis offences than non-Māori, and that’s after correcting for differences in rates of use. If you’re brown, your chances of getting leniency from police is lower.”1
In response to that, I argue that the legalisation of cannabis would in reality not benefit racial minorities, but instead cause them significant harm. How?
Ask yourself the question, if cannabis is legalised and sold, where will it be sold? Will cannabis shops pop up in the rich privileged neighbourhoods, or will they more likely be found in the most vulnerable ones?
Many people think they might vote “yes” to the legalisation of cannabis in the upcoming referendum, primarily because they do not want people to go to jail or get a criminal record for cannabis usage (which is of course why we should genuinely investigate decriminalising the use of cannabis, not legalising cannabis so that it can be openly manufactured, promoted and merchandised).
But if you ask those same people, “So, if we openly sell cannabis in your own neighbourhood, and at a shop just down the road, is that okay? If we locate cannabis shops where your kid passes by on the way to school, is that okay with you?” Asked that question, most people would instinctively feel “No, no, no. Let’s put cannabis shops somewhere else, not anywhere near me or my family”.
Local councils would start getting calls from constituents saying, “You know, I thought legalising cannabis was good, but they’re not going to open a store near here, are they? What can we do to stop it?” And eventually, the majority (not all) of cannabis shops would end up in those minority communities which have the least resources to fight the negative consequences of cannabis usage.
Now before you think this is just a concern of the author of this article, it is obvious that the government also knows this is true. In Sections 16 & 88 of the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill (Exposure Draft for Referendum Version) the government lists the criteria for the issue of a cannabis distribution licence. Here is the criteria from section 88 (expanded criteria originally set in section 16):
d) Take into account the following factors relating to the proposed location or locations of the premises:
i. the characteristics of the locality or part of the locality
ii. the locations of kindergartens, early childhood centres, schools, tertiary institutions, places of worship, parks, sports facilities, swimming pools, playgrounds, and other community facilities
iii. the cumulative effect of the presence or absence of other licensed premises in the same locality:
iv. whether the amenity and good order of the locality would be likely to be reduced, to more than a minor extent, by the effects of the issue of the licence:
v. whether the amenity and good order of the locality are already so badly affected by the effects of the issue of existing licences that they would be unlikely to be reduced further (or would be likely to be reduced further to only a minor extent) by the effects of the issue of the licence but it is nevertheless desirable not to issue any further licences in the locality:
A key phrase here is in point iv, which states, “whether the amenity and good order of the locality would be likely to be reduced.” With that in mind, which communities do you think are going to get the larger share of cannabis shops? Which communities’ property values are not going to be lowered much by a nearby cannabis shop? Unfortunately, it will often be communities with racial minorities who do not have the resources to fight the establishment of such a shop. And with the presence of a shop, there will be an increase in cannabis usage in the community. With that, there will be yet one more factor separating those who live in privileged areas from those who do not.
In conclusion, take a sober look at the final point (v): “whether the amenity and good order of the locality are already so badly affected by the issue of existing licences that they would be unlikely to reduced further”. To me, that is a clear acknowledgement of the damage that will be done to some communities by the legalisation of cannabis. I ask again, what communities are likely to be so badly affected by the existence of licenced cannabis locations that they are “unlikely to be reduced further”? It can only be those communities that are already disempowered in society – those racial minorities whose voices are too easily ignored and whose pain and problems are being offered the cold comfort of legalised cannabis.
For these reasons, and the reasons stated in my previous article, particularly that the government should first do a thorough, genuine, investigation into decriminalisation, we should vote “no” to the legalisation of cannabis in the upcoming referendum.
1 Alice Webb-Liddall, “A Compelling NZ Academic Argument to End Cannabis Prohibition – from 1975,” The Spinoff, January 21, 2020, https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/21-01-2020/this-1975-study-tells-us-about-what-we-always-knew-about-cannabis/.
Recently on ZM’s Fletch, Vaughan & Megan morning show, Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick was interviewed about the upcoming cannabis legalisation referendum. In the interview, Chlöe and her hosts gave several arguments in favour of voting “yes” to cannabis legalisation. However, while some of Chlöe’s points are compelling, on balance most of her positive points could be achieved through decriminalisation without the negatives of legalisation. By decriminalisation I mean a policy of making simple possession or use of cannabis a non-criminal offence (similar to a minor traffic violation) and treating cannabis use as a health issue instead of a criminal one. Legalisation on the other hand refers to allowing the possession, purchasing, selling, and using of cannabis for recreational purposes.
I’ll sum up Chlöe’s arguments as best I can, and then provide a short response. If you want to see her arguments in greater detail we have included a transcript here. If you want to see the evidence for my arguments in greater detail, see various on the Say Nope To Dope website.
Chlöe argued: People buying cannabis on the black market have no way of knowing if what they’re ingesting is safe or has anything extra added to it. Legal cannabis allows the government to regulate what a person can purchase, helping ensure that cannabis is free of toxins.
I respond: This is probably the single best argument for legalisation as opposed to decriminalisation. However, it appears that in places such as the USA and Canada where cannabis has been legalised, the black-market industry is still thriving since it is not subject to government regulations and thus can provide cheaper and stronger forms of cannabis. Therefore, while legalisation provides a safer option for cannabis users, it doesn’t prevent people getting their hands on more toxic, cheaper cannabis if they so desire.
Chlöe argued: Young people’s lives should not be ruined by getting a criminal record for smoking a joint at a party.
I agree. There is a good case for why we should investigate decriminalisation of cannabis usage, and treat cannabis use as a health issue, not a crime issue. But a key point is that we don’t need to legalise cannabis to make it a health issue, we just need to decriminalise it.
Chlöe argued: Everybody is already using it. Let’s make it legal, thus taking the sexiness out of it, and then we can have grown-up conversations about intoxication and addiction.
It seems to me that alcohol is viewed as quite a sexy drug, and it’s been legal for ages. What makes something “less sexy” is not whether it is legal or not, but the culture fostered around it. In reality, by promoting legalisation the Government is promoting the idea that cannabis is “sexy”, which contradicts, in spirit, the Government’s Smoke Free 2025 initiative.
Chlöe argued: in response to the argument “Why are we looking to legalise cannabis when we are looking to be smoke free 2025?” that the reason smoking is no longer “cool” was only made possible by the fact that smoking is legal.
The reason smoking isn’t cool anymore has nothing to do with it being legal. It has to do with a multiple decade-long campaign to show how damaging smoking is. Cigarette ads being banned, in addition to a consistent negative ad campaign against smoking, have helped to take the “sexiness” factor away from cigarettes. Legalisation is the only reason cigarettes are still around!
Vaughan [07:16]: “And we’ll get some sweet tax dollars from it, won’t we?”. Chlöe: [07:19] “I mean to the tunes of hundreds of millions of dollars”.
Yes, there will be tax revenue with the legalisation of cannabis. But if you’re going to talk about revenues, one also needs to talk about costs. You cannot just look at one side of the ledger. A bad way to look at any business is to only look at revenues. What are the costs? What are the costs to New Zealand in terms of drugged driving, public safety, public health, etc.? Annual societal costs from alcohol and tobacco far exceed the tax revenues they raise. Legalisation of cannabis will lead to increased use, which will lead to even greater societal costs for New Zealand.
Chlöe argued: Cannabis isn’t actually that bad for you. And if it’s legal, we can easily help the people who it is bad for.
While it is true that cannabis doesn’t affect everyone the same, it is nonetheless the case that cannabis usage can have very negative health consequences. There is an abundance of evidence-based research articles, papers and other literature covering the inherent physical, psychological, environmental, social, familial and community harms of cannabis. I support the view that we should help people by treating cannabis use as primarily a health issue rather than a crime issue, so that we remove the stigma of getting help for drug use. But on the other hand legalising the use of marijuana, and allowing it to be promoted by a big new industry, will inevitably increase its usage. That is an outcome that will be seriously bad for New Zealand society.
Instead of voting “yes” for legalisation, let’s instead ask lawmakers if they have done everything to reduce cannabis use as much as possible: prevention campaigns, health campaigns, educating doctors and paediatricians, early interventions and treatment, and investigating decriminalisation. We should exhaust all those avenues before we go down a path that is very difficult to reverse. Until we have done those things, we should vote “no” to the legalisation of cannabis in the upcoming referendum.
Like many of you, I have been following circumstances in the United States surrounding the tragic death of George Floyd, a black man, by a police officer. Because of these events, I feel compelled to address this issue. This issue of racism and racial injustice is something that I think each one of us should care deeply about.
For example, in Canada, and I bring this up because I was raised as a Canadian European, one of the Church’s greatest sins against Canada’s First Nations people was our support of and participation in residential schools.
Under the pretense of wanting to give First Nations people a gift – a gift of education – the Canadian government, supported by the Church, forcibly removed thousands upon thousands of First Nations children from their homes.
This was a kind of cultural genocide. An intentional way of, through education, to uneducate or de-educate an entire generation. To destroy their own understanding of their own culture, their own language, their own heritage and history, and religion.
Thousands of children died throughout this century-long project. Some through neglect, some through abuse, and some through suicide. We participated in forced sterilization of First Nations peoples, taking eugenics to a whole new level.
The sexual abuse done to the children in these schools was horrendous as well. When did these schools close you may ask? They were open from 1870 to 1996. And the horror of the residential school project didn’t stop when the schools eventually closed.
Because now we have generations of First Nations children in Canada who are growing up into their adulthood never having experienced family. And that doesn’t set you up for success in today’s world.
And so today the destruction continues, the heartache continues. And Christians have been a part of that.
We made the mistake of confusing European culture with Christ, and with the noble intent of wanting to share Jesus with people, we instead imported and enforced our own culture, often forcibly, which led to the destruction of families. And having a stable family is the number one predictor of success in our world today.
Now New Zealand never had the Residential School system that Canada had. But it does not take much searching to see some of the horribly damaging things done to the Maori people by Europeans, which have had similarly negative effects on the Maori people. And as believers in Christ, we just have to be honest about that.
So how should we move forward?
The Treaty of Waitangi – Te Tiriti o Waitangi saw two people become one. And interestingly we see this concept in the scriptures.
The classic passage is Ephesians 2:14 which states, “14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.”
One of my old lecturers, Steve Taylor, described this to his students as the Treaty of Jesus, where two peoples, Gentile and Jewish, became one in the Ephesians church.
And because of this Treaty of Jesus, through Jesus, two people are becoming one and there is no excuse for racism or sexism or elitism among the people of God. This is the beauty of having one faith.
As Ephesians 4:5-6 states “5There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all.”
Steve Taylor would also remind me, if you mention the Treaty of Waitangi, many Kiwis become nervous. Mental images start filling our minds. Images of protests, politicians, and mud-slinging. And yet, we have this document. A legal document that changed the relationship of Maori and Pakeha, from two peoples into one.
And just as it is hard work to live the Treaty of Jesus, it is hard work to live the Treaty of Waitangi. How do you make right the sins of the past? The theft of land, the injustice done to the Maori? What does something that happened 150 years ago, a document that I did not sign, that you did not sign, mean for us today? How do we move forward?
We see a hint, again in Ephesians, in 4:3, where it says “3Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” Peace.
Galatians 6:2 says, “carry one another’s burdens.” Part of that is learning what the burdens are. As a European, as someone raised as a Canadian European, do I know the burden that Maori or other people of colour carry? Definitely not as much as I should, especially if I want to be a part of the solution. I need to start listening and learning much much more.
And may I ask any non-Europeans reading this, please talk to us Europeans. Let us know what we can do. Many Europeans are scared to offend and thus end up not doing anything to help. We need to work this out together. We need to communicate. But we need to do it in peace and love.