Patrick Walsh: A yes vote on cannabis referendum will be a disaster for young people

By June 15, 2020 Recent News

NZ Herald 16 June 2020
Our additional comment: Patrick Walsh is principal at Rotorua’s John Paul College, a past president of the Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand, and a member of SAM-NZ – a coalition of community leaders and groups promoting a NO vote in the cannabis referendum.

No one disputes that marijuana is a harmful, addictive drug that has adverse effects on the physical and mental wellbeing of users.

These effects are accentuated on developing teenage brains.

Legalising cannabis use is in effect “legitimising” it so we will see an inevitable increase in its use by teenagers. My experience as a secondary school principal of 17 years tells me we will see more teenagers take it up if legalised.

This in turn will lead to more of the following behaviours in teenage users; driving while drugged, depression, suicidal ideation, poor academic results, truanting, and antisocial behaviour including crime and violence.

I have no confidence that the regulation proposed in the bill will work. Regulation has been a dismal failure with alcohol where binge drinking and drunk driving by under 18-year-olds remain persistent problems despite laws in place prohibiting it.

The same could also be said of vaping and synthetic cannabis which many teenagers engage in and where the law has failed miserably. We do not wish to criminalise teenagers for using cannabis and certainly the first options should always be an educative and therapeutic approach.

If this fails however there must be a final deterrent by having it remain on the statute books as a crime.

As a principal I have seen first hand the devastating effects of cannabis use on teenagers, their whanau and other victims. These other victims include the innocent drivers they hit, those assaulted and employers when there is a no show at work.

To be clear, I fully support medicinal use of cannabis prescribed by a doctor with a clear medical purpose. What we are being asked however in this referendum is to vote “Yes” to recreational cannabis use so people can get a legal high.