With New Zealand’s referendum on cannabis law reform confirmed to take place in 2020, university students are at the heart of the debate over the effect of cannabis on academic success.
Green Party MP Chlöe Swarbrick has just announced that the proposed age for purchasing and cannabis is 20.
According to the NZ Drug Foundation, 64% of New Zealanders now believe the law on cannabis prohibition should be changed. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, enacted over 40 years ago, provides for harsh criminal penalties in an attempt to stop the use and possession of drugs in New Zealand.
University students have mixed reactions to the referendum. Second-year student, Toni Gibson at Massey Wellington is in favour of legalisation.
“I feel like drinking is more dangerous and marijuana can be used medically,” she said.
“It helps with anxiety and can be relaxing. I know people who use it to calm down.”
Victoria University student Valya Bykova, said that her friend who studies at Massey has maintained good grades while being a frequent cannabis user.
“I’ve seen her grades myself and she maintains a B+ average despite her cannabis usage.
“She seems to be pretty good at separating leisure and work, however she is somewhat reliant on it to relax.”
First-year university student, Caleb Dowell, admits to having been a regular cannabis user in high school.
“I was hanging out a group of people who smoked marijuana every day. When I started too, my attitude towards education changed,” he said.
Caleb attributes his failure to pass NCEA level three to his cannabis usage. This led to his delay in attending university.
“Weed took my motivation. I didn’t want to do anything without being high,” he said.
“I was so addicted to it that I’d leave school whenever I wanted to smoke.”
Declining mental health eventually led Caleb to leave school altogether.
“I had bad panic attacks and was really depressed, so I went to counselling.” he said.
Now aged 21, Caleb has moved to Wellington to study and no longer uses cannabis.
The NZ Drug Foundation estimated that 415,000 people each year ignore the current laws prohibiting cannabis use. They have prosed a model for potential legalisation for 2020 which includes removal of criminal penalties for the possession, use and social supply of all drugs.
However, National Party leader Simon Bridges has publicly stated his opposition, saying he would probably vote against it.
“I worry about the harm. I see the debilitating effects in all manner of communities. I worry about the mental health and I think the messaging of saying, ‘Look decriminalisation, no issue in terms of harm’ will mean harm rises,” he said on RNZ Morning Report.