‘Stoner’ stigma unfair, say Kiwis planning to tick yes in upcoming cannabis referendum


Paul Wieland​ didn’t feel a thing the first time he tried cannabis while he was on an OE in Latin America at the age of 23.

After coming home and training to become a physician, Wieland read about its health benefits, especially for pain relief.

“That got me questioning why this is actually illegal, so I did a bit more research and basically found out that, to put it bluntly, the wrong recreational drug is legalised.”

Now a Southland Hospital consultation anaesthetist and working in an operating theatre every day, Weiland sees firsthand how much damage alcohol caused in the long run.

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He believed about 30 per cent of cancer was caused by alcohol, “and that’s probably conservative”.

Southland Hospital anaesthetist Paul Wieland on the summit of Ben Lamond, Scotland.

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Southland Hospital anaesthetist Paul Wieland on the summit of Ben Lamond, Scotland.

“If you look at the harm that is caused by alcohol to the individual and to society as a whole, and compare that to the potential harm caused by cannabis, then cannabis is the far more benign substance.”

Wieland is one of five New Zealanders from different walks of life who have written an open letter to Stuff in support of the referendum to legalise cannabis, that will be held at this year’s General Election on October 17.

Wieland, together with musician Tiki Taane​, TOP leader Geoff Simmons​, Wellington Pride Festival chair Roxy Coervers​ and drag performer Claire Voyant​ are coming out as Kiwi adults who enjoy cannabis.

Publicly admitting to smoking cannabis wasn’t a straightforward decision for the group.

“We have had to think carefully about the implications of doing so because of the stigma associated with it, which is odd, right? Why is it such a big deal? We think it’s time we had a grownup conversation about it,” the letter says.

Wieland believed the biggest potential harm caused by cannabis was the current legislation.

“People are being branded criminals when they get convicted, and they suffer all the ramifications for the rest of their lives.”

He believes legalising cannabis would make it harder for young people to obtain, as drug dealers have no concerns over the age of their customers.

“The black market doesn’t ask for ID.”

He understood that people would expect cannabis to cause cancer, particularly when it was being smoked.

“Even if it was more harmful than alcohol, that’s even more reason to legalise it, to regulate it, to minimise the risk of young people accessing it.”

The Opportunities Party leader Geoff Simmons says he first saw people with cannabis when he was eight.

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The Opportunities Party leader Geoff Simmons says he first saw people with cannabis when he was eight.

The Opportunities Party leader Geoff Simmons said in signing the letter, he was out to disprove the ‘stoner’ stereotype.

“Yes I use cannabis, but I’m a functional member of society. I pay my taxes, I have held down pretty highly skilled jobs and it’s not like I’m a waster. And I’d love to be able to pay more taxes by having legal cannabis.”

Growing up in the Northland town of Okaihau, Simmons was eight years old the first time he remembers seeing people with it.

He didn’t completely understand what it was, but he remembers thinking even at that young age it wasn’t as harmful as alcohol was.

Simmons said the drug education he received at school struck him as misleading.

He thinks a lot of people out there who are against it have bought into the myth about the damage that cannabis causes.

“Some people think that just because it’s illegal makes it bad.

“Criminalisation has failed … you think it’s keeping it away from kids? Well it ain’t.”

These days Simmons said he uses cannabis like most responsible adults would use alcohol.

“I don’t like alcohol. It disturbs my sleep and my body really feels different as a result of it.

“When my partner has a couple of drinks on a Friday night to chill out, that’s when I will be having a couple of puffs instead.”

Kiwi musician Tiki Taane says he has seen the medical benefits of using CBD oil.

Supplied/Louis Trerise

Kiwi musician Tiki Taane says he has seen the medical benefits of using CBD oil.

Fellow “yes” supporter, Kiwi musician Tiki Taane, was 13 years old when he first tried cannabis.

A year later, he was growing it in his dad’s glasshouse to help fund his first band Cultivation.

“I’ve been a user of cannabis off and on, throughout my life, but it’s been in the last five years that I’ve really enjoyed the benefits of CBD oil.

“Because the technology has advanced so much, I can now choose the strain and strength of the CBD oil, and get the dosage that perfectly suits me.”

He has seen first-hand how cannabis has been used to relieve symptoms of medical conditions, including for a two-year-old girl, diagnosed with a rare and aggressive brain tumour, who he played a fundraising show for.

“Her parents were told she had just months to live, so they tried giving [her] medicinal cannabis oil, which was illegal and extremely expensive at the time.

“Four years later, and after taking the oil every day, [she] has defied all odds as her tumour has shrunk considerably, her seizures have virtually stopped, and her motor skills have improved so much that she has regained movements in all her fingers.”

STUFF

The Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill proposes to legalise cannabis for personal use.

An open letter to Stuff in support of decriminalising cannabis

Dear Editor,

The grass really is greener on the other side.

Today, we are coming out as Kiwi adults who enjoy cannabis. We have had to think carefully about the implications of doing so because of the stigma associated with it, which is odd right? Why is it such a big deal? We think it’s time we had a grownup conversation about it.

The stigma around enjoying cannabis is real and harmful: people can lose their jobs and their homes simply by being public about their cannabis use. We know that over 80 percent of the population have tried it and thousands of adult Kiwis, across all walks of life, use it responsibly. Why then the association with ‘druggies’ and ‘losers’? It’s time to change the story and tell the truth.

Our great hope is that by coming out publicly, we will encourage the thousands of adult New Zealanders who enjoy cannabis responsibly, to feel it is a normal and acceptable thing to do. As a nation it’s time for us to grow up about the stories we tell around cannabis.

On October 17th , we will have a referendum on whether the country should legalise cannabis and we will all be voting ‘Yes’. There are so many reasons for us to legalise cannabis use for adults. When taken in moderation, it’s fun and it’s therapeutic, helping to alleviate pain and stress. There are many studies which show that cannabis is certainly no more harmful than alcohol, and lots that show it is less harmful than alcohol.

If we legalise it, we can control production and stop criminalising it, which disproportionally affects Māori and Pasifika communities. We can create a new industry which will generate wealth, jobs and tax income for the government.

Ultimately though, we’d like the country to be grown up on this issue and make legal what is already occurring every day behind closed doors in our country, with no detriment to anyone.

Join us in fighting against the stigma and vote YES on October 17th. It’s time to #GrowUpNZ.

Tiki Taane, Musician

Paul Wieland, Anaesthetist at Southland Hospital

Geoff Simmons, leader of The Opportunities Party (TOP)

Roxy Coervers, former Wellington Pride Festival Chair, event producer

Claire Voyant, drag performer, TVNZ’s House of Drag show





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