There are so many good referendum arguments for and against the availability of cannabis and ‘end of life choice’ that picking the bones out of them and voting will take a little longer than ticking a box.

In both cases I tend to the liberalisation argument; one from a considered point of view, the other more emotive than intellectual.

 I can’t remember what I would have voted on the cannabis issue before working as a probation officer. But after some experience working with cannabis addicted young men in their late teenage years, I became convinced cannabis was extremely harmful and that liberalisation would be a mistake.

Then, after some years in the job and experience working with gang members, I changed my mind. Yes, cannabis can be harmful, extremely harmful for individual adolescents heavily addicted to the drug, but the harm that mafia like, drug-controlling gangs impose on society is more harmful.

And that was many years ago, when Invercargill had one gang to contend with. Now there are at least three and the numbers are growing in towns and cities all over New Zealand. The gangs will still be involved in selling drugs, ruining lives and doing their best to change society to suit their own needs, but by regulating the content and sale of the drug some control will be prised from their corrosive grasp. Well, that’s my reasoning.

By contrast my reaction to the end of life choice issue is visceral, spluttering gall at the thought that patronising politicians, doctors and God worshippers, most of whom are at least a decade younger than I am, have the temerity to tell me I don’t have the right to end my own life when I decide it’s my time to die. Let them keep their primitive beliefs in the hereafter and leave me to swig some Nembutal to painlessly end my life when I think it’s time to go.

I am aware that this reaction ignores the many legal, social and financial considerations that could prove unsafe for old people vulnerable to unscrupulous relatives, for instance.

But, to return to the cannabis debate for a moment, even those who oppose changing the law are now in favour of punishing unscrupulous exploiters of personal cannabis users rather than the personal decisions people make for  themselves.   In other words, why penalise those doing no harm to others?

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Chris Horan

Chris is a former social worker, probation officer and Family Court counsellor, living in Hawea in the South Island.