With the 2020 cannabis referendum fast approaching, New Zealanders have a unique opportunity to let the government know what they want from drug reform. It will then be up to our policy makers to decide whether drug reform will focus on changing outcomes for those struggling under historically racist policy.
By the time Tricia Walsh was 13, she estimates that more than 50 men had abused her. After suffering violence at the hands of her mother throughout her childhood, she turned to gangs as her support, but here, the cycle of abuse only continued. Drugs became her escape from the painful, violent reality of her life. A mother at 15, Walsh was lost, confused and in abusive relationships with the people closest to her, and her drug use led to multiple stints in prison. Her last sentence finished in 2008, when she was 42.
The trauma Walsh suffered at the hands of people she should have been able to trust led her to drugs, and drugs led her into a system that was punitive and apathetic. But her life, and so many lives like hers, could have been so different if she’d received the treatment she needed sooner.
Now an anti-P campaigner, a proud mum and a grandmother, Walsh has turned her life to fighting a system that took hers away. She says without drug law reform so many others, especially young wahine Māori, will get stuck in the same harmful cycles of trauma, drug use and prison.
“There’s a whakapapa, a history to why people end up using drugs, and end up in the justice system. My history has been one based on trauma, and because of that trauma there was a progression based around not wanting to face each day.”
In 2020, New Zealand voters will get to have their say on the legalisation of recreational personal use of cannabis, in a referendum alongside the general election. This referendum is a crucial step towards justice and away from a regulatory framework designed for the “war on drugs” philosophy that has been the basis of New Zealand drug policy for decades.
The Nixonian approach to drugs that informed our own laws here in New Zealand is widely perceived as a failure. In New Zealand it’s disproportionately targetted, prosecuted and imprisoned