Treasury: alcohol and tobacco more harm than cannabis

A Treasury document obtained after an OIA request be a Nelson lawyer gives estimated costs of policing cannabis and potential tax revenue, and says that “the harm caused by alcohol and tobacco was much worse than what’s caused by drugs like cannabis”.

NZ Herald: Cannabis tax could be $150m

An internal Treasury document on New Zealand’s drug policy shows the Government could be earning $150 million from taxing cannabis and saving taxpayers $400 million through reduced policing costs.

The brainstorming notes, from 2013, have been publicly released after an Official Information Act request from Nelson lawyer Sue Grey to Finance Minister Bill English.

Grey said the notes confirmed what was well-known in other sectors – that the harm caused by alcohol and tobacco was much worse than what’s caused by drugs like cannabis.

Relative harm of alcohol and tobacco compared to cannabis is fairly well known.

Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell agreed, saying the reason there’s been no action is because politicians are too scared to talk about the “taboo” subject of drugs.

He said we should be willing to look at alternatives for New Zealand and admit, as the Treasury notes do, that the current system isn’t working.

Bell said the notes stated prohibition wasn’t working and cannabis was not a gateway drug.

He said while politicians did not like talking about drug policy, they were now misreading the public mood and people were ready to have this discussion.

I don’t think the National party and it’s leaders care about the public mood on cannabis. They simply don’t want to address the obvious issues and public sentiment.

English said the brainstorm notes were merely a discussion and were not official Treasury opinion.

That’s disappointing but predictable fobbing off by English. The document wasn’t anyone’s opinion, it was stating well known facts, and estimated costs and potential revenue.

It was advice that English and National don’t want to hear because they don’t want to do anything about the large cannabis problem.

Both medical cannabis products and recreational use are issues with growing profiles. Ignoring public opinion may be costly for National – as a third term Government they are facing rising dissatisfaction with a failure to take seriously issues of public significance.

It’s quite possible that next election cannabis could be the toke that breaks the Government’s back.

Leave a comment


  1. I am a liberal when it comes to drugs. You want to do them and it leads to no harm to others then have at it, as long as you understand the risks involved.

    And frankly I would prefer the drugs were quality controlled and available through legal outlets than via gangs and chancers.

    But I have a few questions:

    1 – If say cannabis was legalised, what would be the legal limit in your system when in charge of machinery or a vehicle?

    2 – if we legalise cannabis – what other drugs should be legalised?

    3 – How do you control for negative impacts, especially psychological impacts brought on by drug use?

    • 1. Blood testing, or mouth swabs for recent use. (blood is tricky, chronic users will test positive for a long time after impairment has been eliminated)

      2. I believe anything with a better safety profile then alcohol, MDMA and shrooms are often touted, though the duration of effect of some “safer” drugs makes this impractical, Ive heard you need to book out a wingman for a weekend with certain hallucinogens generally regarded as Safe.

      3. A big part of controlling negative impacts is a culture change, we need to avoid the binging that happens with alcohol, and cross intoxication with multiple substances. Honestly that needs a strong education package at high schools in lockstep with any changes.

    • Bill

       /  20th July 2016

      1/ Mouth swabs, as you should only be looking for intoxication and not whether some consumed 6 weeks ago.
      2/ The main focus of current debate is on Cannabis, any other drug use should be on a case by case basis, using something like the psychoactive substances bill that we already have in place, but don’t utilize.
      3/ How do we control for negative impacts now, the use is already in place and run by gangs and the black-market. Quite frankly we see very little impact on the health of users compared to the negative impacts prohibition has caused. The fact the Police had to falsify Cannabis hospital admissions in the effort to make it look bad speaks volumes.

      • Gezza

         /  20th July 2016

        The fact the Police had to falsify Cannabis hospital admissions in the effort to make it look bad speaks volumes.

        I remember that being discussed here before Bill:

        • Bill

           /  21st July 2016

          Yes I know Geeza and the Police still haven’t retracted this false information. When a topic like Cannabis is discussed and people even like yourself, call for need of more research to make an informed decision.

          Do you not think that simple statistics like Hospital admissions should be truthful. This is not research after all but basic reporting and not an error, but the result of a agenda.

          I mean for God’s sake, what in our society doesn’t cause harm if done to excess and what’s with all the puritanical stuff that holds Cannabis to a higher burden of proof than the likes of Alcohol. The real argument is around prohibition not having to prove Cannabis is safer than everything known to man.

          • Gezza

             /  21st July 2016

            Yes, I agree with you Bill. I still have some concerns around the effects of cannabis – specifically that it does seem to be implicated in the onset of schizophrenia in a very small group of people with a particular type of gene susceptibility to the condition – but this is obviously happening anyway with cannabis currently being illegal, so this possibility doesn’t seriously impede arguments for decriminalisation or legalisation.

            This gene susceptibility I think might have been discussed in Episode 3 of that Dunedin Study documentary series shown on One recently – Why Am I?

            • Bill

               /  21st July 2016

              Astroturf and manipulation of media messages TEDxUniversityofNevada

    • Kevin

       /  21st July 2016

      1. 0
      2. All of them.
      3. Same as we do for alcohol.

  2. Blazer

     /  20th July 2016

    1-same for alcohol…no go
    2-all of them
    3-the same way you do for the same problems that prescribed drugs cause.

  3. I talked over the whole issue of legalising cannabis with my sister who votes Greens. She is adamantly against legalisation. Most for her opposition seemed to arise after seeing what happened when synthetic cannabis was sold in shops, and fears for her two children should access to cannabis be made easier.

    I suspect that it is worries over a voter backlash among parents that drive politicians away from reforming these laws.

  4. PDB

     /  20th July 2016

    1. The govt reflects the opinions of the people who in the main don’t care about the recreational cannabis issue at present in comparison to housing, the economy, immigration, terrorism etc. It’s just not a high priority at the moment.
    2. Medicinal cannabis use is a totally different issue and should be given more priority.
    2. Yes – Cannabis should be legalised.

  5. good post PG

    NZ is looking increasingly isolated, amongst most ‘western countries’.. many have already ‘decriminalised’ cannabis & are moving toward a ‘legally regulated’ model: strict rules of cultivation, supply & use (R18 or 21)

    It actually sounds like all the original ‘excuses’ used to ban the drug, (totally discredited; gateway theory etc.) are being pushed aside, if favour of the savings & potential tax take.. as the main driving force to change. 🙂

    btw; other countries are dealing with the ‘issues’; (driving, age restrictions etc) rather than just using them as excuses to maintain the status quo.. Its time to catch up !

  6. Bill

     /  20th July 2016

    “It was advice that English and National don’t want to hear because they don’t want to do anything about the large cannabis problem.”

    I don’t think we have large cannabis problem, just a large problem with Cannabis prohibition. Cannabis even run by the black-market has less impact than Alcohol, I imagine through a regulated market place it can only get better and this seems to be so, in places that have liberalized laws around Cannabis.

    • Wow! Treasury gets something right for a change!

      @ dave1924 – regards your # 1 – workplace drug testing. My anecdotal understanding is that people are using P in preference to marijuana because it evacuates the system quicker. That’s a great outcome isn’t it? They won’t be any safer than a pot smoker next day but when they’re high many will be downright dangerous and some psychotic …

      Aside from the tax revenue and massive savings on policing – freeing up resources to focus on real harm – legalised marijuana will boost Aotearoa-New Zealand’s tourist industry (possibly no end?). “Clean and Green”? The all new Hobbiton adventure?

      @ artcroft – Kronic and the other synthetics have got a lot to answer for, along with Peter Dunne for allowing/favouring them. A half-wit conspiracy theorist could easily see an attempt to discredit cannabis by association? It’s just not like that …

      There’ll be some psychological addiction, sure, as if there isn’t now and hasn’t been since the 60s or before? However, removing the illegality will remove enormous amounts of tension, suspicion, edginess and ‘threat spiced’ secrecy from our communities …

      The new model, as I understand it, is ‘Health, education, harm reduction and treatment’?

      • Some, many and perhaps even most of the marijuana networks in our communities nowadays aren’t “gangs” at all, although technically they remain “black market”. They’re just ordinary folks helping each other out medicinally or recreationally.

        They remind me more of this: “The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses used by 19th-century enslaved people of African descent in the United States in efforts to escape to free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause.”

        A kind of “freedom train”, because it is a citizen’s right and prerogative to defy unjust laws.

        I wonder what part the issue (spectre) of “retrospective justice” for so many people convicted of minor cannabis offences, over so many years, plays in maintaining the status quo? Like to hear your opinions on that Zedd, Bill and Shane …?

        • Bill

           /  21st July 2016

          “Some, many and perhaps even most of the marijuana networks in our communities nowadays aren’t “gangs” at all, although technically they remain “black market”. They’re just ordinary folks helping each other out medicinally or recreationally.”

          I agree with you, this is an accurate representation of the Cannabis market that I’ve witnessed in my lifetime. There is however still a gang presence that benefits directly from prohibition due to continuity of supply issues. I don’t know of a single Cannabis user and I know many, who would buy off gang members for their good deals.

          The issue of retrospective justice, this term usually means making a law that retrospectively criminalizes past actions not covered by present law. If what you are saying is more in line with a Restorative justice concept, it would have to be proven legally, that the prohibition of Cannabis was done with the criminal intent of creating victims of its users. While prohibition has clearly made victims of its users, was this done with criminal intent?

          I don’t think there’s much of a case as the law stands, for some form of reparation for past Cannabis offenses. I do believe however that there’s a strong case for the removal of historic criminal convictions for Cannabis use if prohibition is repealed. If repealing this unjust law leaves behind the hundreds of thousands of users with criminal convictions, it would seem to be a retrospective injustice.

          • @Bill

            I agree, with most of this.. well said ! 🙂

            we need to keep the momentum for change going/rising…… until 2017 election

            • Bill

               /  21st July 2016

              Cheers, one lives in hope that awareness grows for the wider issues of prohibition on society.

          • Very well said, thanks.

            • Well said both …

            • Zedd

               /  21st July 2016

              I’m a soldier of FREEDOM in the army of man..
              we are the chosen,
              we’re the PartisanZ !! (Dire Straits) 😀

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