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Psychiatrists hold debate to weed out issues around cannabis referendum

20 September 2019

With the public referendum on the legalisation of the personal use of cannabis at the 2020 general election looming, psychiatrists have taken to the stage to debate the topic at New Zealand’s annual psychiatric conference.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) New Zealand 2019 Conference wrapped up in Nelson today with a panel of the country’s leading experts in psychiatry and policy debating the pros and cons of the decision facing New Zealand voters.

Dr Susanna Galea-Singer, Chair of the RANZCP’s New Zealand Faculty of Addiction Psychiatry Subcommittee explained that many New Zealanders will be vehemently for reform while others are equally passionately against it.

‘The important thing is for people to consider all of the evidence and ground their decision in well-supported facts,’ said Dr Galea-Singer.

‘As psychiatrists, our primary concern is always for the mental health and wellbeing of individuals, their families, whānau and communities.

The RANZCP believes that if cannabis is legalised it must be regulated, preferably by the Government, and underpinned with a strong harm reduction strategy.

‘In addition, we strongly advocate that a comprehensive educational campaign is initiated well in advance of the referendum,’ said Dr Galea-Singer.

‘This should inform the public of the various options around the supply and sale of cannabis and possible harms associated with each option.

‘It is important to note that all drug use – whether alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs – is first and foremost a health behaviour.

‘Cannabis is not a harmless substance, and can result in dependency in serious cases.

‘If the use becomes problematic, through abuse or dependence, impacting the individual or whanau’s life, it then becomes a health service issue.’

Dr Galea-Singer added that one of the harms of early onset cannabis use is a recognised and significant risk factor for particular psychotic illness.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the RANZCP believe that the mental and physical health and wellbeing of the community must be the priority.

Leading psychiatrists and policy makers debated the issue of legalising cannabis in a forum at the annual RANZCP New Zealand 2019 Conference, held 18-20 September, in Nelson, NZ.

ENQUIRIES: For more information, or to arrange an interview call Sarah Carr on +61 (0)3 9640 0646 or +61 437 315 911, or email

For all other expert mental health information visit Your Health in Mind, the RANZCP’s consumer health information website.