By Eleanor Ainge Roy, The Guardian

Some of New Zealand’s most experienced public health experts have thrown their support behind legalising marijuana, a week out from the country’s general election.

In an editorial in the New Zealand Medical Journal, specialists from the fields of addiction treatment, public health, health promotion and epidemiology have urged New Zealanders to tick yes in the referendum, days after a poll showed the vote on a knife-edge.

The referendum is a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to legalise cannabis, and promote health equality, the editorial said.

Prof Michael Baker from the University of Otago, one of the key architects of the country’s successful Covid-19 response, says New Zealand had shown it was a world leader in utilising “innovative and evidence-informed approaches” to complex public health problems.

“It’s time to take the same fresh approach to cannabis law and put public health first,” Prof Baker says.

“Our prohibition model for cannabis is outdated and doesn’t work. Supporting law reform is about reframing cannabis use as a health issue which opens up new, more effective ways of minimising harms caused by this drug.”