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How New Zealanders Are Trying to Legalize Marijuana

While wandering in the green hills of New Zealand Lawrence Hamilton meets NORML.

At the tail end of a three week jaunt we came across the beautiful city of Dunedin. Located on the southern tip of the South Island of New Zealand in a mountainous region known as Otago, Dunedin offered a rare urban respite from the rugged wilds of the rest of the island. After spending the previous weeks either hiking or sleeping in the back of a rental van, we thought it might not be a bad idea to see if there was any city life we could partake in.

My wife and I ducked into the local public library to check our emails and to see if we could find something going on in the city. After scanning through several Couchsurfing pages and a few vague Google searches I came across the Otago NORML website. NORML stands for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. I was familiar with this organization and its various insignia at protest rallies and concerts from my youth.

After funding a previous North American road trip by trimming medical marijuana in Northern California, I was eager to see how marijuana laws were applied in other countries and meet some mellow locals.

According to their website, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 4.20pm their group offered a smoke up on the campus of the University of Otago. It was a chance for anyone who wanted to come, hang out, and of course get high.

Perfect! Except that it was Thursday. Damn.

While I was unable to meet the group in person I remained intrigued by this weekly civil disobedience and recently spoke to a representative of their organization from my home in Kentucky.

Are you associated with other NORML organizations around the globe?

We have loose affiliations with other NORML chapters in the US and Asia Pacific and we maintain contact with interested cannabis law reform activists all over the globe.

What are some of the activities your group organizes? Where are you guys based?

We organise protests, public meetings like lectures and debates and put on fun events like gigs and field trips.  We also assist with the creation of very diverse Cannabis Law Reform campaigns for different people who come from every demographic and every part of the political spectrum, such as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Mothers for Medical Marijuana and the Hemp Industry. We also offer legal assistance and media/PR advice to cannabis activists.

We are based at Legalise Cannabis House in South Dunedin, a community activist hub that also houses New Zealand’s only Cannabis museum.

At least in the Western World, it would appear to that there is quite a large movement for the legality of pot. While activists hail the recent decisions of Colorado and Washington, there are still places (like Missouri) where pot can get you in a lot of trouble. What are the laws like in NZ and is their any political room for change at the moment? Is NZ a typical conservative country or does it tilt more to the left?

NZ is pretty conservative when it comes to Cannabis laws, but we also have one of the highest per capita use rates for cannabis in the world. Kiwis love weed, but it has been used as a wedge issue and is the perennial political football during elections here. We would really benefit from change, so hopefully it happens soon, and Colorado is really making our argument easier.

One concern people have about legalization at the moment is the amount of THC found in marijuana currently. Some health experts fear that marijuana this strong could hurt a young person’s brain. What is your group’s response to these fears?

Regulation/ legalization would allow labeling so people would know what they are getting. It would also allow the enforcement of strict age restrictions. This is the best way to protect young people from any possible harm.

Why do you guys care about pot so much, does it really make the world a better place?

For people who need it for medicinal purposes, and those who would rather substitute it as a less harmful recreational intoxicant than alcohol, definitely yes.

Let’s say hypothetically I have flown all the way to NZ. I hang out with you guys and get stoned. What is the best thing to eat, do, listen to and see when I am green in NZ?

We actually have a cannabis tour in Dunedin that we take visitors on. The best place to meet other people in the cannabis culture is the thrice weekly 420 Cannabis club meetings at our local Otago University. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 4:20pm on the Union Quad, students and other cannabis friendly members of the public gather for a huge public smoke up. This is a very safe space and we get no grief from the police, and it has been going on for over a decade! 

From there we would probably go see some penguins or one of the other many wildlife attractions on offer in Dunedin, and then probably head to the Cannabis Museum. There’s a great restaurant called Formosa where everything is homegrown and organic, and for listening you would have to choose Radio One 91.0FM, the college radio station of the University which hosts New Zealand’s only cannabis themed radio show called ‘Overgrown’. 

Another great thing to do is to smoke a session on top of a mountain using a magnifying glass to light the weed using the power of the sun. We love showing any and all interested visitors this stuff, it’s what we do!

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Filed under: New Zealand

About the Author:

Lawrence Hamilton is a freelance journalist focusing on South Asian security situations and border disputes. has written 51 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Lawrence Hamilton is currently in: Dunedin, NZMap