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Labour, Greens crack over cannabis views

Monday 27 Jan 2014 5:39 p.m.

Another major crack has emerged between Labour and the Greens - their incompatible views on marijuana.

Last week they split on deep-sea drilling, and today Labour leader David Cunliffe dashed Green Party hopes of decriminalising cannabis if in power.

New Zealanders are almost 50-50 when it comes to smoking cannabis. Nearly half have, including Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei.

"I stopped smoking cannabis about 20 years ago," she says.

If the Green Party had its way it would immediately allow for medicinal marijuana and legal action for violent offences would be prioritised over possession.

The next step is decriminalisation with a legal age limit of 18. But Labour says no way.

"They can put on the table what they want to put on the table, but Labour's policy is not to decriminalise cannabis," says Mr Cunliffe.

Labour and the Greens need each other, but the cracks are showing. Last week Mr Cunliffe committed to continue deep-sea drilling, which is something the Greens vehemently oppose. This week, it's marijuana.

"I think there are way, way, way more important issues than that," says National's Steven Joyce.

For one party it's the only issue, and before joining the Greens Ms Turei was a member of the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party.

"It won't be one of our major priorities, but it is our policy and we're not ashamed of that," she says.

Recreational marijuana is now legal in two US states. It's no secret US President Barack Obama smoked it as a young man, and recently said he thinks it's no more dangerous than alcohol.

But Labour's leader won't go that far.

"I'm not the world's expert on that. I might not have tested it as thoroughly as he [Mr Obama] has," says Mr Cunliffe.

The political year has only just begun and already Labour has muscled the Greens out twice.

Decriminalising marijuana would be a conscience vote, but with Labour playing top dog it won't even get that far.

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