Cannabis post puts Dunedin school on shaky legal ground, says law professor – New Zealand Herald

A senior law professor at the University of Otago says a Dunedin school may be in some difficulty over its communication about the upcoming cannabis referendum.

King’s High School rector Nick McIvor used the school’s Facebook page to express concern about the potential for cannabis use to be legalised.

Some parents supported his right to express his views and others questioned the legality of the school straying from political neutrality.

University of Otago law professor Andrew Geddis said the law was a little complex.


Teachers were not required to be politically neutral, he said.

Nick McIvor's Friday night social media post generated hundreds of comments. Photo / ODT
Nick McIvor’s Friday night social media post generated hundreds of comments. Photo / ODT

However, the board of trustees was an „agency” of the State Services Commission.

Even if the rector’s post complied with the school’s social media policies, there might still be a problem over whether the school’s policies were compliant with the commission’s guidance on political neutrality.

„We could be drifting towards something to the detriment of our young people; something that will be deeply regretted in future,” McIvor wrote.

„It can be tough being a teenager at the best of times in modern life. To make cannabis even more widespread will only add to this and it’s reckless to do so.”

The school did not remove the post during the weekend and board chairman Richard Wingham said on Facebook the board had a neutral position on the referendum.

„Mr McIvor has not suggested to readers how they ought to vote on the issue, nor did he intend to do so.

„The original Facebook post has been left up on the basis that discussion in this area is seen as of benefit for the community as long as those comments are constructive.”


McIvor’s post attracted 478 comments by 8.25pm last night and Wingham’s post had 102 comments.

Geddis responded to the claim that the rector had not suggested to readers how they ought to vote on the issue with „yeah, right”.

Andrew Geddis. Photo / Supplied
Andrew Geddis. Photo / Supplied

If the rector’s comments had been printed in a school newsletter, they would need to be accompanied by a promoter’s statement, Geddis said.

In his post, McIvor acknowledged a range of views for and against legalisation in the lead-up to the referendum, but said he was „struggling to see how legalisation would improve the lives of young people in New Zealand”.

„I fear that it would make them worse,” he said in his Friday evening message.

The proposed bill had been promoted as „controlling” the availability of cannabis.


But it was more likely to increase consumption, and to put „more cannabis directly into the lives of our young people, at a critical and sometimes vulnerable time in their lives”.

During his 26 years in secondary education, while working as a teacher, coach, dean and senior manager, he wrote he had worked with pupils who were cannabis users.

„Often we saw apathy, underachievement and reduction in academic performance.”

Comments on the McIvor’s post included criticism over the use of the school’s Facebook page to express who some thought to a person opinion as well as the implied stance over the referendum.

„Curious about your thoughts on incarceration and the impact the criminalisation of weed has on the Māori and Pasifika population?” wrote one. „Legalising and regulating weed will make it safer than what it is already, cause like it or not, people are still going to be smoking it. Glad to see where your priorities are at.”

However, others supported McIvor. „Well said. As an educator and mental health advocate, cannabis plays no part in building a better society.”


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