Metiria Turei's claim that Maori growing marijuana are developing entrepreneurial and horticultural skills has been slammed as "mind-blowingly ridiculous" by Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne.
The Green Party co-leader made the comment on Maori TV's Native Affairs programme this week, but she has been cut down by Dunne, who branded the claim as "ridiculous" and "irresponsible in the extreme".
In the show, Turei said growing the illegal drug helps develop "real skills" among Maori, particularly in disadvantaged areas.
"There's some real skills there actually, some real entrepreneurial skills, some real horticulture skills, as much as people might think that's a bit funny," she said.
In a piece on the show entitled 'Illegal Tender', reporter Renee Kahukura Iosefa explored the widespread use and cultivation of marijuana in the Maori community, and the reasons behind that.
She said many resort to growing marijuana because of a lack of employment opportunities and a need to support their families.
This was a view Turei shared, saying Maori who are struggling economically should not be punished for using their initiative to get by.
"It has become an income supplement for whanau, particularly in rural areas, who have very little income and very few job prospects, particularly in the back blocks," she told the programme.
"They are trying to do the best for their families and trying to make a sufficient income, and they are under real threat all the time, but there are few choices, often, that they have."
But Dunne, leader of the United Future Party, said this view amounted to letting criminals walk free because they had financial difficulties, and would lead to "anarchy".
"To suggest that because Maori are more likely to have a problem or more likely to be caught (with cannabis), that the solution is to effectively let them get away with it is highly irresponsible, and it's not going to happen," he said.
"That's like saying that burglary is OK, 'because I'm hard up I can steal from my neighbour who is better off'. That's starting on the path to anarchy, and they (the comments) are mind-blowingly ridiculous."
He said her claims that growing cannabis could teach people much-needed skills, was akin to saying "a safe cracker is teaching his apprentice engineering skills".
However, Labour's social development spokesperson Jacinda Ardern said Turei's comments highlighted the difficult situation many families find themselves in New Zealand.
"We would never encourage or condone families doing something illegal in order to support themselves because it puts the entire family at risk," she told onenews.co.nz.
"But in terms of it being a message of the situation some families find themselves in, that comes out loud and clear.
"Particularly in the rural communities that Metiria is talking about, areas with high levels of unemployment and where it is much more difficult to find work, and in these cases we would see more desperate situations, so that for me should be a sign for more Government action."
She called on the Government to focus on more economic development, particularly in rural areas, and to devise a specific action plan for tackling child poverty.
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