National leader Simon Bridges has begun the year with a small reshuffle of his shadow cabinet, creating a new portfolio for deputy leader Paula Bennett and reallocating the portfolios of former MP Chris Finlayson, who left Parliament at the end of last year.

Bennett has become shadow spokesperson for drug reform, a new portfolio. Drug reform has been at the forefront of discussions within the coalition Government as it heads towards a referendum on the recreational use of cannabis and grapples with the synthetic cannabis and meth crises. 

Bennett today called for a “coordinated approach across health, education, law and order and border control”.

She accused the Government of implementing changes by stealth, a reference to the Government’s medicinal cannabis legislation, which passed at the end of last year, described by Bridges as “decriminalisation of cannabis by stealth”.

Bennett said there were questions to consider ahead of the planned referendum on recreational cannabis use. 

“When it comes to legalising marijuana, there are serious questions around drug driving; the effects of younger people accessing and using; youth mental health; and how this fits with our ambitions to be smoke free.

“What would a regulated industry look like? Will gangs be able to grow and sell marijuana? Will THC levels be regulated? Will drug testing be done on the roadside? What will the legal age be?” she said. 

Keep your enemies close

With the reallocation of former MP Finlayson’s portfolios, Amy Adams and Mark Mitchell have gained high-profile appointments. The two popular MPs ran against Bridges in last year’s leadership election, so this signals Bridges hopes to continue his strategy of keeping potential rivals close. 

Adams has gained the role of shadow Attorney-General, adding to her finance portfolio. 

Mitchell, currently spokesperson for defence, disarmament, and justice, has added the role of shadow spokesperson for Pike River re-entry. 

Nick Smith will become the spokesperson for Crown-Maori relations. Shane Reti will take over the tertiary education, skills and employment portfolio from Bennett. Reti gained notoriety last year by launching a high-profile medicine cannabis bill at the same time the government’s bill returned to the House from select committee.

Bridges said Reti’s work on the medicinal cannabis bill and in his other portfolio of cyber security had been “excellent”.

“He has shown he will do an exacting job in holding this Government to account and progressing National’s plans.”

Finlayson will be replaced in Parliament by Agnes Loheni. She will become associate spokesperson for small business and Pacific peoples. 

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