Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne was interviewed on The Nation about synthetic cannabis. Unfortunately there was only a quick question about natural cannabis at the end of the interview and most disappointingly nothing mentioned about medicinal use there’s been some suggestion that Dunne may be prepared to consider use of medicinal by-products.
On natural cannabis:
Given that you’ve said that the big stick and a law and order approach hasn’t worked before, what about cannabis, what about natural cannabis? Is there a move, will you move to try and do something on that, to decriminalise?
Dunn: No, no that’s a completely separate debate. We are currently reviewing our national drug policy and within that some of the provisions of the Misuse of Drugs Act, but ah you cannot use, and I’m not going to get involved in using the synthetic cannabis debate as a lever towards the legal, legalisation of the real product.
I don’t know if it’s significant that while he was asked about decriminalisation Dunne referred to legalisation, a different and more extreme move.
Ah that’s a completely separate issue, and we remain bound by the international drug conventions, and the current law remains in place and I’ve got no intention of changing it.
That’s a more definite statement, no intention of changing the current law.
I’m very dubious that “we remain bound by the international drug conventions”. Surely we can make our own laws on drugs like cannabis – as do other countries and a growing number of US states.
Regardless, Dunne sounds adamant he won’t change the law regarding decriminalisation or legalisation of cannabis. And it’s very likely National would oppose any change as well. So things look to remain unchanged.
But what if the review of the Misuse of Drugs Act finds otherwise? Perhaps the review won’t be allowed to find otherwise, depending on how they review things and what any subsequent decisions are based on.
Things remain unclear on medicinal marijuana. There’s some reports that Dunne may be prepared to talk about the use of cannabis by-products.
Last month Dunne Speaks on Medicinal Cannabis.
Lest there be any doubt, the debate centred around some of the properties of the cannabis plant and their potential efficacy. No-one was suggesting that just smoking the cannabis leaf was some sort of medicinal panacea!
That highlights an important distinction in this debate – there are genuine situations to be considered, and there are those who just want to smoke cannabis whenever they choose to. That latter group is not our concern.
However, the argument for medicinal cannabis is by no means a simple one. The evidence –worldwide – is not as clear as it could be, nor is there any sense of commonality when it comes to the issues of dosage, methods of administration, product standards and so on.
In New Zealand’s case, estimates of the numbers of patients likely to benefit from medicinal cannabis are very low, which is why pharmaceutical companies have no interest in trialling products here. At the same time, for some reason, doctors are loathe to use the existing legal provisions to recommend patients to be prescribed medicinal cannabis products like Sativex.
I recently asked the Ministry of Health to review the issues relating to medicinal cannabis. The evidence provided was, as I said in Vienna, quite underwhelming. So I took the opportunity there to discuss with both the United States Federal Director of Drug Policy and Australia’s Assistant Health Minister work being done in both countries in the area of clinical trials. In both cases, the response was similar: it is simply too early to draw definitive conclusions.
When it comes to approving new medicines, New Zealand has always adopted a rigorous, clinical trials, evidence based approach, and it will be no different with the medicinal cannabis issue. We will gather the reputable evidence, consult widely with other countries, and then take a decision based on the highest professional and clinical standards. That is exactly the way we would deal with any other new medicine becoming available, and there is no credible reason or justification for treating medicinal cannabis products in any way differently. Indeed, we would be failing the public if we did otherwise, and exposed people to unnecessary or even unknown risks as a consequence.
This is not to suggest in any way a change in New Zealand’s current stance on leaf cannabis and its possession. But the issue of medicinal cannabis is a highly specific and particular one we need to address in the light of new and emerging evidence, as we receive it. We will do so against the three pillars of compassion, proportion and innovation I outlined in Vienna, pillars which I hope will more broadly inform debate about the future direction of drug policy.
Of course, that will not satisfy those whose sole interest, dressed up in the false guise of concern for those who might benefit from medicinal cannabis, is using cannabis recreationally. But it will ensure over time that, consistent with the principles of our national medicines strategy I introduced in 2007, New Zealanders get access to new medicines that are safe, affordable and effective.
That reinforces Dunne’s apparently strong position against allowing recreational use.
While giving some hope that medicinal marijuana products may be possible he suggests it’s unlikely to happen soon because “estimates of the numbers of patients likely to benefit from medicinal cannabis are very low, which is why pharmaceutical companies have no interest in trialling products here”.
That’s an interesting statement, suggesting that the problem is simply a commercial reality.
But why is it thought that estimates of the number likely to benefit are ‘very low’?
With no change to the law on recreational and self-medication use there will be too much competition from reasonably easily obtained illegal products?
And there’s no mention of another factor – drug companies may have difficulty in getting patents on cannabis, so the market would be open and competitive, therefore not profitable enough.
So while there’s some hope medicinal products could be allowed the chances of that happening look slim.
And the chances of any relaxation of law on recreational use look to be zero under the current Government.
It’s a shame The Nation didn’t explore this more.