Cannabis law reform – when, how, not if

It may take a change of government but it looks likely cannabis (and other drug) law will be reformed. It’s just a matter of when and how.

The National Party is the main impediment to drug law reform.

Stuff: What would happen if New Zealand legalised cannabis?

Peter Dunne, the bespectacled politician in the bow-tie, was the unlikely hero of drug reform.

Not really. I’ve known he was open to cannabis law change six years ago because I asked him about it.

In May, the Associate Health Minister ventured that “some, if not all” class C drugs should be reclassified and regulated.

That Dunne, a 63-year-old, 11-term MP should be the one to fly the kite for drug reform – and hit no particular turbulence – said a lot. Perhaps he was not such an unlikely hero after all.

Three-quarters of adult New Zealanders have tried cannabis. Diversion for low-level personal cannabis use is common. And the Government has recently made allowances for some medicinal cannabis use.

So, what if it was legal?

Stuff has just launched “a major series exploring that prospect”.

What would happen if farmers could sow cannabis crops? Would gangs suffer from it becoming legal? Could our health system manage a possible surge in patients with addiction problems? Is there a massive tax windfall awaiting us in a regulated market?

It’s time we explored these questions in detail as, in all probability, a regulated market draws nearer.

There are signs cannabis prohibition could be headed the same way as the ban on same-sex marriage. Only a year or two before a conservative MP stood in New Zealand’s Parliament to celebrate “the big gay rainbow” that welcomed same sex marriage, that law change appeared unlikely, at best. We could be in the middle of the same kind of sea-change right now.

poll last year suggested almost two-thirds of New Zealanders believed possession of a small amount of cannabis for personal use should be either legal (33 per cent) or decriminalised (31 per cent).

The split between those for legalisation and those for decriminalisation reflects where the debate really resides: not whether we should change cannabis laws – but how.

This is strong public support for change.

Expert opinion weighs even more heavily in favour of change.

We start today by explaining the basic differences between depenalisation, decriminalisation and legalisation.

To be clear: this project does not mean we’re supporting cannabis use or even advocating for law reform. It means we’re advocating addressing the cannabis question head-on, through a candid conversation about the benefits and drawbacks of a change in drug policy.

The debate is at a tipping point and in need of informed discussion in the mainstream. And that includes everyone – the dread-locked, the sports jocks and the bow-tied.

This series will help drive the debate and will hopefully get through to reluctant MPs.

The status quo on drug law is untenable.


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  1. “Doctors ‘lack knowledge’ of medicinal cannabis”

    An increasing number of Kiwis are getting access to medicinal cannabis, but there are concerns GPs don’t know enough about it.

    Fifth year Christchurch medical student Victoria Catherwood says there’s not enough knowledge about it among medical professionals, so she is crowd-funding to make a documentary as an educational resource.

    “There is a huge lack of knowledge about medicinal cannabis among the medical community. It’s not taught and it’s sort of taboo to talk about it,” says Ms Catherwood.

    Dr Huhana Hickey has multiple sclerosis and suffered from pain and spasms for years. She agrees doctors need more information.

    “It’s like every day is a day of pain, and so you can’t live like that.”

    That is, until she started taking medicinal marijuana last year. Although it costs her thousands of dollars, she doesn’t want to go back.

    “I can’t do without it, I will panic.”

    Chair of the NZ Medical Association, Stephen Child, denies any taboo and says the knowledge of medical cannabis is as good as any other area of medicine.

    But he says there’s a distinct difference between proven pharmaceuticals and an illegal drug.

    “[If] we’re talking about the use of an illicit substance of the entire plant, in which there are more than 150 different products that we don’t understand the benefits and risks, then that’s not really a medical prescription of a medication then education about that is a little bit different.”

    Dr Child says education is paramount and he’d welcome any educational resource as long as it was factual and evidence-based.

    • yes, many doctors lie to their patients around even avenues for legal access. At some stage we are going to tell patients for make complaints when untruths are said. A common one, is Sativex is only for MS, etc etc.

      • @SLB
        I have spoken to a couple of GPs on this & they both said; ‘most doctors are schooled in western medicine, which does not include cannabis’.. yet they are being increasingly called on to give advice on it.
        One doctor even told me that ‘IF it works for pain relief.. thats fine’ BUT he could not ‘officially’ tell me that or record anything on my files.. because its still ILLEGAL in NZ (except Sativex).. totally unacceptable to the 70+% who have (according to recent polls) said it is time for change. 😦

    • Kevin

       /  3rd July 2017

      Maybe if we stopped calling it medicinal cannabis and started calling it something like therapeutic cannabis.

  2. The thing I find totally ludicrous; NZ is effectively trying to ‘reinvent the wheel’ on this issue.. whilst the reality is we are at the ‘back of the pack’ on it !

    Canada, USA, Aust., much of EU, parts of Sth America, even parts of Asia etc. have already decrim’d or legally regulated cannabis, for medicinal &/or for recreational use. Yet here is NZ, we are still hearing these questions that many of these countries have already answered & moved on with.
    Yet we still hear echoes of ‘Reefer Madness’ here, in the media; ’causes insanity & the gateway to HARD DRUGS..’ which has been discreditted as misinfo. or extreme exaggeration. Reports say 75% of adult kiwis have tried cannabis, so most know the basic effects already.
    The whole idea that prohibition will magically solve ‘illegal drug use’, is total B-S, yet many MPs (except the Greens) are still ‘running scared’ from further reforms.

    methinks there is a real ‘hysteria/phobia’ (whipped up by MPs & media) that it will bring about ‘the end of the world as we know it’ IF we actually stop fighting this FAILED WAR on Drugs (spec. Cannabis).

    Seriously I think; we (collectively) need to take a deep breath & GROW UP.. take a ‘leap of faith’ that things will be OK !! 😦

    • Kevin

       /  3rd July 2017

      It’s easy to get a psychoactive drug scheduled. Sometimes all you need is a bogus study:

      I’m sure the same kind of thing happened with cannabis. To get a drug de-scheduled is a different kettle of fish entirely. Apart from the legalisation of cannabis in parts of the US, I can’t think of a single case where a drug has been de-scheduled, even where it’s blindingly obvious that it should never have been scheduled in the first place.

      I’m all for legalisation but realistically, decriminalisation is the most likely outcome.

  3. Kevin

     /  3rd July 2017

    The government will never ever legalise cannabis. The government does not want people profiting from drugs. The most likely outcome is some form of decriminalisation. This is because there is a direct benefit for the government in decriminalisation.

    With decriminalisation the government could save millions of dollars in enforcement costs. And I’m not talking just a million here and there but potentially hundreds of millions. Plus it addresses the injustice of arresting and hauling before the courts responsible users. The downside is that it does nothing to make the product any safer and the gangs get to keep profiting.

    With legalisation profit is taken away from the gangs but any savings or additional tax gained is made up for by the increase in health cost due to increase in drug use. In other words there is nothing in it for the government. The only time the government would consider legalisation is if the outlawed product is so harmful that the government is willing to put up with a legalised but regulated “version.”

    An example of this is methamphetamine and synthetic cannabis where the government was willing to put up with synthetic cannabis as an alternative to people being on meth. Of course that turned out to be a bit of a disaster as synthetic cannabis is pretty nasty stuff, even compared to methamphetamine.

    Another example is MDMA where it’s common for dealers to substitute MDMA for PMA, a much more dangerous drug, as it’s cheaper and more profitable. If in say a very short period of time there was series of PMA deaths of users thinking they were taking MDMA then the government would possibly consider legalising MDMA.

    In other words it would take something like a strain of cannabis so dangerous hitting the street that users were freaking out and killing themselves for the government to even consider legalising cannabis.

    • @Kevin

      ‘Decriminalisation’ is actually totally misleading.. it still does not address the ‘supply chain’ which would still be controlled mostly, by the black-market. I hear that in Holland (decrim. use in ‘coffeeshops’ 1970s) are now moving to address this problem, as in some USA states etc. were it is licensed to a limited number of growers/suppliers.

      One thing that prohibition/zero-tolerance does do, IS create more CRIME (gangs etc.) than it resolves. 1000s arrested annually & yet the level of use has NOT reduced. According to UN reports NZ, has amongst the highest levels per capita, in the world !

      It is also reported that in the countries, were it is already decrim./regulated, after the initial spike in use, the novelty wears off & use rates decline. Yet in NZ there is a ‘forbidden fruit mystique’ that attracts people to it, rather than away….

      • Kevin

         /  3rd July 2017

        There’s two problems with decriminalisation. One, it doesn’t make the drug safer and two, it doesn’t address the blackmarket and gangs profiteering. What I’m saying is that realistically decriminalisation is the most likely outcome of drug policy change for the reasons I’ve stated.

        Don’t get me wrong. I favour legalisation and regulation over decriminalisation. But we have to be realistic. However once cannabis for example is decriminalised it will lose a lot of it’s mystique. So you could see decriminalisation as the first step towards eventual legalisation. Just got to remember that we’re up against decades and decades of false prohibitionist propaganda.

  4. @PG

    I hear there is to be, a ‘symposium’ in parliament, this week (?).. have you any further info. ?

  5. Legalise it. Put an age restriction on it and have the packaging carry a list of all known side effects that Cannabis has – including side effects that only impact a subset of the population.

    Like most NZers I have tried it, but I gave it up a long time ago because I recognised the negative impacts it had on me personally. Basically it slowed me down mentally which is terrible for my industry where I need mental acuity to work productively.

    The debate needs to be had. The emotive language needs removing and some quality factual debate tabled so a reasoned judgment can be made.

    The biggest problem is going to be around these issues for given Cannabis, from my experience as a casual user once upon a time and observing friends who where heavy & regular users:

    1 – Operating machinery/driving under the influence. How is this managed and what is a decent stand down from being stoned to driving and/or operating machinery?

    2 – Mental health. Some people, small %, are adversely impacted by cannabis just like a small % can’t handle alcohol. How do we screen and protect from harm these people?

    3 – Work. Broader than point 1, do I want as an employer someone blissed out on dak working in my office or shop? For some people they are basically useless when mildly stoned while others are pretty productive…

    Shane – what is the research related to this topics? or are you more focused on medicinal usage?

    • Kevin

       /  3rd July 2017

      With regards to employment if you get stoned at work, you’re fired. If you turn up stoned at work, you’re fired. And if even you got stoned the night before and no longer under the influence still fired.

      • PDB

         /  3rd July 2017

        Should be the same as any zero-alcohol workplace policies currently in place in many businesses.

      • Explain the stone the night before no longer under the influence still fired Kevin – how does that work then?

        • Kevin

           /  4th July 2017

          A person may no longer be stoned but they may still be suffering some of the after effects. Basically equivalent of going to work with a bad hangover. Especially relevant if your job involves operating dangerous machinery for example.

    • as a charity, razor sharp focus on medical usage. So i dont delve too much into rec usage stats etc

  6. patupaiarehe

     /  3rd July 2017

    “Again, we need to remember that cannabis was not invented the day it was legalised in Colorado. People who want to consume cannabis have always found ways to get it, both here and in New Zealand. Those who imagine that the public is somehow safer when cannabis is illegal are deluding themselves.”

    • Kevin

       /  3rd July 2017

      Playing Devil’s Advocate here:

      Forget that it’s a comedy site. The article deals in facts and shows some of the pitfalls in legalising cannabis. And again don’t get me wrong. I support legalisation but we need to be aware of all the potential problems and issues because if it isn’t done right the first time, we will never ever get a second chance.

      • patupaiarehe

         /  3rd July 2017

        Hard to forget it’s a comedy site, with pearls like this Kevin 😀

        Researchers and businesses are working around the clock to be the first to bring a marijuana breathalyzer on the market, but it will be quite some time before something like that’s in place. Some say a spit test would be more effective, which we assume would have a higher compliance rate than a breathalyzer, because nobody blazing down the interstate in their Honda Civic would miss a chance to spit at a cop.

        A good read, regardless…

  1. Cannabis law reform – when, how, not if — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition
  2. Cannabis law reform – when, how, not if — Your NZ – Site Title

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