Facts and factions for cannabis law reform

Two articles show how the debate over cannabis law reform is growing, with a referendum of some sort promised before or alongside the 2020 election.

Newshub: Cannabis: Where is the data? (Joel Rindelaub):

New Zealand is gearing up for a contentious cannabis conversation. Looking to temper the current NZ opinion, which – according to recent polls – is 67 percent in favour of cannabis reform, Family First’s Bob McCoskrie recently submitted a comment to the NZ Herald that condemned the marijuana movement in Colorado, comparing it to a Big Tobacco industry that doesn’t care about the health and safety of consumers.

Using statistics from a highly criticised report that Forbes Magazine has called “dishonest”, McCoskrie claimed that adolescent use has increased in Colorado, that cannabis is responsible for significant societal harm, and that “Big Marijuana” is trying to get kids addicted. Of course, none of this is true, based on the data available from credible scientific studies.

Instead, since legalisation, Colorado has seen its lowest rates of adolescent use in a decade, a reduction in deaths from opioid use, an increase in closing unsolved crimes, and – to date – nearly $1 billion in government revenue.

While Colorado’s results should be considered preliminary, they are consistent with others that have changed their stance on the substance. In addition to a decrease in drug-related homicides, the implementation of progressive marijuana laws in the State of Washington has coincided with a reduction in sexual assault and property crimes as well as a decrease in the abuse of other substances, such as alcohol.

Supporters of the substance also turn to its medical applications, including its use to alleviate symptoms of chemotherapy, reduce seizures in epilepsy patients, and its potential as a safer, less addictive pain reliever. In fact, the World Health Organisation has called for a component of cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD), to be removed from internationally controlled substance lists, due to its lack of harm and potential therapeutic benefits.

This news has fuelled cannabis activists, who claim that legalisation will allow police to shift focus onto violent offences, ease the burden on the prison systems, reduce organised crime, lead to better drug education, and provide less societal dependence on dangerous opioid painkillers.

The cannabis activists Flying the flag for cannabis law reform (Russell Brown):

A referendum on legalising cannabis will take place either next year or in 2020. The crucial details – the timing of the referendum, the nature of the process and the question voters will be asked – will be announced by the responsible minister, Andrew Little, before Christmas. But already, the government’s decision to do something no nation has before – put the question of whether to reform drug laws directly to its voters – is changing the face of cannabis advocacy.

Last month, the bland conference level of the James Cook hotel in Wellington was host to something different to the corporate away-days that are its usual fare: a cannabis conference. Or, more specifically, a conference about New Zealand’s coming cannabis referendum.

The event was a bid by the Cannabis Referendum Coalition (CRC) – a new group of old campaigners – to move beyond the loose and sometimes fractious history of cannabis advocacy and present a coherent, even respectable, face.

It largely succeeded.

Ironically, the CRC and its veteran activists look in some ways like a conservative party in the referendum debate. Over the day of the conference, it became clear that there was a strong mood on the floor for a non-profit-at-retail model, something like Spain’s cannabis social clubs, rather than a commercial one. And the final conference resolutions called for a two-part question: the first part asking whether possession and use should be legalised, and the second on allowing regulated sale.

But if the legalise cannabis advocates now have their ducks in a row, who and what will constitute a “no” campaign? Murray suggests that gangs who fear the loss of black-market cannabis income could weigh in against legalisation. Right now, however, the obvious opposition consists of one man, Family First’s Bob McCoskrie, known for opposing euthanasia, abortion and smacking law reform.

McCoskrie has been churning out press statements that seem to draw heavily from US religious conservative groups. In an opinion piece published by the New Zealand Herald last week – almost identical to one published two weeks before by Stuff – he focused on the risk of ‘Big Marijuana’, high potency cannabis, and the appeal of the drug to children.

Ironically, the reformers aren’t at all keen on Big Cannabis either. Neither proponents or opponents of change see an excess of capitalism as desirable.

There is likely to be a growing debate over cannabis law reform next year. This will be helped when a timetable for the referendum is known.