Lack of urgency on mass killing by poison

Maggy Wassilieff made a good point yesterday about the spate of deaths as a result of synthetic drug use:

Somebody is lacing dried plant material with lethal poison.

This person is a killer. Why aren’t they being hunted down by every cop/soldier in the country?

If we had a sniper/terrorist at loose who had killed 8 people and wounded numerous others in Auckland over the last month, the whole shebang would be in lockdown.

Why do I get the impression that it’s business as usual?

I presume the police are doing some sort of investigation into the source of these lethal drugs, and the suppliers of these lethal drugs. But I haven’t seen any sign of urgency or effort.

Compare this to a case that began in November 2014,when there was a threat to lace milk powder with 1080. This had major trade implications and proved costly financially, it was despicable, but no one was harmed let alone killed.

Stuff: The 1080 milk crisis, from beginning to end

Police have arrested a man almost a year after threats to poison baby milk formula prompted an investigation costing $3 million, and safety measures involving more than 150,000 batch tests on milk products.

The case began in November (2014), when Fonterra and Federated Farmers received 1080-laced packets of infant formula along with a threat to contaminate retail supplies unless the Government stopped using the pest control.

The public knew nothing of this until March 10, when Ministry for Primary Industries deputy director general Scott Gallacher and deputy police commissioner Mike Clement explained the threat at a press conference.

“I’m confident the public will solve this,” Clement said.

Prime Minister John Key assured people infant formula was safe to drink: “We are advised it is extremely unlikely anyone could deliberately contaminate formula during the manufacturing process and there is no evidence that this has ever occurred.”

This eventually resulted in a conviction and a sentence of eight and a half years in prison.

1 News:  Lengthy jail term for 1080 milk threat a deterrent, says Fonterra boss

The eight-and-a-half-year prison sentence for the Auckland businessman who threatened to poison baby milk powder is a deterrent to others, Fonterra’s boss says.

Sixty-year-old Jeremy Kerr’s attempts to blackmail Fonterra and Federated Farmers cost the companies involved and taxpayers $37 million.

Prime Minister John Key says Kerr’s threats that could kill babies were “just despicable behaviour”.

And Fonterra Managing Director Maury Leyland says the idea of that happening is terrifying.

“And that’s why the sentencing, I think, denounces the crime and provides an appropriate deterrent,” said Ms Leyland outside the High Court in Auckland.

In the High Court in Auckland, Justice Geoffrey Venning said the potential impact on New Zealand’s trade relationships with China and other countries was extremely serious.

The police admit the investigation was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

It was a difficult case to solve but the police eventually got a result. It was costly in terms of dollars and threats to trade.

But in the current illegal drug trade a number of people have died, and it’s safe to assume that many more have suffered, A large number of lives have been ruined by drug concoctions that are deliberately made to be addictive, and they are pushed to vulnerable people.

What are the police doing about it? Where is the public assurances that everything possible is being done to protect people from this spate of poisoning?

Why aren’t politicians jumping up and down and demanding more be done?

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has been saying something: Govt ‘not satisfied’ with synthetic cannabis death handling

Mr Dunne said the first he knew about seven deaths linked to unidentified psychoactive substances this month was about an hour before police made the information public in a news release.

That number rose to eight yesterday when a man died after becoming ill from smoking synthetic cannabis.

Mr Dunne was satisfied with the detection work police were doing to track down who was selling and distributing the drugs, which can contain a range of different and sometimes unknown chemicals.

“I’m not satisfied, though, with the information that’s being shared,” Mr Dunne told Morning Report.

“That information had obviously been known to police and the coronial officials for some time. I don’t think it’s reasonable that the government wasn’t made aware of that until virtually the last minute.”

The government was now coordinating a response from police, district health boards and Ministry of Health officials – something that could have been done earlier with better communication, he said.

Dunne has been left fronting for the government on serious drug issues again.

Where are the other MPs on this? Ducking for cover it seems.

Mr Dunne agreed that more liberal laws for natural cannabis could help.

“But there are two big problems in this issue – one’s called National and one’s called Labour,” he said.

“Both the major parties have consistently ruled out any change in this area.”

Because it’s just drug users (and isn’t a threat to business?) this doesn’t appear to be much of a concern to other parties.

NZ Herald: Drug deaths don’t warrant Government response – Prime Minister Bill English

English rejected suggestions that an urgent Government-level response was required this afternoon, instead saying that people needed to avoid illegal substances and show more personal responsibility.

Speaking at his weekly press conference this afternoon, English said he had asked for advice on any possible responses to the fatalities.

“[The advice] falls into two categories. It is an illegal drug, it has to be policed, and we are not the police force.

“But the most important thing here … is that people do not take these illegal substances that can kill them.

“That sense of personal responsibility is pretty critical to staying alive. They need to decide they are not going to take these drugs”.

I guess babies and their parents could have been educated about the risks of taking milk powder – close to zero risk in reality.

Green Party health spokeswoman Julie-Anne Genter…

…said she was “extremely shocked and upset” at the absence of any Government plan or response to the drug-related deaths and injuries.

She said that in the short term the police should at least create a special unit to deal with the synthetic cannabis issue. Drug-checking facilities should also be made legal and resourced, she said.

In the medium term, Genter said legalising cannabis would create a “safe alternative” and lower the risk of black market-related drug deaths – a move English flatly rejected today.

Stuff: Police, coroner investigating multiple synthetic cannabis deaths: ‘further people are going to die’

“If we don’t do something about this, further people are going to die,” Detective Inspector Gary Lendrum said at a press conference on Friday afternoon.

“We’ve got reports of 13-year-olds right through to 64-year-olds using this product, so it’s right across New Zealand, and right across society.”

Labour leader Andrew Little said the reports were “incredibly disturbing”.

“I know police are saying they’re going to conduct an investigation – the Minister of Health has got to be involved in that. We’ve got to understand what’s happened there.

“It throws open the whole issue about the ability to regulate in this area and people’s safety with a substance that is constantly changing. It may well be time, even though it’s been a reasonably short period of time, for Parliament to review and revisit just what it has done in relation to synthetic cannabis.”

So politicians are expressing some concern, but there is no sign of real pressure to do something about the situation on drug supply and use and legality.

Eight people have died. Many more are at risk. This is a crisis, urgency and a lot more jumping up and down and demanding action is surely justified.

The number of deaths in a short time is out of the ordinary but deaths and the wrecking of lives has been going on for a long time.

When big business and foreign trade was at stake there seemed to be more concern.

Drug addicts don’t seem to matter as much to our Parliament.

However the costs are actually high. Illicit drugs cost lives, this is not new. There are substantial costs to society and to taxpayers through policing and the courts and prisons and the health system. Drug abuse impacts on individuals and families and work productivity.

Poisoning by drugs has a massive human and financial cost.

After eight deaths in a short period of time surely our politicians should be motivated to do much more than make noises and then go back to kicking the cannabis can down the road.

All parties should be doing more.

But in particular Bill English and National have to step up. For too long they have left Peter Dunne to cop all the flak on drug problems and copped out of responsibility themselves, but the fact is that Dunne has done much more than any other MP to try and promote change in the way we deal with drug supply and abuse. Dunne has only one vote against National’s 59, and Parliament’s 120.

If there was ever a time for a Prime Minister to step up on an issue surely eight deaths is enough to prompt some leadership.

Synthetic ‘cannabis’ crisis

I don’t think that what is referred to as ‘synthetic cannabis’ is cannabis, as I understand it it is plant material laced with a wide variety of drugs.

One of the problems is that users often have no idea what drugs they are taking. Another is not doing how potent any drugs are.

There has been an outbreak of deaths and admissions to hospital due to the use and abuse of synthetic concoctions.

RNZ: Synthetic cannabis crisis: ‘We need to be working together on this’

Police are being accused of failing to pass on crucial information about synthetic cannabis to those who are dealing with the drug at the coal face.

The death toll has risen to eight after a 24-year-old man suspected of taking the drug died at Middlemore Hospital last night.

Police had known about a very strong kind of synthetic cannabis being used, called AMB-FUBINACA, for over a year now but only recently shared information about it with other organisations, Drug Foundation chief executive Ross Bell said.

READ MORE:Synthetic Cannabis: The killer high

The cannabinoid was more than 75 times more potent that THC, the active ingredient in natural cannabis, and over the past year had become the most commonly detected type of cannabinoid in its lab, ESR Forensic Chemistry Manager Kevan Walsh said.

“It’s gained some notoriety overseas… some have referred to it as a zombie drug,” he said.

The results of ESR’s testing were passed to the police, who were its clients, and it was up to them to share the information, Mr Walsh said.

However, police said they could not always share information if it related to coronial investigations or if it was before the court.

Mr Bell said that needed to change, especially in times of a public health crisis.

“There does need to be a clear protocol or process in place where that very important information is made more widely available to people like us, or drug treatment agencies, when the police make these discoveries, rather than sitting on the information,” he said.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne agreed information between police and other authorities -including himself – needed to improve.

He said an emergency response unit was being set up between Auckland health authorities and police to try and and get a handle on the situation.

“There’s certainly been a problem in getting the information from police. I was a little surprised to get less than a couple of hours notice of their announcement last Friday. There’s been no contact with my office at all on this.”

“We need to be working together on this,” he said.

A special incident response unit is being set up at the Auckland District Health Board in conjunction with police, to try and get a handle on what synthetic cannabis products are being used and how it can be stopped, Mr Dunne said.

Auckland Police said they still had no idea where the drug was coming from and were asking for the public’s help.

Acting Detective Inspector Peter Florence said it was “a big worry” that people were taking synthetic cannabis.

NZ Herald:  Synthetic cannabis ‘worse than meth’ according to addiction specialist

A drug counsellor says the effects of synthetic cannabis can be worse than meth, with users kept up for days and sometimes being driven into psychosis.

Clinical director of Alcohol & Drug Assessment & Counselling (ADAC) Roger Brooking said the drug was far stronger than most users realised.

“It tends to keep them awake for days on end, much like methamphetamine does.

“My experience would be that it drives people psychotic, or at least in that direction, more quickly than methamphetamine.

“It’s a lot more addictive than the plant cannabis, it has no business being called cannabis.

“Normal cannabis, it’s kind of psychologically addictive, but not physically addictive.

“But the synthetic chemicals being used seem to be a lot more addictive, and once people start they find it very hard to stop.”

This has become a major and dangerous issue, and again raises the question of why natural cannabis is still illegal. It has it’s own risks but it is far better known and far l;ess a risk than many other drugs.

Brooking believed there needed to be big changes to stop the problem getting any worse, including decriminalising cannabis.

“I mean, if I was in charge of this I’d decriminalise all illicit drugs, as they have in Portugal.

“Because these drugs are illegal, when people use them and get caught they get steered into the justice system instead of getting steered into the health system.

“For the average user, these cause health problems rather than legal problems.

“If cannabis was decriminalised, people wouldn’t have to go looking for some of these other substances.”

But the National led government has been strongly against relaxing laws on cannabis.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne agreed that a “significant part” of problem was that synthetic cannabis was banned, and then driven underground.

He said he had spoken to Prime Minister Bill English about the idea of regulating the drug, and would “keep the discussion going”.

“Had we had a regulated market in place, this stuff would have had to be submitted for testing before being sold.

“Because its been driven underground we don’t know what it is, it’s not being tested, and we’re dealing with consequences. We’re playing catch-up all over again.

“There are so many new psychoactive substances coming down the pipeline, whether this is a blip or the start of a flood, we just don’t know.”

We will forever be reacting to the adverse effects of illegal drug use unless we take a different approach to cannabis.

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.

 

Cannabidiol (CBD) can now be prescribed by doctors

A small but important step towards making it easier to access the medicinal cannabis extract cannabidiol (CBD), which is a non-hallucinogenic extract and believed to be beneficial for a number of ailments and for pain relief.

There are very few products available in New Zealand, but was they become available the way is clear for doctors to prescribe them. Currently approval has to be sought through the Ministry of Health.

Australia has already dome something similar so it will allow New Zealand to access the same CBD based drugs that become available in Australia.

Peter Dunne has driven this, getting the approval of the National dominated Cabinet.

Beehive notice:


Government to ease restrictions on Cannabidiol

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne says New Zealand is to remove restrictions around cannabidiol (CBD), in line with international developments.

CBD is a substance found in cannabis that has potential therapeutic value. It has little or no psychoactive properties, yet it is currently a controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

“At present CBD products for therapeutic use are only available if approval is given by the Ministry of Health.

“I have taken advice from the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs (EACD) that CBD should not be a controlled drug and am pleased Cabinet has now accepted my recommendation to make this change.  Therefore, I am now taking steps to remove restrictions accordingly.

“In practical terms, the changes mean CBD would be able to be prescribed by a doctor to their patient and supplied in a manner similar to any other prescription medicine.

“Australia has already taken a similar step while other countries are also responding to emerging evidence that CBD has a low risk of harm when used therapeutically.

“This change is about future-proofing access to CBD products, as the reality is that there will continue to be barriers beyond New Zealand’s control to people accessing such products from overseas,” says Mr Dunne.

Currently there is a limited range of CBD products made to a standard where prescribers can be sure the products contains what is claimed – and strict import and export restrictions on products sourced from other countries, which will continue to impact the supply of CBD products in New Zealand.

“However, we do know of at least one CBD product in development made to high manufacturing standards that will contain two per cent or less of the other cannabinoids found in cannabis,” said Mr Dunne.

The changes will include removing requirements for:

  • Ministerial approval to prescribe;
  • pharmacies, prescribers, and wholesalers to have an import licence, and to meet certain requirements for storage, and the maintaining of controlled drug records and stock keeping.

Prescriptions would be allowed for up to three months’ supply, rather than one month. These measures can be achieved by amending the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 1977 in the first instance, pending any future amendment of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

English dumps on cannabis proposals

Last week Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne suggested that the poorly working laws on cannabis need to be changed.

Stuff: Peter Dunne says ‘Class C’ drugs like cannabis should be made legal and regulated

Our current law isn’t stopping New Zealanders from using drugs.

This year’s Global Drug Survey quizzed 3795 Kiwis about their drug habits. Of them, 70.8 per cent said they’d used illegal drugs in the past, with 42.7 per cent using them in the past 12 months, and 13.6 per cent in the last month.

For some time now, Dunne’s been talking up the merits of Portugal’s drug laws, where every drug is decriminalised – albeit with a caveat: If you’re caught with less than 10 days of any drug – cannabis, heroin, methamphetamine, or anything in between – you won’t be prosecuted. Instead, you’ll be fined or sent to treatment.

While some dump on Dunne whenever he mentions cannabis he has been doing more than any other politician in trying to fix drug laws that are clearly failing.

The main impediment has been the dominant National Party position on cannabis.

Rather than creating a free-for-all, Portugal saw its people’s drug use slump: in the 1990s, one in every 100 people in Portugal was addicted to heroin; since then, overall drug use has dropped 75 per cent.

Dunne wants to see that replicated in New Zealand.

“I think the full Portuguese solution, personally, might be the way for us to go long term. That might be where we head,” he says.

“I don’t think that’s necessarily where it ends, because you still have the problem – particularly in New Zealand – of the production and distribution being by the gangs, which is illegal, and all that sort of conflict.”

This is supported by experts.

Medical anthropologist Geoff Noller explains why Portugal’s model works: “I think it removes the sexy factor, because [drugs become] just another thing, and it allows people to be educated about it”.

“Because it’s not illegal anymore, we can actually talk about it. It’s very hard to have rational, truthful education and information about safe use [when] you can’t. If you remove it from this big shadow of evilness, then you can actually start talking about it.”

While a “complete rewrite” of the Misuse of Drugs Act is expected over the next three years, it’s not clear whether that kind of shake-up would feature – although the Drug Foundation would hope so.

“The sky doesn’t fall in when you do a Portugal-style reform,” executive director Ross Bell says.

“Decriminalise all drugs, stop it from being a law enforcement issue, make it a health issue and invest in health. We should be able to do this by 2020.”

But not by all experts.

However, Otago University psychiatry lecturer Dr Giles Newton-Howes is on the fence.

He says the idea of being rehabilitative instead of punitive “makes a lot of sense”, but he’d want to see more evidence of the treatment outcomes before signing New Zealand up.

“I would be cautiously interested in seeing how that Portugal experiment evolves. I wouldn’t want New Zealand to be running down that road yet, because there are lots of drugs which are really not very safe, especially for the developing brain.

“I’m not convinced that that’s a safe road for us to be going down just yet, but I do think it’s something we should be keeping a really close eye on.”

But New Zealand is lagging other countries in addressing a failing ‘war on drugs’, especially drugs causing less harm than alcohol.

Cannabis lobby group Norml welcomes the idea of putting the drug under Psychoactive Substances Act: in fact, it came up with it.

“When we were making our views known when the law was being drafted, that was always our objective, to have it so natural cannabis and other low-risk drugs can go through there too,” Norml president Chris Fowlie says.

While he says “any form of law reform” would be better than the current law, Norml would prefer legalisation to decriminalisation.

Bell agrees Dunne’s plan for cannabis “has a whole lot of merit”.

“The classification of low-risk drugs like cannabis, with a real strong public health focus, I think, is an inevitability.”

Newshub: Expert backs MP’s call for rewrite of drug laws

A drug expert is urging the Government to seriously consider an MP’s case for legalising Class C drugs.

United Future Leader Peter Dunne wants drugs like cannabis to be legalised, saying this might actually help cut down the nation’s use.

“The test is evidence based around the risk posed to the user… there are clear controls on the manufacture, sale and distribution of any such products that might be approved.”

Associate Professor Chris Wilkins of Massey University says it might not be a bad idea.

“I think New Zealand needs to start having a serious discussion and develop some evidence and get some expert opinion about where we should be heading, rather than just taking a kneejerk reaction that might come out of an election or a particular politician’s approach.”

Prof Wilkins says he’s been working on a draft regulatory model that will be released in the next week.

“It’s important that some of the money from the cannabis industry gets earmarked for drug treatment, for drug prevention. The model we’ve been working on goes down that route.”

Other countries are looking at reform.

New Zealand wouldn’t need to reinvent the wheel either, with several other countries years ahead in decriminalisation.

“Eight states in the US have legalised the supply and use of cannabis. Canada will legalise use and supply this year. There are a lot of innovative approaches out there, so I think it’s something definitely we could discuss and debate.”

But, while some younger National MPs support drug law reform, the current Government under Bill English is digging it’s toes in, and keeping it’s head in the sand.

From @TheAMShowNZ

Bill English says they don’t support Peter Dunne’s idea for licensed manufacturers to test and sell class C drugs like marijuana.

“we don’t want to create more damage”

It’s hard to see how more damage can be created by the current mess of law and police practice.

So the prospects of drug law reform in New Zealand don’t look good. Even if National loose the election Labour have said “it is not a priority” meaning they don’t want to propose anything that could be controversial or contentious (that approach has failed them so far).

Unless something can be negotiated as part of a coalition arrangement.

Dunne may not be an MP after the election. If he survives his one vote is unlikely to hold much power.

ACT don’t look like having more than one voter either at this stage.

The Maori Party have said they would consider drug law changes but I doubt they would make it a part of any coalition agreement.

The Greens are possibly the only party that are likely to have enough votes and enough sway to force the issue – if they are willing to back many years of supposed support for drug law reform.

Misuse of drugs is a major factor in ‘poverty’ and imprisonment problems, things the Greens think need addressing.

That’s for sure.

Drug policy proposals

Drug policy proposals that the NZ Drug Foundation responded to with “This aligns with our thinking (which we are going to canvass at the symposium).


The 2015 National Drug Policy introduced a number of specific actions to reinforce the central message that drug issues are primarily health, not legal, issues, and foreshadowed a major rewrite of our creaking 1975 Misuse of Drugs Act during the next term of Parliament, once these actions have been completed.

…now is the time to be looking at what that next set of steps might be. I envisage a two-stage process.

First, we should move to an overall approach similar to the full Portuguese model, where the cultivation and possession of all drugs remains illegal, and all drug users are referred for assessment and treatment, but where there is a tolerance exercised for the possession of what are essentially Class C drugs under the current Misuse of Drugs Act. In that event, persons caught with – say – no more than the equivalent of one week’s personal supply would be referred directly to treatment rather the Courts, in an extension of our current diversion scheme.

This would require significant additional investment in the provision of assessment and treatment services, but that makes far more sense than investing similar amounts more in the Courts and prison services for the same purpose. At the same time, it would free up more Police resources to concentrate on catching the criminals behind the New Zealand drugs scene.

The second stage of the process, when the Misuse of Drugs Act is rewritten, would be to transfer the current Schedule of Class C Drugs from that Act to the Psychoactive Substances Act.

This would mean that they would be regulated the same way as synthetic substances, where the test is evidence based around the risk posed to the user, and where there are clear controls on the manufacture, sale and distribution of any such products that might be approved.

For its part, the Psychoactive Substances Authority would be required to determine an alternative to animal testing – the prohibition of which is what currently prevents that Act from working fully.

One issue that is often properly raised in the context of drug law reform is the role of the gangs as producers and distributors of drugs like cannabis. It is argued with some validity that legalising cannabis would legalise the criminal activities of the gangs and deliver them total control, something none of us are in favour of.

But, the Psychoactive Substances Act provides a way of resolving this issue. Under the Act, before a product can be submitted for testing, the producer first has to have been granted a “fit and proper person” licence.

No criminal organisation will be ever meet that standard or be granted such a licence, which would completely exclude the gangs. Instead, we would have a regulated market for all drugs, synthetic or otherwise, that the Psychoactive Substances Authority considers pose a low risk to users. The possession and supply of all other drugs would remain illegal, and the law would take its course.

The approach UnitedFuture proposes therefore has three key components:

  • mandatory and comprehensive treatment for everyone caught with drugs;
  • a pragmatic approach to anyone caught with minor amounts of low level drugs;
  • shutting the criminals out of the cannabis industry.

As such, it fits four square with the compassionate, innovative and proportionate approach drug policy I have long advocated.


It should be obvious now that this proposal is from Peter Dunne – I left his name out of it in the introduction to try to get people to read this with an open mind.

All options and opinions should be on the table when it comes to reviewing our drug laws, and while Dunne cops a lot of flak from those who want drug laws liberfalised and modernised he has more knowledge and expertise than most on what doesn’t work, what might work and what is possible politically in New Zealand.

Morgan message on J Day

The annual J Day was held on Saturday.

Norml: J Day this Saturday 6 May, nationwide cannabis law reform events

J Day is a worldwide protest against prohibition and a celebration of Kiwi cannabis culture, held on the first Saturday in May every year. This Saturday is the 26th Annual national day of action supporting cannabis law reform, including safe legal access to medicinal cannabis.

To mark the occasion NORML and our cannabis law reform colleagues organise free events nationwide. J Day is where supporters of cannabis law reform can meet like minded people, relax without fear, learn how they can help make cannabis legal, join their local group and meet other cannabis advocates.

“With an election soon it is important people show their support,” said J Day’s national coordinator Chris Fowlie, of Auckland. “For the first time there are multiple parties contesting the election who advocate for cannabis law reform. The Greens have been joined by Labour and the Maori Party, as well as ACT, TOP and the Cannabis Party. Even United Future is on the side of reform!”

“We agree cannabis should be a health issue, not a crime, and there are too many cannabis users to arrest.”

Gareth Morgan of TOP (The Opportunities Party) has given a message to mark the occasion:

Sorry I can’t be with you on J Day, which is a bit of a shame because it’s very significant one this year for us.

We are about to produce a policy on cannabis law reform.

We have looked at the issues around this subject and the big one is harm.

We have to minimise harm and it’s pretty clear from all the evidence that, particularly internationally, that prohibition is not the way to go if you want to minimise harm from use of this drug. be produced and under what restrictions, what pricing, all that sort of stuff.

Pretty exciting times and I look forward to being back with you in a couple of weeks when we do produce this policy and I think you will find that it’s both exciting and a big step forward in terms of minimising the harm of cannabis. All the best.

There is growing pressure on Parliament and on parties to address the problems caused by current laws and current application of laws on cannabis.

Morgan and TOP will help to promote that pressure.

Prohibition has driven synthetic drugs

Prohibition of drugs, especially the relatively low-harm natural cannabis, has driven the creation of a huge number of ‘legal highs’ or ‘novel psychoactive substances’ (NPS) – the European Drug Monitoring Center has identified more than 602 different NPS, with 101 new NPS emerging during 2014.

Transform: Prohibiting drugs has ironically only created more drugs: the world against the NPS problem

The ‘legal’ NPS market has largely emerged in response to demand for the effect the drugs provide in the context of historic prohibitions on such products. When legal products arrive that compare favourably to their illegal counterparts in terms of effect, risk, quality and price—it is unsurprising that they become popular, and can, to some extent, displace some illegal drugs.

This phenomenon, and the specific challenges created by the rapid emergence of multiple NPS with unknown risk profiles occurs largely because of the lack of legal availability of more familiar and well understood drugs such as cannabis, ecstasy/MDMA and even cocaine.

Drug prohibition has pushed the creation of legal alternatives, which are a safer way to make money but generally a less safe way to use drugs.

There would have been, for example, no demand in Western markets for the synthetic NPS cannabis mimics if their(much safer and less potent) natural cousin had been legally available.

If the last 50 years teach us anything it is that whilst demand remains for a particular drug (or drug effect), the profit opportunity created means that the market will always find a way to meet it—whether legal or illegal.

Most countries have been slow to recognise this and deal with it more effectively.

Just as the emergence of NPS is an unintended consequence of historic prohibitions, so prohibiting a particular NPS can then have significant unintended consequences. Especially when demand for a given substance has been established, a ban is likely to have one or more of the following impacts;

  • Creating a void in the legal NPS market into which one or more new substance will move (the net health impacts of which are impossible to predict);
  • Diverting users back to the illegal substances the NPS are likely to have been a substitute for (exposing users to the risk of the illegal market and criminalisation over and above the risks of the drug use);
  • or leading to the emergence of criminal market for the formerly legal NPS—in which it is likely that the quality (in terms of purity and reliability) of the product decreases and the cost increases.

All of these phenomena have been witnessed with attempts to ban successive waves of NPS in Western markets.

Attempts to ban new variants as they appeared was tried unsuccessfully in New Zealand.

The NPS phenomenon therefore presents a huge challenge for policy makers. The unregulated legal markets for NPS are clearly not acceptable, but at the same time it seems clear that prohibitions will, as so often before, only make things worse.

There is, therefore, an urgent need to explore regulated market options that occupy the middle ground between total prohibition and unregulated free markets.

We tried to do this in New Zealand with a new approach that was observed with interest by other countries.

This is the road taken by New Zealand which in 2013 passed the ‘Psychoactive Substances Act’, which allows certain “lower- risk” NPS to be legally produced and sold within a strict regulatory framework.

The new law puts the onus on producers to establish the risks of the products they wish to sell, as well as mandating a minimum purchase age of 18; a ban on advertising, except at point of sale; restrictions on which outlets can sell NPS products; and labelling and packaging requirements.

But after passing legislation the Government buckled under public and media pressure.

The New Zealand government stated: “We are doing this because the current situation is untenable. Current legislation is ineffective in dealing with the rapid growth in synthetic psychoactive substances which can be tweaked to be one step ahead of controls. Products are being sold without any controls over their ingredients, without testing requirements, or controls over where they can be sold”.

The new law remains in place, but has run into a number of technical challenges – crucially, how to establish ‘“low-risk” harm thresholds without using animal testing – as well as political opposition. As yet no NPS are regulated under the system – but it has at least demonstrated that another way is possible.

After the legislation came into effect, leaving some NPS legally available media publicity about the perceptions created by concentrating availability in much fewer outlets led to political pressure and the Government wimped out.

But this only came about because successive governments and just about every political party (with the exception of the Cannabis Party (ALCP) have kept wimping out over addressing the bigger problem – that continuing prohibition on far less risky drugs, especially cannabis is driving the use of NPS.

And prohibition of cannabis is likely to be a factor in the increased use of harder and far more addictive drugs like methamphetamine.

Methamphetamine is an extremely addictive, powerful stimulant. It produces wakefulness, hyperactivity and a euphoric effect. Methamphetamine is also known as speed, pure, P, burn, goey, crank, meth, crystal, ice and yaba.

Importers, producers and distributors of illegal drugs are taking a risk, so it figures that they will try to make as much money as they can to make the risk worth it.

And drug users are also taking a risk. With cannabis being illegal it will make it easier to push susceptible people onto harder drugs like P – profit margins are far higher, with the bonus of it being easy to addict customers to the products, so casual users become regular self abusers.

Hard drug addicts often resort to crime to finance their habits. Pushers don’t care about this, just as they don’t care about ruining people’s lives so they can make money.

Even cannabis is a problem when illegal, because in an uncontrolled illegal market suppliers push for maximum use for maximum profit.

If relatively safe drugs like cannabis were not illegal and could be obtained in a controlled market, or self produced, then more people attracted to psychoactive substances could use them with far lower risks.

It wouldn’t be a simple solution, because those accustomed to making money off other people’s misery would try to expand their hard drug markets if their soft drug markets were stripped away. But it would provide a less bad (and legal) option for those who want to use drugs other than alcohol.

It’s not just cannabis that is a safer alternative.

More dangerous addictive drugs have become prevalent after earlier safer hallucinogens were replaced.

Remember LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide). It had adverse side effects, but compared to other drugs it was relatively benign – it isn’t addictive, and:

Of the 20 drugs ranked according to individual and societal harm by David Nutt, LSD was third to last, approximately 10 times less harmful than alcohol. The most significant adverse effect was impairment of mental functioning while intoxicated.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lysergic_acid_diethylamide#Adverse_effects

We have ended up with LSD and cannabis illegal, a scourge of far more dangerous and addictive drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine being pushed for profit, and huge societal and health problems with the promotion and overuse of our one legal recreational drug, alcohol.

But this situation looks unlikely to change markedly. On drugs our governments, our politicians and our political parties are wimps.

Genter v Dunne on medical cannabis

In Parliament yesterday Green MP Julie Anne Genter questioned Associate health Minister Peter Dunne on the ease of access to medical cannabis.

Dunne said that the Australian system of registering medical users wasn’t working well, and the way the police are supposed to be ‘compassionate’ when deciding whether to charge cannabis users in New Zealand is ‘pragmatic’ and more effective.

But it means many medical users of cannabis products are still acting illegally.

Dunne suggests that those wanting to use medical cannabis should visit the Ministry of Health website for information:

Prescribing cannabis-based products

Please note that the Government does not support the use of unprocessed or partially processed cannabis leaf or flower preparations for medicinal use.

There are three types of cannabis-based products that may be considered for Ministerial approval:

  1. Pharmaceutical grade products that have consent for distribution in New Zealand. Consent for distribution means that the product has been determined by Medsafe to meet acceptable safety and efficacy requirements for distribution in New Zealand. The only product meeting this criterion currently is Sativex® for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. It may also be prescribed as a non-consented product for some other medical conditions.
  2. Pharmaceutical grade products that do not have consent for distribution in New Zealand, for example a product that has been manufactured by a pharmaceutical company overseas.
  3. Non-pharmaceutical grade products, that is products that are not manufactured to internationally recognised pharmaceutical manufacturing standards. They may, or may not, have been intended to be used as medicines.

The MoH has Guidelines to assess applications for Ministerial approval to prescribe, supply and administer

It looks very unlikely that National will even consider any possible law changes on cannabis, which means that under the current Government the current limitations are likely to remain at least until after the election.

Draft transcript:


Drugs, Illegal—Medical Cannabis

12. JULIE ANNE GENTER (Green) to the Associate Minister of Health: Will he recommend his Government change the law so that New Zealanders with terminal illnesses using medical cannabis are not at risk of being raided by the Police and prosecuted.

Hon PETER DUNNE (Associate Minister of Health): Patients using approved cannabis-based products, such as Sativex and other approved non-pharmaceutical grade cannabis products, are not at risk.

For those choosing to use raw cannabis or unapproved cannabis-based products, I have received a number of assurances from the Commissioner of Police that small-scale use by the terminally ill is not a priority, and that approach is consistent with the emphasis on compassion set out in the Government’s 2015 National Drug Policy.

I have considered the compassionate access scheme implemented in New South Wales. However, following very frank discussions with the Australian delegation at last month’s United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting about the workability of such a scheme, I have concluded that New Zealand’s more pragmatic approach based around the pillars of compassion, proportion, and innovation that underpin the National Drug Policy is the more appropriate course to follow

Julie Anne Genter: So rather than changing the law to reflect the fact that we think that it is acceptable for sick people to use cannabis to alleviate their suffering, is he suggesting that people should continue to break the law hoping that the police will not pursue them?

Hon PETER DUNNE: I make two points in response. Firstly, there is huge distinction to be drawn between raw cannabis and cannabis-based medicinal products. The Government has no interest in making any legal change, nor does any other party in Parliament, as far as I am aware, to the status of the raw cannabis plant.

With regard to cannabis-based medicines, the best advice I would give any patient who feels they might benefit from such a medicine is to talk to their general practitioner and their specialist about accessing the pathway that is in place.

They can view that at the Ministry of Health website; it is a very simple pathway to follow and if it is determined that that is the best treatment available to them, then it can be made available to them.

For people who choose to go outside that system, then they do run the risk, particularly if they are using the raw product, but, as I said earlier, I have been assured by the police that they will adopt a compassionate approach.

Julie Anne Genter: Without a clear legal framework or a register for patients, how will the police be able to judge who is a legitimate medical user and who to be compassionate with?

Hon PETER DUNNE: The member raises a good point, and it was one that I pursued with the Australians when I discussed the matter with them.

The absence of a register is actually no salvation in this regard because they find exactly the same problem with the register in New South Wales in determining who is a legitimate name to be included upon it—and bear in mind in the New South Wales case you can include up to 3 other people as supporters.

But they have also found that a number of people who are suppliers, when confronted by the police about being suppliers, say that they only supply to patients with terminal illnesses. So the whole thing has become, essentially, unworkable. I think the pragmatic approach that we have here, provided it is exercised with compassion, is the far more prudent course to follow.

Julie Anne Genter: Without a law change, how can he ensure that terminally and chronically ill patients in New Zealand will not find themselves in court for using cannabis to alleviate their suffering?

Hon PETER DUNNE: I did not hear the first part of the member’s question, but I think what she was seeking was some clarification as to how we can protect people from the potential risk. I come back to what I said in response to the earlier supplementary question.

The very best step that anyone who feels that they would benefit from a cannabis-based medical product can take is to talk to their general practitioner about accessing the pathway set out so clearly on the Ministry of Health website.

People who resort to just growing a bit in the backyard or talking to a mate and getting some from them do run some risks.

If they have genuine health issues, my absolutely strong advice is to talk to their general practitioner about accessing the pathway that is currently available.


For more information on medical cannabis in New Zealand see this support site:

Medical Cannabis Awareness NZ

Cannabis progress in North & South America

 

While the New Zealand government continues to do virtually nothing about addressing cannabis law (apart from allowing limited use of medicinal cannabis extracts) the rest of the world moves on with reforms.

CNBC: Canada to legalize Cannabis from next year: report

Canadians will be free to smoke and grow their own cannabis from next July under new laws which legalize the possession of marijuana for personal consumption, according to reports from Canadian national broadcaster CBC News.

The new freedoms, which were presented to the Liberal government over the weekend by MP Bill Blair, will be announced during the week of April 10 before being written into law in time for Canada Day on July 1, 2018, according to reports from Canadian national broadcaster CBC News.

Under the new law, the Federal government in Ottawa will set a minimum purchasing age of 18 and will be in charge of licensing producers, however, provincial government will have the authority to manage distribution and pricing. It will also be entitled to raise the minimum purchase age. Canadians will also be free to grow up to four marijuana plants per household.

And (ODT): Argentina approves medicinal cannabis

Argentina has given final legislative approval to a bill legalising cannabis oil for medicinal use and permitting the federal government to grow marijuana for research and therapeutic purposes.

The measure will become law once it is signed by President Mauricio Macri, whose Cambiemos party sponsored the bill.

“Thirty percent of epileptics do not respond to traditional medicine,” medical doctor Ana María García Nicora, who heads the Medical Cannabis Argentina group, told local television after the Senate’s final vote on the measure.

“My daughter has had epilepsy for 24 years and this is an option for her,” she said.

And not just in Argentina:

Chile and Colombia have adopted similar laws and neighboring Uruguay has gone as far as to legalize smoking marijuana, seeking to wrest the business from criminals in the small South American nation.

A bill approving the use of cannabis oil is pending in Peru’s Congress.

In January, healthcare regulators in Brazil issued the country’s first license for sale of an oral spray derived from marijuana used to treat multiple sclerosis.

There has also been a lot of changes to cannabis laws in many states in the US.

Meantime here in New Zealand we continue to suffer the consequences of outdated and ineffective drug laws.