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.

Historical Medical Cannabis Policy Briefing with New Zealand Healthcare Officials

From PRNewswire:

United Patients Group Participates in Historical Medical Cannabis Policy Briefing with New Zealand Healthcare Officials

The New Zealand Drug Foundation in conjunction with United in Compassion New Zealand call upon United Patients Group to contribute to a first-of-its-kind collaboration between US and international experts to further explore cannabis as a possible therapeutic treatment in New Zealand for a range of conditions

SAN FRANCISCO, July 23, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — United Patients Group, the leading medical cannabis information and education site, disclosed their participation in a history-making policy briefing held last week in Wellington, New Zealand with key members of the New Zealand Drug Foundation, United In Compassion New Zealand, world-renowned researchers and leading medical cannabis physicians.  United Patients Group will act in an ongoing advisory and consultative capacity to the New Zealand working group in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, to further explore and initiate potential phase 1 medical trials to examine cannabis as a possible therapeutic treatment in New Zealand.

The esteemed invitation-only panel are made up of experts from across the medical cannabis care pathway and included New Zealand and Australian participants, along with several key experts from the United States, including United Patients Group.

John Malanca, founder of United Patients Group commented, “We are honored to be a part of such a ground-breaking and historic effort and are incredibly impressed that the New Zealand government has listened to its constituents and are making a concerted effort to explore thoughtfully and swiftly the benefits of cannabis for medicinal purposes.”

Background
In May 2015, after intense petitioning by United in Compassion NZ, recent media coverage of high profile medical cases and resulting public pressure, New Zealand’s Associate Minister of Health, Peter Dunne, agreed to start a dialogue in order to become better informed about the process of bringing medical cannabis into New Zealand for potential research and development purposes.

Dunne set up a team to explore the current climate regarding medical cannabis in New Zealand and formed a Ministry of Health Working Group, led by Dr. Stewart Jessamine, current Director of Public Health for the Ministry of Health in Wellington.  Jessamine also heads up Medicines Control which functions as a regulatory team within the Ministry of Health that oversees the local distribution chain of medicines and controlled drugs within New Zealand.  Jessamine is also an executive board member for the World Health Organization.

With a marked shift in public opinion toward legalization of cannabis for medical purposes worldwide, New Zealand (like the US) is re-examining its long-standing policies toward the (currently illegal) drug.

Compassion Melds with Science
Malanca further commented, “Fundamentally, it’s difficult to ignore the daily barrage of stories coming from all over the world where medical cannabis is cited as having an effective impact on the relief and treatment for patients living with chronic and life-threatening conditions such as Dravet Syndrome to brain cancer.”

It was Malanca’s own personal experience with the devastating diagnosis of his father-in-law’s lung cancer (which had metastasized to the brain), that led he and co-founder, Corinne Malanca to medical cannabis as a last lifeline for their family member, Stan Rutner.  Five years later, Stan Rutner remains cancer free (both brain and lung scans are clear).  The duo formed United Patients Group in 2010 in order to provide reliable, comprehensive information on medical cannabis to individuals around the world.  The online site has expanded to include information for caregivers, physicians and treatment facilities throughout the US as well as online CME (continuing medical education) courses in medical cannabis .

New Zealand Seeks US Expertise
Toni-Marie Matich is a mother of a teenage daughter suffering from Dravet Syndrome.  Matich also has an early education in science and horticulture. They live in New Zealand, where like many other countries, cannabis is illegal.  She had heard the story of young Charlotte Figi, the Colorado child who was suffering from 300 grand mal seizures per week that was being successfully treated with medical cannabis.

After exhausting all options available in New Zealand, and her daughter still suffering hundreds of seizures a day, Matich  began working behind the scenes for several years to try and raise the issue (and awareness) of medical cannabis, gaining the support of the NZ Children’s Commissioner, and the CEO of the NZ Drug Foundation along the way.  She became the New Zealand representative to United in Compassion Australia in 2014.

“Due to the laws criminalizing cannabis in New Zealand, it isn’t a treatment that our doctors or other health professionals are familiar with, therefore the ability for a doctor to have an open mind and discussion with their patient is non-existent and we would like that to change. I recognized that United Patients Group was leading the way in information across the entire spectrum of the medical cannabis movement in the US, as well as providing the educational resources for clinical and medical professionals, so I sought them out.”

Matich secured a meeting with (Associate Health Minister) Dunne, known for his vehement opposition to legalizing cannabis.  “Dunne listened and showed compassion.  To my surprise he immediately tasked a working group within the ministry to meet with us and engage in developing our initiatives.   A key component was to educate individuals on medical cannabis, so we immediately brought in United Patients Group.”

The policy briefing was hosted by the NZ Drug Foundation which functions as a charitable trust dedicated to advocating for evidence-based drug policies.  Ross Bell, Executive Director for the NZ Drug Foundation said, “Across the globe there’s a tremendous amount of new research coming up surrounding medical cannabis, and some of the research appears to be very promising.”  Bell stresses that at the core of the matter are the people of New Zealand, who are living with medical conditions that many of them feel may benefit from medical cannabis. “We’re thrilled to be working with experts from around the world, like United Patients Group, to address how to specifically deliver a medicine such as cannabis and to what type of medical condition while working through some of the political realities we face, just like any other nation at this time.”

In addition to United Patients Group, participants from the historic policy briefing included:

  • Toni-Marie Matich – Co-Founder and CEO, United in Compassion NZ Charitable Trust
  • Ross Bell – Executive Director of the NZ Drug Foundation
  • Dr. Russell Wills – The Children’s Commissioner (New Zealand)
  • Dr. Alan Shackelford  Harvard-trained physician and medical cannabis researcher who came to worldwide prominence as the doctor who successfully treated Charlotte Figi, the Colorado child suffering from 300 grand mal seizures a week
  • Dr. Bonni Goldstein – Medical Director of Canna-Centers, a medical practice in California devoted to educating patients about the use of cannabis for serious and chronic medical conditions
  • Lucy Haslam – Co-Founder and Director, United In Compassion Australia
  • Troy Langman –  Co-Founder and Director,  United In Compassion Australia and New Zealand
  • Knut Ratzeberg – Laboratory Director, Medical Cannabis Services (AU)
  • Dr. Helga Seyler – Liaison between The University of Sydney and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO)
  • Nevil Schoenmaker – Founded ‘The Seed Bank’ in Holland in 1984, and was one of the first legal producers of cannabis seeds

About United Patients Group
United Patients Group (UPG) is the unparalleled online resource and trusted leader for medical cannabis information and education for physicians, patients and health-related organizations.

Learn more about United Patients Group at www.unitedpatientsgroup.com

About United In Compassion NZ
United In Compassion is a non-profit charitable trust whose purpose is to educate the public on Medicinal Cannabis, supporting and facilitating NZ based research into the therapeutic effects of cannabinoid based medicines, as well as providing support to New Zealanders who would like to access legal medicinal cannabis, as well as to lobby government for legislation changes regarding the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes  http://unitedincompassion.org.nz/

About NZ Drug Foundation
A charitable trust dedicated to evidence-based alcohol and other drug policy.  http://www.drugfoundation.org.nz/

Drug Foundation responds to MOH “underwhelming” evidence on medical cannabis

Ross Bell from the Drug Foundation has queried Ministry of Health advice to Peter Dunne that evidence supporting the effectiveness of medical marijuana is “underwhelming”.

Bell says he fears the information is outdated and says comprehensive research has been done evidence available and “the drug foundation has concluded that cannabis has therapeutic benefits”.

This is inresponse to a speech Dunne has given to the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna – see On Peter Dunne’s speech to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

NZ Herald reports in Ministry of Health investigates medicinal cannabis use.

An investigation into the use of cannabis for medical purposes has been carried out by the Ministry of Health.

Growing numbers of jurisdictions allow cannabis for medical use and the Government has come under pressure to re-examine its use here.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne, who oversaw New Zealand’s innovative regulations on so-called legal highs, asked officials to look into the issue.

“My office receives regular correspondence seeking legislative change … cannabis, I am told, is apparently the panacea for a plethora of ailments, some of which, sadly, are painfully debilitating,” Mr Dunne said.

“For those suffering from such ailments I have enormous sympathy … the evidence [supplied by officials], however, has been underwhelming.”

Bell’s response:

However, NZ Drug Foundation director Ross Bell, who attended the meeting, said he feared advice provided to Mr Dunne was outdated.

“There are lots of countries that have quite well-established medical cannabis regimes, they have experience with this and they have seen some benefit.”

Mr Bell said comprehensive research had been done on the issue.

However, the drug foundation has concluded that cannabis has therapeutic benefits for conditions such as multiple sclerosis and some cancers.

“We should be looking at delivering that benefit through proper medical products … it’s not smokable cannabis.”

Mr Dunne also spoke about how “compassion, innovation and proportion” should be front of mind in the development of drug policy.

“We, as a global community, must continue to move away from rigid law and order responses, and apply a health lens when dealing with those adversely affected by drug use,” Mr Dunne told the gathering.

That message was bold, Mr Bell said, and clearly aligned New Zealand with countries moving beyond a “war on drugs” punitive approach.

However, he was concerned at the dismissal of cannabis for medical use. Mr Bell was told of the ministry’s investigation in a meeting with Mr Dunne in late January.

Sativex mouth spray is the only form of medicinal cannabis currently available, but is not funded by Pharmac and costs about $1300 a month.

Dunne is still in Vienna and unavailable for comment, but his comments have initiated comment an issue of growing importance to many people.

In particular it’s important to find out why the Ministry of Health is so luke-warm on the use of medical cannabis.

Politicians playing silly buggers on drugs?

Ross Bell from NZ Drug Foundation suggests politicians are ‘playing silly buggers’ on rushing through banning law to stop sales of currently legal psychoactive substances.

He also asks why, if substances pose “more than a low risk of harm to individuals using the product”, the Regulatory Authority hasn’t removed them from sale under the current law.

Black market fears over legal high ban

An emergency law banning legal highs will lead to binge-buying, fire sales, a boosted black market and addicts withdrawing without support, warns the New Zealand Drug Foundation.

Foundation boss Ross Bell said the political parties were “playing silly buggers” with the issue because they had all agreed to stagger the implementation of the Psychoactive Substances Act, introduced in July last year, meaning a testing regime had still not been developed.

Cabinet gave the go-ahead for a law change two weeks ago. Dunne will introduce the legislation to Parliament under urgency on May 8. “It had been my intention to hold the announcement to much nearer the time to prevent panic-buying and stockpiling.”

He admitted his decision to bring the announcement forward was a political one, sparked by Labour’s planned announcement.

Labour leader David Cunliffe said the substances had been “ruining too many young lives”.

“I think we’ve all been shocked and saddened by it, and also by reports that young Kiwis have been turning to prostitution to fund the habit that these highly addictive drugs create.”

He said the Government had “fallen asleep at the wheel” over introducing a testing regime.

“Had we known 18 months down the track that no regime would yet be in place, we would have insisted back then that all drugs had to go through the testing process before they were allowed onto the market.”

But Bell said Labour had been spurred on by media coverage of the issue and had “decided to jump on the bandwagon”.

Ross from the Drug Foundation has also been active on Twitter, claiming that any substances shown to be a risk could be removed from sale (banned) under the current law.

NZ Drug Foundation ‏@nzdrug

Why not simply use the power in the existing law and immediately remove those products causing harm?

Simply stated that Authority has that power already and questioned whether law change needed.

…allow the Authority to revoke licenses. This neither requires a law change nor rely on any direction from the minister.

Psychoactive Substances Act 2013 – 40 Revocation of approval:

(1) The Authority may, at any time, by notice in the Gazette, revoke an approval of a psychoactive product granted under section 37 if the Authority considers on reasonable grounds that the product poses more than a low risk of harm to individuals using the product.

(2) If the Authority revokes an approval, the Authority—

(a) must notify the person who applied for approval of the product:

(b) may issue a recall order for the product under section 88.

(‘Authority’ means the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority)

So why the sudden rush to change the law if the current law could remove any substance deemed to be a risk?

Maybe the media and politicians should be asking that instead of playing silly buggers.