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.

Legal challenge of MoH on medical cannabis

A post by Russell Brown at Public Address asks Is the Ministry of Health acting outside the law on medical cannabis?

The key barrier to the use of medical cannabis – or to even discovering what its uses might be – has long been marijuana’s illegality under the Misuse of Drugs Act. But what if it transpired that a key component of cannabis is not, and has never been, controlled by the act? And that heavy restrictions on its use and importation are in fact taking place outside the law?

…it’s the subject of an intended legal challenge notified by Nelson lawyer Sue Grey.

From a letter from Grey to Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne outlines her claim.

NOTICE OF INTENDED LEGAL CHALLENGE RE STATUS OF CANNABIDIOL “CBD” UNDER THE MISUSE OF DRUGS ACT

I write on behalf of various interests who seek urgent clarification of the legal status of Cannabidiol “CBD” under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

In summary:

  1. CBD is not explicitly scheduled under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
  2. CBD does not meet the statutory criteria under Section 3A for scheduling under the Misuse of Drugs Act1 as there is no evidence that it poses a very high, high or moderate risk of harm to individuals or to society.
  3. Information obtained under the Official Information Act and from the Ministry of Health website identify a significant disagreement within the New Zealand government officials over the status of CBD under the Misuse of Drugs Act.!!Some from the Ministry of Health claim CBD is indirectly covered by Schedule 2 (1)(2)2 as a Class B drug based on their assessment that it is “an isomer of tetraDhydrocannabinols” (THC). In contrast, the government’s leading expert analytical chemist, Dr Keith Bedford and his expert team at Crown Research Institute Environmental Science and Research, “ESR”, have published a paper explaining why THC is not within this definition, because CBD has a different chemical formula, structure and function to THC and accordingly it is not caught within the definition of “an isomer within the same chemical designation”
  4. Dr Bedford’s expert view has been made clear to the Ministry of Health and to his colleagues on the government’s Expert Advisory Drug Committee (“the EADC”). The minutes of the EADC’s April 2016 identify no scientific or legal reason why Dr Bedford’s view is wrong. It appears the different views relate solely to policy consideration and perhaps vested interests, although it remains unclear to me why some members of the committee would prefer to continue to treat CBD as if it is illegal. Clearly government policy cannot override the law that was written by Parliament, and in particular s3A of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Grey also claims.

  • Medicines containing CBD are (in my view unlawfully) treated as if Ministerial approval is required under Regulation 22 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations, resulting in considerable bureaucratic hoops and hurdles, delay in access and unnecessary cost for patients who are typically already very ill, and their families who are typically already very stressed.
  • The complex situation is compounded by the apparent policy of Medsafe (disclosed in documents obtained under the Official Information Act) to attempt to prohibit foods or other products which contain CBD from being sold as foods or dietary supplements, apparently because CBD is also scheduled under the Medicines Regulations. I can find no lawful basis for this policy and do not understand how Medsafe can reconcile this with the law or with the FSANZ proposal to approve the sale of hemp seed foods for human use.
  • I understand from other Official Information Act responses and from recent coverage on TV3’s Story (on the use of CBD as a supplement for managing Alzheimers by Mr Robinson, father of Nicky Evans) and other documentation that I have been shown, that NZ Customs have been instructed to seize products that contain CBD at the NZ border. This is despite the expert advice to the Ministry of Health that CBD has no known harmful effects to individuals or society and it is outside the scope of the Misuse of Drugs Act schedules.
  • The current policy of Ministry of Health, and adopted by NZ Customs to treat CBD as if it is covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act to try to justify the seizure of products which contain CBD, is in my view unlawful, unreasonable and unjustified as CBD is not covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Grey asks for the Court to make declarations on:

A) CBD is not explicitly prohibited under the Misuse of Drugs Act

B) CBD has a different chemical formula and different structure and function to THC and accordingly it is not restricted as “an isomer within the same chemical designation as tetrahydrocannabinols”and is not covered by Schedule 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Act ;

C) CBD does not meet the criteria of section 3A for classification under the!! Misuse of Drugs Act, as it does not cause a very high, high or moderate risk of individual or social harm;

D) Products containing CBD do not require Ministerial approval to be prescribed or recommended under Regulation 22(1) of the Misuse of Drugs Act because CBD is not subject to that Act.!!Regulation 22(1) of the Misuse of Drugs Act does not apply or is being unlawfully applied to medicines and other products containing CBD

E) The actions of NZ Customs in seizing or restricting access into or out of New Zealand of products because they contain or may contain CBD is unlawful.

It will be very interesting to see how the Court deals with this, if it has to go that far. Brown posts:

Grey has received a response from Customs minister Nicky Wagner, explaining that Customs – which has been seizing medical CBD products at the border –  is guided by the advice of the Ministry of Health, which is that “CBD is a class B1 controlled drug as it is an isomer of tetrahydrocannabinol. Customs has acted on that basis.”

“How long do we have to wait? We’ve got people who are sick now,” Grey said. “They don’t want to have to wait another six months or two years for the advisory committee to align itself with what the law already says.

“I’m still hoping that the Minister of Health will get some control over his officials and ask what are you guys doing, why don’t we just listen to what the experts are saying and accept that it’s not covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act and it doesn’t need to be? Then we won’t need to go to court. But if they don’t come to that conclusion fairly quickly, then we will file in court.”

 

 

Disappointing Dunne interview on cannabis

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne was interviewed on The Nation about synthetic cannabis. Unfortunately there was only a quick question about natural cannabis at the end of the interview and most disappointingly nothing mentioned about medicinal use there’s been some suggestion that Dunne may be prepared to consider use of medicinal by-products.

On natural cannabis:

Given that you’ve said that the big stick and a law and order approach hasn’t worked before, what about cannabis, what about natural cannabis? Is there a move, will you move to try and do something on that, to decriminalise?

Dunn: No, no that’s a completely separate debate. We are currently reviewing our national drug policy and within that some of the provisions of the Misuse of Drugs Act, but ah you cannot use, and I’m not going to get involved in using the synthetic cannabis debate as a lever towards the legal, legalisation of the real product.

I don’t know if it’s significant that while he was asked about decriminalisation Dunne referred to legalisation, a different and more extreme move.

Ah that’s a completely separate issue, and we remain bound by the international drug conventions, and the current law remains in place and I’ve got no intention of changing it.

That’s a more definite statement, no intention of changing the current law.

I’m very dubious that “we remain bound by the international drug conventions”. Surely we can make our own laws on drugs like cannabis – as do other countries and a growing number of US states.

Regardless, Dunne sounds adamant he won’t change the law regarding decriminalisation or legalisation of cannabis. And it’s very likely National would oppose any change as well. So things look to remain unchanged.

But what if the review of the Misuse of Drugs Act finds otherwise? Perhaps the review won’t be allowed to find otherwise, depending on how they review things and what any subsequent decisions are based on.

Things remain unclear on medicinal marijuana. There’s some reports that Dunne may be prepared to talk about the use of cannabis by-products.

Last month Dunne Speaks on Medicinal Cannabis.

Lest there be any doubt, the debate centred around some of the properties of the cannabis plant and their potential efficacy. No-one was suggesting that just smoking the cannabis leaf was some sort of medicinal panacea!

That highlights an important distinction in this debate – there are genuine situations to be considered, and there are those who just want to smoke cannabis whenever they choose to. That latter group is not our concern.

However, the argument for medicinal cannabis is by no means a simple one. The evidence –worldwide – is not as clear as it could be, nor is there any sense of commonality when it comes to the issues of dosage, methods of administration, product standards and so on.

In New Zealand’s case, estimates of the numbers of patients likely to benefit from medicinal cannabis are very low, which is why pharmaceutical companies have no interest in trialling products here. At the same time, for some reason, doctors are loathe to use the existing legal provisions to recommend patients to be prescribed medicinal cannabis products like Sativex.

I recently asked the Ministry of Health to review the issues relating to medicinal cannabis. The evidence provided was, as I said in Vienna, quite underwhelming. So I took the opportunity there to discuss with both the United States Federal Director of Drug Policy and Australia’s Assistant Health Minister work being done in both countries in the area of clinical trials. In both cases, the response was similar: it is simply too early to draw definitive conclusions.

When it comes to approving new medicines, New Zealand has always adopted a rigorous, clinical trials, evidence based approach, and it will be no different with the medicinal cannabis issue. We will gather the reputable evidence, consult widely with other countries, and then take a decision based on the highest professional and clinical standards. That is exactly the way we would deal with any other new medicine becoming available, and there is no credible reason or justification for treating medicinal cannabis products in any way differently. Indeed, we would be failing the public if we did otherwise, and exposed people to unnecessary or even unknown risks as a consequence.

This is not to suggest in any way a change in New Zealand’s current stance on leaf cannabis and its possession. But the issue of medicinal cannabis is a highly specific and particular one we need to address in the light of new and emerging evidence, as we receive it. We will do so against the three pillars of compassion, proportion and innovation I outlined in Vienna, pillars which I hope will more broadly inform debate about the future direction of drug policy.

Of course, that will not satisfy those whose sole interest, dressed up in the false guise of concern for those who might benefit from medicinal cannabis, is using cannabis recreationally. But it will ensure over time that, consistent with the principles of our national medicines strategy I introduced in 2007, New Zealanders get access to new medicines that are safe, affordable and effective.

That reinforces Dunne’s apparently strong position against allowing recreational use.

While giving some hope that medicinal marijuana products may be possible he suggests it’s unlikely to happen soon because “estimates of the numbers of patients likely to benefit from medicinal cannabis are very low, which is why pharmaceutical companies have no interest in trialling products here”.

That’s an interesting statement, suggesting that the problem is simply a commercial reality.

But why is it thought that estimates of the number likely to benefit are ‘very low’?

With no change to the law on recreational and self-medication use there will be too much competition from reasonably easily obtained illegal products?

And there’s no mention of another factor – drug companies may have difficulty in getting patents on cannabis, so the market would be open and competitive, therefore not profitable enough.

So while there’s some hope medicinal products could be allowed the chances of that happening look slim.

And the chances of any relaxation of law on recreational use look to be zero under the current Government.

It’s a shame The Nation didn’t explore this more.