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.

Another poll supports medical cannabis

A UMR poll commissioned by cannabis lobby group Start The Conversation shows strong public support for medical cannabis, in line with other polls.

“Should Parliament change the laws of New Zealand so that patients have safe legal access to affordable medicinal cannabis and cannabis products when prescribed by a licensed doctor?”

  • Supported 76%
  • Opposed 12%
  • Undecided 12%

Only 15% of National voters were opposed.

“Should Parliament change the laws of New Zealand so that natural cannabis and medicinal cannabis products are treated as herbal remedies when used therapeutically?”

  • Supported 61%
  • Opposed 24%
  • Undecided 15%

NZ Doctor: New UMR poll shows overwhelming support for medical cannabis law change, says NORML

The poll was conducted by UMR for Start the Conversation from 29th July to 17th August 2016.

The poll will be used by the group, which includes representatives of NORML, to decide whether to proceed with organising a cannabis law reform referendum to coincide with next year’s general election.

URM’s previous cannabis poll in March 2016 reported that 72% of respondents agreed with “the use of marijuana being allowed for medical purposes”.

Chris Fowlie, spokesperson for the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML NZ Inc:

“John Key thinks cannabis law reform sends the wrong message, yet NORML’s message is getting through. Most New Zealanders now know cannabis is not only safer than alcohol but is also an effective remedy for a variety of conditions, and they want the law to change.”

“The message John Key needs to hear is that very few people support the status quo, including National Party voters, and he ignores them at his own peril,” said Mr Fowlie.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

  • Start The Conversation is a group representing cannabis and community activists, researchers and policy analysts throughout New Zealand, including NORML, Helen Kelly, Prof Max Abbott, Dr Geoff Noller, The Cannabis Party, Medical Cannabis Awareness NZ, It’s Medicine (Rose Renton), MildGreens and more. Start The Conversation organised a cannabis debate at the Auckland Town Hall in June, which led to this poll, and is holding its next community forum in Whangarei on Saturday 17th September.
  • Chris Fowlie is NORML’s spokesperson and a candidate for the Waitakere Licensing Trust in this year’s local body elections. He is running on a ticket of “Regulate Cannabis Like Alcohol”, and says under the current law the Trust could run Cannabis Social Clubs for medicinal and/or research purposes. As with West Auckland liquor sales, any profits would be returned to the community.
  • The UMR poll is available here: Changing Marijuana laws Jul-16.pptx

NZ Herald: Another poll shows strong support for medicinal cannabis reform

The poll was commissioned by Start the Conversation, a medicinal cannabis lobby group. The group includes Helen Kelly, a former CTU president who has been campaigning for medicinal cannabis after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Kelly said the campaign group would use the poll to decide whether to try and force a Citizens Initiated Referendum on the issue during the election in 2017.

“Politicians now have the choice. Force those who are mainly unwell to collect signatures simply so the public will be believed or act quickly and with mercy and fix this mess up so people like me and many others have safe and legal guaranteed access.”

Dr Geoff Noller, an independent cannabis policy researcher who is part of Start the Conversation, said the poll showed there was little political risk involved in making a change because New Zealanders were ready for reform.

NORML likes Peter Dunne’s new thinking

It might seem abnormal but NORML is agreeing with Peter Dunne and his latest thinking on addressing drug issues.

Marijuana law reform lobby agrees with Former Associate Minister of Health’s call for evidence-based approach to regulating drugs

Peter Dunne, the “architect” of Psychoactive Substances Act, is now calling for the same regulatory approach to be applied to drugs currently scheduled in the Misuse of Drugs Act.

“People may be surprised to hear NORML agreeing with the former Minister of Health, who blocked cannabis law reform under the former Labour Government,” said Chris Fowlie, president of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML NZ Inc), “but he’s right that the evidence-based approach of the Psychoactive Substances Act should be applied to drugs currently scheduled in the Misuse of Drugs Act.”

“New Zealand’s approach to regulating Psychoactive Substances has rightly attracted admiration around the world. It is evidence-based and puts health and safety first. However it’s obvious there is only a market for synthetic substitutes because cannabis is illegal, and it’s not rational to allow synthetics to be sold while maintaining the world’s highest arrest rate for natural cannabis, which is the safer choice.

“NORML has long campaigned for a regulated taxable system for controlling cannabis and other low-risk drugs. More politicians should try Peter Dunne’s new way of thinking!”

Dunne’s key comments:

Most experts now concede the so-called “war” on drugs has failed, and new initiatives are required.

The Psychoactive Substances Ac… provides for the first time for a regulated market for the sale and supply of psychoactive substances, based on the level of risk they pose to the user.

Although the Psychoactive Substances Act was intended to deal with that issue only, and not to have wider application, it does occur to me that, if after a period of time, it is shown to be working effectively, it could well become the model by which narcotic drugs, currently controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, are regulated for the future.

The yardstick of level of risk – based on sound pharmacological and toxicological evidence – would become the determinant of availability, not public sentiment or prejudice.

I am not suggesting a revolution, but simply observing that the regulatory regime introduced for psychoactive substances could well have wider application and that we should not be averse to that possibility.

Dunne’s blog statement: http://honpfd.blogspot.co.nz/2013/10/31-october-2013-sure-sign-of-looming.html