Clark, Ardern shamefully lame not urgently addressing drug problems

Urgent action is required to address drug problems, like the prevalence of P (methamphetamine) and the growing problems with and deaths from synthetic drugs (not cannabis as some keep describing it as).

Instead the Minister of Health, David Clark, and the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, are shamefully lame.

RNZ:  Synthetic drug compounds may be reclassified as Class A

Two of the most commonly used synthetic drugs could be reclassified as Class A, bringing them in line with heroin and cocaine.

Health Minister David Clark said the aim was to give the police greater powers to stop makers and sellers of the drug.

He said he would be asking his Cabinet colleagues to support reclassification of two compounds known as AMB-Fubinaca and 5F-ABD.

bad batch of synthetic drugs in Christchurch is suspected to be behind one death. The batch has also put 19 people in hospital over the last two weeks.

“Any death as a result of drug use is a tragedy, and my sympathies go to friends and family,” Dr Clark said.

The government was taking the synthetic drug problem seriously and was talking to service providers and drug users to identify areas of need, he said.

Urgent and drastic action is required, like right now, and Clark is talking to people and might take a tweak to Cabinet some time in the future. I don’t have a problem with enabling tougher sentences for pushing some drugs, but that is unlikely to dent the ongoing catastrophe that requires urgency.

A decision on reclassification under the Misuse of Drugs Act would be made in coming weeks.

“It’s important to acknowledge that reclassification is not a silver bullet. We need to treat drug abuse, including synthetic cannabis, as a health issue,” Dr Clark said.

It’s not cannabis. And this is hardly going to make a difference.

Drug laws need a complete overhaul, not just a tweak, says The Drug Foundation.

It said drug suppliers and users needed to be treated differently under the law, as suggested by the Law Commission in 2011.

This would stop addicts being penalised for what should be health issue, Drug Foundation chief executive Ross Bell said.

“Unless the government reforms that law then its good intentions of going after the big guys doesn’t stop police from then also choosing to criminalise people who are using these drugs.”

Funding for drug addiction services also needed to double, he said.

Drug rehabilitation service provider What Ever It Takes Trust general manager Caroline Lampp said a reclassification of two synthetic drugs would help stop supply, but more help for addicts was crucial.

“There a big gap here in Hawke’s Bay and in other places around the before and after support,” she said.

Dr Clark agreed addiction services are underfunded, but said the government was waiting for the final report from the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry before increasing any funding.

Waiting. Waiting! While lives continue to be ruined, and people keep dying.

Last week in New York Ardern notably did not join Donald Trump’s continuation of the failed ‘war on drugs’.

Last night  saw Ardern spout some absolutely vague waffle on the drug problem last night on TV and now I can’t find it, such is it’s lack of importance in the news.

TVNZ has this online: Potent new batch of synthetic drugs turning users violent in Christchurch – ‘Every person is quite unpredictable’

Two more people have died from suspected synthetic drug overdoses in Christchurch in the last fortnight as the city grapples with a dangerous batch of the drugs.

Those on the front line say patients on synthetic cannabis are becoming more aggressive and turning on the people trying to help them.

St John’s Craig Downing told 1 NEWS about one of these violent incidents.

“Last Saturday night we were called to a case that the ambulance staff responded to.

“They attended to a person and whilst in the back of the ambulance that person, without provocation or warning, violently attacked one of my staff,” Mr Downing said.

“I’m extremely worried because we don’t know from one patient to the next what’s in this substance and as such every person is quite unpredictable.”

Others dealing with Christchurch’s less fortunate have also reported the new strain of synthetic cannabis causing issues.

“The latest batches are significantly more powerful than they’ve ever been, in fact up to 400 times the strength of THC which is really significant.

“From an addictive perspective one hit can get someone hooked on it,” Christchurch City Mission’s Matthew Mark says.

A paper is set to go to cabinet in the next few weeks with a plan on how to tackle the issue, including a possible law change.

‘Next few weeks’, ‘possible law change’. Hopeless.

Ardern appears in video of that item alongside Minister of Police Stuart Nash waffling a bit about what they might do.

I think that was the news item I heard Ardern speaking but it seems to have been expunged.

Clark, Ardern and the Government have been shamefully lame in their dealing with urgent drug abuse problems.

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick is putting them to shame (see next post) but is not making much impression on Ardern or her Government.

 

 

Disgraceful lack of action from David Clark and Labour on drug crisis

The drug abuse crisis continues to hit the headlines,with ongoing and growing problems, more and more deaths, and the Labour-led Government continues to do bugger all if that.

The wellbeing and lives of many people are at risk, this should be getting urgent attention, but the Labour-led government looks as bad as National was in being to gutless to address the problems.

Yesterday from Stuff:  Warning issued over synthetic cannabis use after eight people hospitalised

At least three people have been admitted to intensive care and others treated within 24 hours in Christchurch after using synthetic cannabis.

The Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) issued a warning about the illegal drug after a rush of people suffering from potentially severe synthetic cannabis toxicity ended up in Christchurch Hospital.

Emergency medicine specialist Paul Gee said there had been a noticeable increase in people needing emergency help due to the side effects of synthetic cannabis use.

Eight people have been treated in Christchurch over the last 24 hours, with three having to be admitted to the intensive care unit.

Also Synthetic cannabis users gambling with their lives after a ‘bad batch’

Synthetic cannabis users are gambling with their lives, a health official warns following a spate of hospitalisations in Christchurch.

The Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) issued a warning on Thursday evening about the illegal drug after a rush of people suffering from potentially severe synthetic cannabis toxicity ended up in Christchurch Hospital.

As a Minister in the National-led Government Peter Dunne copped a lot of flak for dysfunctional drug laws and growing drug abuse problems, especially the growing use of new drugs often inaccurately referred to as synthetic cannabis.

It suited National to allow the blame to fall on Dunne while they did virtually nothing to deal with obvious drug law problems and growing use of dangerous drugs. And there has been many ignorant attacks on Dunne.

On 1 News yesterday Dunne suggested a rethink on how we deal with natural cannabis: Legalising recreational cannabis could stem NZ’s epidemic of ‘zombie drug’ deaths, Peter Dunne says

Synthetic cannabis has killed more than 40 people in New Zealand since June last year, a massive jump from the previous five years, the coroner recently reported.

One way to serve a blow to the market for the so called zombie-drug in New Zealand would be to legalise recreational cannabis, former MP and Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said today on TVNZ1’s Breakfast.

But the suggestion came with a caveat.

“It would certainly remove some of the incentive for people to try some of these substances,” he said. “But…some of these (synthetic drugs) are so potent and so powerful that people may well feel they’ll get a better high from these rather than the real product.

“While on the face of it the answer would be yes (to marijuana legalisation), I don’t think it’s necessarily that simple.”

“I don’t think we ever anticipated we’d get new synthetic drugs that would lead to so much harm,” NZ Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell told 1 NEWS yesterday.

So what is the current Government doing about it? very little as far as I’m aware. Health Minister David Clark seems as reluctant as National was to address the problem, and most of the Labour-led Government seem to be gutless – the exception is Green MP Chloe Swarbrick who is working hard to try to progress long overdue drug law reforms.

The only official press release from David Clark since becoming Minister was this last December: Medicinal cannabis to ease suffering. Labour have been very disappointing in their handling even of medicinal cannabis.

Nothing from Clark mentioning ‘synthetic’. What the hell is he doing apart from nothing?

NZ Herald (31 July 2018): Health Minister David Clark in favour of liberalising drug laws

Health Minister David Clark is personally in favour of more liberal drug laws because prohibition has not worked in the past.

But Clark would not commit to abiding by the result of any referendum on loosening laws around cannabis use, saying he preferred to wait for advice from his colleagues.

“I think it’s highly likely that that’s the course we would take … all I’ve said is I want to wait for advice.

“I haven’t had a conversation with colleagues about how that referendum’s going to be framed and what question we’re going to be asking the public.

“Broadly, I favour at a more personal level, more liberal drug laws because I think in the world when prohibition has been tried, it hasn’t worked.”

We have multiple drug crises, with both synthetics and P (methamphetamine). Natural cannabis is far less dangerous, but it is getting more expensive and harder to obtain because drug pushers make more money out of getting people addicted to P and synthetic drugs. They have no trouble finding more victims to replace those who die.

National’s lack of action on drug abuse and drug laws was extremely disappointing.

Clark and Labour are acting just as poorly. This is disgraceful.

‘Synthetic cannabis’ crisis requires urgent action

Synthetic drugs, inaccurately referred to as ‘synthetic cannabis’, have been causing major problems for years. The National government got spooked by bad publicity and neutered a ground breaking way of dealing with them in 2013  – Psychoactive Substances Bill a ‘game-changer’ but National lost the plot after some adverse publicity.

But these drugs are still a major problem – in part because of Parliament’s failure to address the ongoing failure of current drug laws, especially for cannabis which is far safer than synthetics.

National have tried to address things through a Member’s bill, but this has been slammed: ‘Naive nonsense’ – Peter Dunne slams Simeon Brown’s bill increasing synthetic cannabis penalties, saying it just won’t work

Former Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has slammed a member’s Bill proposing to increase penalties for dealing synthetic drugs, saying penalties simply will not solve the problem.

Numerous deaths, especially in the Auckland region, were attributed to deadly batches of synthetic drugs last year.

Pakuranga MP Simeon Brown’s Bill, which would amend the Psychoactive Drugs Act 2013, would increase the penalty for dealing the substances from two years in prison to 8 years, and has passed its first reading.

National’s Mr Brown wrote that “this Bill is necessary in order to protect our communities and young people from these harmful drugs, to deter those who are supplying them into the market, and to give Police stronger powers to crack down on suppliers”.

Mr Dunne, speaking this morning with TVNZ 1’s Breakfast called Mr Brown’s Bill “naive nonsense” and put it down to being an “easy win” for him.

“It’s been the easy one over the years – make the penalties tougher, hit those who are supplying,” Mr Dunne said.

“There is a case for changing the penalties, because they are a bit out of line with the Misuse of Drugs Act, but to suggest that is the answer is simply naive nonsense.”

Mr Dunne said synthetic drugs were under control in 2013, but parliament had backtracked due to “moral panic” from the public about the drugs.

“These drugs had actually been on the market for years – we’d brought them under control,” he said.

“Parliament then backtracked and decided to change the law and the consequence of that, plus the unrelated but pretty important issue of a ban on animal testing of these substances, meant the law has been stymied for the last four years and the market’s gone underground.

“The only way to get on top of it is to go back to what the Psychoactive Substances Act was all about – have products tested for the level of risk and sold properly through regulated stores.”

Mr Dunne said increasing penalties would  be popular with Mr Brown’s constituents, but it would not solve the problem.

“The problem is, because this market is underground and is expanding, we’ve lost control of it.

RNZ:  Govt departments urged to find solution on synthetic cannabis

Government agencies have been asked to urgently find ways to reduce the harm caused by synthetic cannabis.

Figures from the Coroner show 40 to 45 people died in the year to June because of synthetic cannabis, compared with two deaths in the previous five years.

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters said the ministers of health, justice, police and customs would seek advice from their agencies and put their heads together to find the best solution.

“There has been a lot of work on this in the past but I think we have to be honest in that we haven’t come up with the kind of solutions which have seen a turnaround or a victory against the people who are peddling this stuff.”

Mr Peters would not rule out including part of National Party MP Simeon Brown’s bill, which would increase the maximum jail sentence for selling or supplying synthetic drugs from two years to eight.

“The police say that that would not work.”

RNZ:  Synthetic cannabis crisis: ‘They are looking for help now on the ground’ – Drug Foundation

The Drug Foundation wants the government to come up with a practical response to the synthetic cannabis crisis, not a bureaucratic one.

Executive director of the Drug Foundation Ross Bell said his fear was that officials would look at policy responses or suggest tougher penalties – neither of which was a solution.

“We need action on the ground now, if you see a lot of the community voices, the parents who have suffered tragedy here, they’re not looking for policy responses, they’re not looking for tougher penalties, they are are looking for help now on the ground.”

Mr Bell said there were practical things that government agencies could be doing now, or should have been doing last year in response to this.

He said part of that was sharing information much more quickly.

“So that St John Ambulance for example, knows what the hell is going on, getting resources on the ground, helping those communities that are experiencing these issues, getting resources there around harm reduction, drug treatment and making sure people who need help don’t have to sit on a waiting list for so long.”

Mr Peters said it couldn’t be denied that governments had tried and failed to address the issues around synthetic cannabis.

“We have to look at what we’ve been talking about in the past and reviewing in the past, and with a multiplicity of agencies set out to provide some serious solutions and as fast as possible.”

But continuing to fail to deal with laws and policing related to natural cannabis is  apart of the problem.

Winston’s insistence of a referendum won’t cut it – it needs urgent and decisive action from those in power in Parliament.

2/2 The challenge now is to make that Act work as intended, not waste time reinventing the wheel while people die

Is synthetic food going to be safe?

There’s growing interest in things like fake meet – laboratory concocted food. It is seen as potentially a better alternative to meat to feed a growing world population.

But is is safe? I think it’s too soon to tell.

There was an interesting item about this in Q&A this morning.

The general rule is that the less processed food is the better it is for us. Our digestive systems have slowly evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, and are used to diverse diets of plants and meats.

The rapid change to processed foods is leading to problems like obesity and the proliferation of diseases like diabetes and heart problems.

A sudden switch to super processed foods would be very risky. It will take many years, perhaps decades, to prove whether it is safe and whether it is healthy.

And there’s this.

I presume she is alluding to patent protection of methods of food processing.  This raises serious issues about the potential control of food production by large multi-national companies.

What if companies suppress adverse information to protect their products and markets? That’s been done before (and is still being done).

What if large companies push their products via marketing to a gullible public when it could cause major health problems.

That’s being done already as well.

This probably won’t be much of a problem for me – I can keep running a few sheep, and other meats are likely to be available for yonks, as long as the Greens don’t take over the Government.

But the health of future generations may have some big things to deal with with food supply. The future of human existence could be at stake.

Back to the headline question – is synthetic food going to be safe? I don’t think anyone can answer that with anything close to certainty.

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.

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.