Don’t Turn Your GP into a Dealer

The Greens’ private members bill on legalising medicinal cannabis has been drawn from the ballot in Parliament. It sounds like a great idea, but in reality it just opens up a huge can of worms that would be better solved by legalising cannabis entirely. What the bill shows though is that even the Greens aren’t above putting political opportunism ahead of evidence.

Where’s the evidence?

The story of Helen Kelly captured the public imagination and showed up what a farce our cannabis laws are. But let’s not kid ourselves, there is no real evidence that cannabis has medical benefits. Better evidence will no doubt come, but we don’t have it yet. All we have are anecdotes of the therapeutic benefits such as pain relief. But apparently that is good enough for both Labour and the Greens to jump on the medicinal cannabis bandwagon.

And no wonder when the polls are so much in favour of this, it is a populist’s dream. Over 60% of Kiwis support legalising cannabis for pain relief, even more if the person has a terminal illness. Another 16% think it should be decriminalized, which takes overall support for medicinal cannabis law reform over 80%.

But here’s the issue - there isn’t much evidence for this position. Ironically there is far better evidence to legalise and regulate cannabis for recreational use than there is for medicinal. This is where parliament should be spending its time and the taxpayer’s money. Of course legalising cannabis for recreational use means that people can use cannabis for medical reasons if they chose to do so. Medicinal is a sideshow, in comparison to where the largest reductions in harm can be achieved, and where the grounds for progress is strongest – by a mile.

How is the Greens proposal going to work?

What the Greens are proposing is not a legal market for medicinal cannabis. If you have a terminal condition or other chronic pain you could go to your GP who would write you (or your designated support person) a prescription to grow and possess cannabis. There would be no limit on how much you can grow or possess, nor any restrictions on what you can create with it.

Some honesty is called for here. Legalising medicinal cannabis is a Trojan horse for full legalisation. When cannabis was legalised for medicinal purposes in California this spawned a whole industry of doctors willing to service people with the drug, creating a $US1.3b industry for medicinal cannabis products. This showed what a farce the system was, and legalisation soon followed.

We won’t see this outcome here under the Greens’ proposed legislation. They have made no provision to produce and market quality-assured products, so we won’t even get the economic benefits of a medicinal cannabis industry. Even with the recent government move to allow prescription of CBD (a non psychoactive element of cannabis or hemp) products they have made it clear that they don’t want to see a medicinal cannabis product industry here in New Zealand. What do all these politicians have against people making money out of a crop New Zealand is good at growing? 

The outcome of the Greens’ proposal could be even more farcical than what happened in California. As soon as cannabis is legal for medicinal use, you could suddenly see lots of people claiming they have ‘pain’ and going to their doctor for a prescription to grow it. It will make the existing system much harder for police to enforce, because all growers will need in order to legitimize their crop is a certificate saying they have a “sore back”. Meanwhile there is no regulation over what they are growing, and nothing to stop money ending up in the pockets of criminals. It would be chaos.

Leave the doctors out of it, just legalise and regulate cannabis

As it stands, doctors don’t have much evidence about what circumstances they should prescribe cannabis in, so it really comes down to their personal judgement. Do we really want to turn our GPs into dealers, bending the rules so recreational users can access the drug under the guise of spurious medicinal reasons? Do we want to put our medical professionals in the position where they are being asked to prescribe something that is based on anecdote rather than evidence?

We need to skip the bullshit and go straight to what we know works.

Let’s be clear - The Opportunities Party (TOP) is happy for people to use cannabis if it works for them. But that decision should lie with the individual, not fobbed off to the medical community to make decisions on spurious grounds. That’s an insult to the profession. Once cannabis is legal there will no doubt be more medical trials, and cannabis or some derivatives may well end up being an accepted part of our medical arsenal. But the state of science simply doesn’t support a medicinal-only supply of cannabis.

So why the hell are these Establishment politicians taking us through the farce, the showpony of medicinal cannabis reform? It’s nothing but a distraction and reflects the sheer lack of evidence-based thinking that is too often employed by politicians. This is precisely what generates such despair from informed experts so often with politics, that the sheer expediency of career-focused politicians sees them so often backing second or third rate solutions to the challenges we face. And there really is no excuse for such sub-par performance – it’s not political pragmatism, it’s political expediency.

For goodness sake can we get real for a moment here? Can our politicians at least aspire to some sort of excellence? Two in five Kiwis have tried cannabis, and one in nine in the last year. It is everywhere, and for most users causes very little harm. The far greater harm is that we force those wanting to buy it to deal with the criminal underworld, people who have no respect for society, who will do whatever is necessary to maximize their profits. It is this harm that needs to be taken out by fully legalising and controlling the supply, quality and price of cannabis. Then, the issues become issues of health and safety, not criminality.

We agree with the Greens that criminalising cannabis is wrong. But let’s not try to use two wrongs to make a right, turning our doctors into dealers, compromising their integrity while all the while avoiding the main harm inflicted by the prohibition of recreational use.