Voters deserve clarity over cannabis reform.

The new Labour bill for cannabis reform is another in a growing list of policy that has failed to live up to its pre-election billing.  Asked in an election debate whether Labour would legalise cannabis for medicinal use, for pain relief or extending life, Jacinda Ardern responded unequivocally; “absolutely yes.”. Labour continued to campaign pre-election as the party that would "make medicinal cannabis available for people with terminal illnesses or in chronic pain".

Fast forward to December where the Labour Party released their misuse of drugs amendment bill. They have, in fairness, opened the door for domestic cultivation and manufacture of medical cannabis products, which is far more than the National Government was even prepared to discuss. So, they are moving the chains, albeit slowly (the estimated time line is two years from now).

This seems about as far as they were willing to go. In what has become a worrying trend of over- promising and under-delivering ( think the flawed terms of reference and political chairing of the tax working group and the somersault on water tax), Labour have again dropped the ball. They have introduced a criminal grey area where those who are terminally ill, with 12 months left to live will have a legal defense if brought in front of the courts. It is still illegal to grow, and sell, regardless of your health, so all current users will remain at the whim of products like Sativex and its lofty price tag. Those in chronic pain are no better off under the new bill, and at the end of the day, the terminally ill will still technically be breaking the law.

Health Minister David Clark insisted Labour are unwilling to proceed with more liberal medicinal cannabis laws until the evidence is more concrete. Perhaps this could explain why they pushed their domestic cultivation timeline for two years down the road, in the hope there is sufficient evidence to support the use of medicinal cannabis. But if this was their belief all along, then why were they taking such a strong stance during campaign - bullshitting for political gain?

As TOP have continued to point out, conversations around cannabis should not focus solely on medicinal effects, it is a red herring. As much as advocates may disagree, the evidence for medicinal cannabis is still being developed, albeit rapidly (it has so far been hindered by legislation that have made testing more difficult). Advocates for medicinal cannabis even disagree with each other, some consider it a very strong medicine only to be used for serious conditions (which Labour’s changes don’t even allow), and others see it as a therapuetic herb to be used daily like coffee or tea.  We should instead be exploring the legalisation of cannabis in general, where the evidence for harm from prohibition is undeniable – the criminal underworld controls the supply lines.

The Greens bill that was recently voted down is a testament to the ad hoc approach that Labour and the Greens seem to take to cannabis reform. The bill, which allowed grow your own for only medical cases, would have been a compliance nightmare for doctors required to prescribe cannabis and decide whether or not any one person's pain or daily therapeutic use was “legitimately medicinal”. It’s understandable why MP’s were wary of such a patch work approach (but don’t confuse this as giving credit to National whom seem completely ignorant to the wishes of voters who are overwhelmingly in favor of reform). Voters deserve to be heard AND they also deserve a policy that ensures the best outcome for the public.

The reality is, people are going to use cannabis. While we continue to throw money into the sinkhole of cannabis enforcement, a quarter of our young people are using it. The flow on effects of this expose people ( mostly kids) to the criminal underworld, funds gangs, and puts people ( again mostly kids) through our failing criminal justice system.

TOP’s approach to law reform is about reducing the total harm caused by cannabis. Full legalization but via a regulated market completely eliminates the issues above, removes wasteful enforcement spending, AND, creates a potentially flourishing industry, meaning more jobs, and revenue that can be directed back into our struggling mental health and addiction services. All of this is backed by evidence from markets overseas that show that when managed correctly, usage rates do not increase. This is crucial to factor in. Remember, we are looking at reducing the total harm caused by cannabis use, and the reality is that cannabis does have negative side effects (especially to developing brains).

We do not want a massive commercial market for cannabis, we simply understand the failings of prohibition, and see the positive outcomes possible with legalisation. It must be correctly managed, which is what we propose in our Cannabis Reform policy. Labour have appeared muddled when it comes to discussions relating to cannabis, on one hand fighting for medicinal cannabis (pre- election) while then hiding behind their evidence (post-election). What we ask is they look at all the evidence to make a rational decision, not just when it suits them.

Andrew Courtney

Andrewc@top.org.nz

Cannabis Spokesperson - Abe Grey

Abe@top.org.nz

 

 


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