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Why we need to legalise cannabis in New Zealand

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.

 

 

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    • Lexi Ccrreennggllee
      commented 2019-07-24 16:14:21 +1200
      There is evidence that it helps in medical use. Search it up on YouTube. There is a lady named Jill who has Parkinson’s disease and it cured her for a whole day! She used a pea sized amount of cannabis oil and spread it on a cookie then put another cookie on top. Just like a sandwich. 10-15 minutes later her twitching had gone. Now no medicine has ever don that for her she tells us. All we need is a little more people to stand up and say how the use cannabis to pause their illnesses or bad habits, step forward and help the campaign of legalising medical cannabis in NZ. Help others who are in pain get the treatment they need. You need to do more research before sayin no to giving others relief that they need. What would you do if you were in their position and had nothin to stop the pain? Find some feeling in you that approves. I know in not the only one!
    • Kevin West
      commented 2018-04-29 08:35:59 +1200
      I agree that cannabis should be made legal for recreational use. However, to dismiss the use of it for medical purposes by saying that there is “no evidence” to support medical benefit, is just plain ridiculous. Thousands of people get relief from pain and other ailments through using cannabis, and how you can just ignore this fact is totally beyond me! I understand that the various governments say that cannabis has no proven medical benefits (of course they would, especially as they are paid millions in tax revenue by the big pharmaceutical company’s), but for an advocate of the legalisation of ‘weed’ to come out and support that, is just WRONG!
      I suffer with arthritis, and I take prescribed drugs to cope with the inflammatory issues and pain. The drugs I take all have their own little nasty effects, but its better than the alternative. That said, sometimes they just don’t do it. If then however, I have a joint, the pain relief is immediate! I don’t make a habit of it, because basically, I don’t like smoking. I might smoke ten or a dozen a year, and for me thats enough. I have been known to have one to relax also, which, is FAR better than drinking alcohol really, as it stresses the body less, and doesnt give a hangover, and basically just makes you feel relaxed and happy.
      I tell you what, over my years I have seen more fights due to people getting drunk, than I could possibly remember. I cant say I’ve EVER seen anyone fighting due to the effects of weed. It just chills you out, which is the opposite of what alcohol does in most cases.

      Arresting people for growing a natural harmless weed, and smoking it, well, its beyond ridiculous. If the authorities really have our interests at heart, they should then absolutely ban alcohol too, as even a child knows how much trouble that that causes. However, the government/s are happy to rake in millions of dollars of tax, and of course, the economy thrives on “alcohol” related spending and overseas income… but what hypocrisy huh? This reason alone surely justifies a person who says f—k the law when it comes to such draconian measures, and which would punish those who would seek to alleviate pain, or who just want to feel good and relax, but who would like a choice by which medium to take (weed or alcohol). The bottom line is this. Whilst the medical profession might not be able to agree that there are some medical benefits to using weed, they certainly DO agree that alcohol causes harm, and the stats on this are easy enough to find. So….. tell me again, why should I or anyone else, get a criminal record for smoking a natural herb?
    • stephen burgess
      commented 2017-07-05 13:35:02 +1200
      Sharon Leitch….’’’I’m a GP and couldn’t agree more. Frankly, GPs have got a lot of better things to do with their time than deal with yet another form-signing exercise in bureaucratic nonsense, and can well do without pressure to endorse recreational marijuana use on the pretext of medical grounds.‘’
      i think you may be better informed on this topic do you think form-signing exercise is happening much around welfare entitlements? work testing tho i once supported it seems a failure in that it assumes it can test who needs support and who doesn’t. (the pretense of knowledge) personally ive seen a friend undiagnosed with mental illness be denied support for years who if all facts were out would of recieved it . and others who frankly hype up their situation to get support.
    • Jacinta Newport
      commented 2017-07-02 23:44:47 +1200
      TOP you have mislead the public/ voters with your policy on cannabis. Most New Zealanders would like to see medicinal cannabis legalised. Pharma products are expensive you seem to know that, however you do not have any concept as to the depth and breadth of academic studies and research that has been conducted into the medicinal properties of cannabis. Intractable pain, and palliative therapy are just two conditions that can benefit from MC. Israel and the US have trials underway on PTSD, Epilepsy, Autism. Data is readily available and it is all very reassuring and positive for pain and chemo induced nausea, epilepsy, autism MS. I do not know who advised you about cannabis research and how most of it is anecdotal, possibly one of our yet to be educated doctors.
      #UIC2017
    • James Lowry
      commented 2017-06-17 02:51:46 +1200
      IVery always supported the philosophy of live and let live, or each to there own.I JUST WANT REPRESENTATION ON CANNABIS WITH MY VOTE
    • Sharon Leitch
      commented 2017-06-16 21:22:53 +1200
      I’m a GP and couldn’t agree more. Frankly, GPs have got a lot of better things to do with their time than deal with yet another form-signing exercise in bureaucratic nonsense, and can well do without pressure to endorse recreational marijuana use on the pretext of medical grounds.
    • Brian Blackie
      commented 2017-06-16 20:58:58 +1200
      Tadhg – you’d get legalised farming with TOP so why not join forces?
    • Oliver Krollmann
      followed this page 2017-06-16 18:09:29 +1200
    • Tadhg Stopford
      commented 2017-06-16 17:32:24 +1200
      Doh. You guys continue to disappoint. Wallowing around in the shallows, albeit slightly higher than the rest of those fools. Let’s Farm Cannabis. Let’s research cannabis, let’s develop an environmentally sound economy. Everyone should join www.thefarmcannabisparty.com and REALLY seize the opportunities for a better New Zealand.
    • Shane Le Brun
      commented 2017-06-16 17:30:44 +1200
      Clearly you have not researched the evidence around Medical Cannabis thoroughly. http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=24625
      An america FEDERAL research org suggests that there is great evidence for chronic pain, MS spasticity and Chemotherapy induced Nausea and vomiting.

      For those truly suffering, suggesting Medical Cannabis is a sideshow is hurtful. A regulated market isnt going to help a young lad with intractable drop seizures thats had 2 brain surgeries and more on the cards, he deserves a shot at an affordable yet well made product. At the moment the only option is Tilray CBD Max which could cost up to 80K per year
    • Ian Douglas
      commented 2017-06-16 16:28:44 +1200
      I don’t understand how you can say there is no real evidence that cannabis has medicinal value. Thousands of peer reviewed papers on PubMed say yes, the United States’ government has hidden studies their own scientists had done in the 70’s that cannabis can cure cancer, and studies in Spain and in particular Israel on the endocannibinoid system and cannabidiol have shown yes it has medicinal value. I agree that if all drugs were legalised and education on harm reduction is a much better way of looking at the problem. Decriminiaisation would also take the money out of the hands of criminals. Meanwhile many, many New Zealanders are suffering, when a simple plant that could be grown in the vege garden could relieve many ailments. Our politicians are behind the times on this issue and need to pull their heads out of the sand.
    • Greg Berry
      commented 2017-06-16 09:10:08 +1200
      I signed the greens members bill. But i agree far more with the points you have said here.
      I get severe arthritis pain and the disgusting, make you sick, prescription pain killers i am on, i think could end me far too soon.
      I am so grateful i am able to occasionally get some cannabis relief. Who owns this plant!! God ? Mother nature?
      It is for everyone and anyone. Who has any right, Ever to say NO! Not allowed! ? Give me a break. Please !
      Regards Greg.
    • Brian Blackie
      commented 2017-06-15 09:02:28 +1200
      Another angle to explore is the rising rates of prescription drug use and how that is becoming, not so much here (yet) but certainly in USA, the gateway drug to the use of harder drugs. Start here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/desirae-hoover/legal-painkillers-are-the_b_12343306.html
    • Kevin FitzGerald
      commented 2017-06-15 08:41:27 +1200
      Bang on. But I do think that the evidence for cannabis medical uses is more than anecdotal and pain relief is a very large part of medical treatment. The Green’s policy is just plain dumb. Decriminalising would be great but there may be some unforeseen consequences all the same.
    • Katharine Moody
      commented 2017-06-14 20:28:39 +1200
      Couldn’t agree more.