The advocates of decriminalising cannabis now have an economic case to press. A Treasury official, in a document prepared for a brainstorming session, suggested the Government could save more than $500 million a year legalising the popular drug.
The report, intended for internal use but seemingly based on robust calculations, suggested tax from a legal cannabis industry could be worth $150m, with annual savings of $400m from lower policing costs.
These are not trivial numbers, though both Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf and Finance Minister Bill English were quick to dispel any idea that drug policy reform was under way.
Makhlouf said that although the figures in the report were drawn from high-level estimates, they were not official Treasury assessments. English said the report did not cross his desk and was not intended to be widely distributed.
Nor does the enthusiasm of the Treasury analyst reflect the Government’s position, which treats drug use as a health issue.
Its drug strategy through to 2020 does not propose decriminalisation, though the policy did anticipate the medical use of marijuana going mainstream as a pain relief therapy. That alternative seems likely to occur, and sooner rather than later.
Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne says if trials in Australia clear the way for medicinal cannabis, then MedSafe is likely to approve products for manufacture and use in New Zealand.
At present, the law provides an exemption for people wanting to bring in drugs for medicinal use. The drugs must have been legally supplied for the patient’s own treatment and be no more than a month’s supply. The restrictions limit the medical application to those who can afford it.
So the perception of cannabis, in the medical area at least, is changing.