Should New Zealand legalise cannabis?
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National’s recent announcement about easing access to medical cannabis was more deception than a move in a positive direction.
They just intend to change the final sign-off point from the Health Minister (as current) to the Ministry of Health (controlled by the Minister).
The process will be as arduous as before and, in practice, will not change anything. No law has been passed and there has been no expansion of who it will be available for.
A real system would have general practitioners prescribing it like other pain medication and antidepressants. Also, who in the Ministry would be making the case-by-case decisions, given the wide range of symptoms medical cannabis is used for? Why would that person would be more qualified than a GP?
The former hesitancy to broach the topic of legal and medicinal cannabis likely came down to a fear that more young people would start smoking cannabis, which could lead to increased rates of mental illness.
Some studies indicate that heavy usage of cannabis among young people can lead to the onset of schizophrenia.
However, it should be noted that cannabis contains two key compounds: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
THC has been associated with the negative symptoms described above, while CBD reduces anxiety and is being explored as an antipsychotic.
Let’s be honest, we have banned cannabis, but our youth continue to smoke it in very high numbers and are forced to deal with criminal elements to buy products that would fail to meet quality standards in a regulated market.
One of the benefits of legalisation would be that we could regulate the THC and CBD levels to reduce some of the dangers young users currently face with black market substances.
Moreover, a study of usage among young people in Colorado found no increase in cannabis use after legalisation(although use increased slightly after the introduction of medical cannabis).
Finally, studies show alcohol is the most harmful drug, and if some people switch from alcohol to cannabis after legalisation, then that would reduce the overall harm.
While all this is interesting, it still does not address the key fact: criminal convictions destroy lives.
Interacting with gangs that try to sell you meth when all you want is cannabis destroys lives; involving people in the criminal justice sector with all the stigma and lost opportunities destroys lives.
What people continue to forget is that this is as much of a justice issue as a health issue, but it should only be a health issue.
With tax revenue we could do a lot of good in society. We could use the money to expand the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court, and create better meth rehabilitation and education nationwide.
This is blatantly untrue. Almost 65 per cent of Kiwis want cannabis reform. However, neither of the two main parties have come out and openly talked about legalisation for fear of losing votes, even though the majority want change in this area.
What will it take to get politicians moving?
California, Colorado, Canada and many other American states have changed their policies, based on the arguments above.
Moreover, if we are one of the last developed nations to legalise, we will miss a huge amount of legitimate business as Big Tobacco is fast becoming “Big Green”.
We need to act now and support intelligent Kiwi businesses by putting smart regulation in place and banning foreign companies from setting up shop.
Daniel Francis Hirst has previously shared this story on his blog: danielfrancishirst.blogspot.co.nz.