Binding ‘reeferendum’ isn’t

08/05/2019

The government is offering a half-baked proposal for the  ‘reeferendum’ on legalising cannabis:

Justice Minister Andrew Little says:

There will be a clear choice for New Zealanders in a referendum at the 2020 General Election. Cabinet has agreed there will be a simple Yes/No question on the basis of a draft piece of legislation.

“That draft legislation will include:

• A minimum age of 20 to use and purchase recreational cannabis,
• Regulations and commercial supply controls,
• Limited home-growing options,
• A public education programme,
• Stakeholder engagement.

“Officials are now empowered to draft the legislation with stakeholder input, and the Electoral Commission will draft the referendum question to appear on the ballot.

“The voters’ choice will be binding because all of the parties that make up the current Government have committed to abide by the outcome. . . 

This is a half-baked proposal, we’ll be voting on a Bill which could well be changed after the vote and while the Minister might think the referendum will be binding, but it won’t:

I’d be open to decriminalisation with the ability to treat users for addiction providing the funding necessary to enable that was budgeted for.

But I am not in favour of legalisation.

Critics say criminalisation hasn’t worked, but the harm done by alcohol and tobacco prove the dangers of legal drugs and lessons from Canada show that legalisation carries risks:

The Canadian federal study released yesterday found a 27% increase in marijuana use among people aged 15 to 24 over the last year. Additionally, approximately 646,000 Canadians have reported trying marijuana for the first time in the last three months, an amount almost double the 327,000 that admitted to trying the drug for the same time period last year.

“These are disturbing trends, especially when considering the effects on mental health, addiction and public safety,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.

Other concerning trends include:
• 15% of marijuana users got behind the wheel of a car within two hours of using the drug.
• daily users were more than twice as likely to believe that it was safe for them to operate a vehicle within three hours of ingesting the drug.
• 20% of Canadians who reported driving under the influence of marijuana admitted to also consuming alcohol at the same time.
• about 13%, or half a million, of Canadian workers who are active marijuana users admitted to using the drug either prior to or during work.

This report comes on the heels of another study finding that the black market in Canada is absolutely thriving, with over 79% of marijuana sales in the last quarter of 2018 occurring outside the legal market.

Regulation, testing and taxing of the drug if it’s legal will make it more costly. That will still provide on opportunity for a black market to sell cannabis at a lower price, and also to sell it to people under 20.

“Canada is quickly finding out that so-called regulation of marijuana does nothing to mitigate the harms of the drug. Legalisation simply exacerbates them. Diane Kelsall, editor in chief of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, called the new law “a national, uncontrolled experiment in which the profits of cannabis producers and tax revenues are squarely pitched against the health of Canadians.”.”

“Canada’s new law on legal marijuana demonstrates that cannabis legalisation is high in promise and expectations, but the reality is far lower. Evidence shows that marijuana – which has skyrocketed in average potency over the past decades – is addictive and harmful to the human brain, especially when used by adolescents. In US states that have already legalised the drug, there has been an increase in drugged driving crashes, youth marijuana use, and costs that far outweigh tax revenues from marijuana. These states have seen a black market that continues to thrive, sustained marijuana arrest rates, and tobacco company investment in marijuana. Portugal has seen a rise in the prevalence of alcohol and tobacco consumption and of every illicit psychoactive substance (affected by the weight of cannabis use in those aged 15-74) in the last five years.”

“Big Marijuana has high hopes for New Zealand, but liberalising marijuana laws is the wrong path to go down if we care about public health, public safety, and about our young people.”

Closer to home a community worker in Northland says there’s no simple fix for drug laws:

Community worker Ngahau Davis said while cannabis was often used in a social context without many issues in affluent areas, it played a more dangerous role in the poorer communities he worked with in Northland.

“A lot of whanau I work with where there’s chronic unemployment, really huge social issues from trauma, all sorts of things going down with that person, they use it really heavily on a daily basis just to survive and just to feel good. The difficulty with that type of usage is you’re starting to see a lot of problems around mental health issues.

“People say ‘Well it’s a drug that chills you’ – well I say to people don’t smoke it for a day or so, then this whole other thing starts happening; paranoia, frustration, irritability, and even violence.”

While he was yet to read the government’s Cabinet paper, he wasn’t convinced legalisation was the answer.

“When we talk about the issue of, say, prohibition with alcohol, people said ‘Well they’re going to do it anyway, and you’ve got to do this’. It still hasn’t stopped the pain, it still hasn’t stopped the damage.

“Nobody wants to talk about that because it’s legal and there’s a whole industries where people are getting rich. My caution is that while they’ve done that and it’s legal, it still doesn’t diminish the effect that it has on people in our society and our people, more so because they’re in a situation where dependency is higher because of the social issues that go with regions like mine.” . .

Can we legalise the drug so the affluent can indulge in occasional use without breaking the law without doing considerably more harm to more people in poorer areas?

In related news, health experts want medicinal cannabis to meet the same standards as other medicine:

In a discussion paper published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, it urged for more caution to be taken, following the government recently passing a bill increasing access to medicinal cannabis.

The government now needs to determine the regulations for a Medicinal Cannabis Scheme.

The paper said public surveys show widespread support for increased access to medicinal cannabis, yet GPs and clinicians generally remain more reserved.

“We believe that part of this difference lies in the lack of clear public understanding of the term ‘medicinal cannabis’, and a relatively greater awareness by health professions of what generally constitutes a medicine,” it said. . .

Medicinal cannabis should be treated like any other medicine with its composition and use governed by scientific research not anecdote and public pressure.

 


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