NZ Herald 19 April 2016
Professor Doug Sellman is wrong to believe “the days of cannabis prohibition in New Zealand appear to be coming to an end.” New Zealanders need to be aware of a smokescreen around this issue. Politicians need to reject knee-jerk law changes and understand the real agenda behind liberalising drug laws and also the potential abuse of medicinal marijuana.
The Government is right to be cautious around this issue, but there must also be a compassionate response to those in real need.
In 1979, the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws said, “We’ll use medical marijuana as a red-herring to give marijuana a good name”. But a study in the United States found the average “patient” was a 32-year-old white male with a history of drug and alcohol abuse and no history of life-threatening illness.
The strategy of groups who want dope legalised is to promote medicinal marijuana which simply manipulates society’s compassion for people with serious pain and health concerns. But marijuana will then be diverted from medical programmes, where it may be justified and effective, to simply “recreational” purposes.
As Project Sam (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) asserts, “Opium has medical value, and it is called morphine. Marijuana has medical value, too – but just as we don’t smoke opium to receive beneficial effects, we need not smoke marijuana to get its medical value.”
It is ironic that at the same time as Professor Sellman correctly calls for the drinking age to be raised and laws to restrict alcohol abuse, and we try to price and label cigarettes out of existence, supporters of marijuana are peddling the same myths that we believed for far too long about tobacco – that marijuana is harmless.
Marijuana was made illegal because it is harmful. The Australian Medical Association has issued warnings on the health risks associated with smoking marijuana. They include memory loss, psychosis, impaired driving, hallucinations, asthma and lung cancer. Researchers from the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand found that a single cannabis joint could damage the lungs as much as smoking up to five tobacco cigarettes one after another.
And the Christchurch Health and Development study found that the risks of driving under the influence of cannabis may now be greater than the risks of driving under the influence of alcohol.
Britain’s Medical Research Council says the link between cannabis and psychosis is clear, which it wasn’t 10 years ago.
Supporters of decriminalisation try to argue that the statutory penalties for cannabis use have not changed in over 35 years, and that drug use is a health issue and we are wasting time and resources focusing on the criminal aspect. But research in the International Journal of Drug Policy (2012) found there has been a substantial decline in arrests for cannabis use in New Zealand over the past decade, and police diversion and Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Courts have been increasingly used.
Drug use is both a criminal and a health issue. There is a false dichotomy that criminal sanctions haven’t worked so we should ditch them altogether and focus only on education and health initiatives. We should maintain both.
The “legalise but tax it” message is also seductive, but false. You just have to compare the taxes gained on alcohol versus the horrendous fiscal and social costs that alcohol causes to see the deficiency in this argument.
Decriminalising marijuana is the wrong path if we care about public health and public safety, and about our young people.
A feeble approach to marijuana use will simply send all the wrong messages to our young people and to our families – that drug use isn’t that big a deal. That is not the message families want. As they say, the grass is not always greener.