Four of New Zealand’s most distinguished public health experts – including University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker – have published a New Zealand Medical Journal article recommending a “Yes” vote “as a vote for health,
They say that New Zealand’s current cannabis laws “are not only ineffective – they are directly harmful to those who fall foul of them” and that the Cannabis Legalisation and Control bill “has been drafted following the known evidence about what works to reduce use and to reduce harm from recreational drug use.”
The Cannabis Referendum is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to place evidence-informed controls around a substance that is widely used and unregulated. A “Yes” vote is not a vote in support of cannabis – it is a vote in support of placing public health controls around a substance that is currently left to the black market to manage.”
In a news release from Otago University Professor Michael Baker said “It’s time to take the same fresh approach to cannabis law and put public health first. Our prohibition model for cannabis is out-dated and doesn’t work. Supporting law reform is about reframing cannabis use as a health issue which opens up new, more effective ways of minimising harms caused by this drug.”
Separately, as more doctors and public health experts have swung in behind a historic “Yes”, the New Zealand Medical Association, which represents some doctors, has admitted that its apparent opposition to legalisation did not fully represent the views of its members and that it is not based on the bill being voted on in the referendum. Just days out from voting, it now says it has no position on the vote.
People keep talking about the bill helping access to medicinal cannabis – but don’t we already have that?
Sorta. New regulations came into force on April 2020 that will make it easier for doctors to prescribe cannabis products made to the same standard (GMP) as pharmaceutical medicines. It also allows New Zealand companies to produce medicinal cannabis products to those standards.
But as things stand, there are very few prescribing doctors and hardly any products for them to prescribe – and those products are very expensive. The experience in other territories suggests it could take years to sort out.
Meanwhile, two academic studies in the past year have indicated there are tens of thousands of New Zealanders right now using cannabis more or less therapeutically. One of those, conducted by Massey University researchers, found that only 14% of patients had asked their doctor for a cannabis prescription, and only a third of those had actually received one.
The same Massey survey also found that pain was the most common condition being treated – and that more than 60% of them had been able to stop using gabapentinoids, which have significant, often unpleasant, side effects. Fully 95% of people prescribed opioids reported reducing their use of opioids as a consequence of using cannabis. For those people, it’s a quality of life issue. The Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill would relieve them of the fear of being criminalised and give them access to less psychoactive higher-CBD strains that are very hard to find in the “recreational” black market.
The bill would also open the way to create a regulatory system for the “green fairies” who produce and supply medicinal products, from oils to balms. Those products currently can’t be tested – that means their contents might not be as described, or might even be dangerous. We’d much rather see the good green fairies given access to testing and the bad fairies weeded out. We’d rather see vulnerable patients protected – and that does not happen under the current law.
Finally, there isn’t a tidy divide between “medicinal” and “recreational” use of cannabis. That bright line doesn’t exist. Everyone’s use exists on a spectrum.