Former Council of Trade Unions boss Helen Kelly has catalysed a renewed push for cannabis liberalisation. A non-smoker all her life, Ms Kelly is dying of lung cancer at the shockingly young age of 51.
As her illness has progressed, Ms Kelly has found cannabis has offered her highly effective pain relief. To highlight that it remains illegal, even for medicinal purposes, Ms Kelly also used her formidable media skills to engineer something of a conflict with Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne over the matter. Mr Dunne, well known for his friendliness towards tobacco companies but strong hostility towards cannabis growers, inevitably came off second best.
Ms Kelly appears to have won the public debate. Polls now indicate over 80% of New Zealanders support decriminalising or legalising medicinal marijuana. Some two-thirds support decriminalisation or legalisation of growing and possessing small amounts of cannabis for recreational use. The prime minister says he’s not keen.
Which is remarkable, knowing how poll-driven he is normally. People are starting to assume Key has made commitments in this area he can’t back out of.
Something seems a bit dodgy about all this. Are we really to believe that middle-aged, life-long users of cannabis are solely motivated to help the likes of Ms Kelly, reduce societal harm and even to see a drop in the number of users? And how extraordinary that all the new “evidence” they cite publicly just happens to support exactly what they thought when slam-dancing to The Clash as teenagers in the 1970s. Science doesn’t usually work so neatly. […]
The drug lobbyists and cannabis community are undoubtedly right that the current situation is sub-optimal. Cannabis and even harder drugs are theoretically illegal but – as the prime minister argues – they have largely been decriminalised in practice with the authorities usually turning a blind eye, at least to the well-dressed. The lobbyists are also right that we really should invest more in programmes to deter teenagers from early experimentation and to provide help to those who seek it.
But, to use a dreadful pun, could the cannabis lobby please get off the grass. It is as absurd to think decriminalisation or legalisation will turn everyone into good, responsible cannabis users as prime minister Jenny Shipley arguing in 1999 that lowering the drinking age would turn us all into sophisticated southern Europeans sipping a glass of wine with dinner. In truth, there cannot be any “evidence” about what would happen if we liberalise cannabis laws in New Zealand because it has never happened in this time, place or social context. Nor has there ever been a control group anywhere else.
We can make bets though. Anyone with an understanding of New Zealand culture would surely wager that cannabis reform would be followed by an increase in usage, especially among the young, an increase in harm and would require much greater investment in health services to minimise that harm. Out of that, it is possible to see usage and harm could be reduced down the track, as has been achieved with tobacco.
But instead of 50-something Clash fans arguing there is now some incontrovertible science that happens to coincide with what they whined when they were teenagers, could they do everyone the courtesy of making the only argument that has purchase: that Ms Kelly and other adults should be able to smoke cannabis or snort cocaine or whatever else because it is their body and their life. It’s at least an argument with integrity and also happens to be true. In the meantime, could Ms Kelly’s friends please keep supplying her with cannabis and could the cops please leave them all alone.
Not sure the pot heads are going to be listened to, but they certainly don’t add anything positive to the medical and/or decriminalisation debates.
Bottom line is that New Zealand is ready for it. John Key won’t go there.
– Matthew Hooton, NBR