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Advice to review dope law repeated

New Zealand Herald, 11 June 1999


WELLINGTON - The Government's policies on cannabis are not working and should be reviewed, says a parliamentary committee.

The health select committee is also repeating its call for the Government to reconsider the illegality of the drug.

A report it released yesterday follows last year's inquiry into the mental health effects of cannabis.

That found that moderate use of cannabis did not harm most people, although it did not deny the serious impact the drug could have, particularly on schizophrenics or those with mental illnesses.

After the inquiry, the committee recommended that the Government review its policy on cannabis and the legal status of the drug.

Yesterday, chairman Brian Neeson restated that position after considering a petition urging decriminalising the recreational use of cannabis.

Mr Neeson said it was clear that Government policies of prohibition were no great deterrent to using cannabis.

If the drug did cause harm to a small proportion of users, it was better that they had access to treatment without fear of the stigma of criminalisation.

"In light of the evidence we have heard on the effects of cannabis and the high rate of use in New Zealand, the effectiveness of the current policy requires examination."

Mr Neeson, who does not personally favour liberalisation, said yesterday that while the Government had no plans to review the legal status of cannabis, that did not mean it was not being talked about.

"What we've got to have a look at is the use of it, the recreational use of it, the sociological implications of cannabis..."

"We have to understand that there is an epidemic out there as far as the distribution of cannabis is concerned..." he said.

"The Government itself and the country and the community have to decide exactly what they want to do from now on."

- NZPA

NORML's Media Release on the subject - 10 June

HEALTH COMMITTEE'S CALLS FOR NZ'S CANNABIS LAW TO BE REVIEWED (AGAIN) -- NORML WARNS THE GOVERNMENT DOESN'T CARE ABOUT THE FACTS.

NORML's Spokesperson Chris Fowlie today welcomed Parliament's Health Committee's call for the Government to review New Zealand's cannabis policy, but warned that this administration is hardly likely to start listening to the evidence now.

"The Government have repeatedly shown that they don't care what the evidence says. They ignored the Health Committee's report issued last year, and no doubt they'll ignore this latest call. They won't let the facts get in the way of their dodgy drug policy," said Mr Fowlie.

Yesterday's announcement from the Health Committee was in response to a petition tabled in Parliament in 1997 by Judith Ann Wickham and 326 others calling for "the decriminalisation of the recreational use of cannabis".

Parliament's Health Committee last December issued a report of their inquiry into the mental health effects of cannabis. After hearing testimony from the experts in the field, the committee concluded that "the moderate use of cannabis does not seem to harm the majority of people" and "it is clear that current policies do not deter cannabis use to any great extent." The report recommended the Government "review the appropriateness of existing policy on cannabis and its use and reconsider the legal status of cannabis."

That recommendation was ignored by the Government, who instead chose to implement a host of draconian measures including banning the importation and sale of health-protecting pipes and water pipes.

"The Health Committee are concerned with protecting the health of cannabis users and in having workable and evidence-based cannabis laws, but the National Government seems more interested in sending 'tough on drugs' messages to it's red-neck constituency. How else can they explain banning water-pipes, which are only used for their health-protecting effects, in the name of 'minimising the harm caused by illicit drugs'?"

"Their ability to make rational decisions has been clouded by their own moral judgement of cannabis users, and they have lost sight of their original rationale for prohibiting cannabis - to protect the heath of cannabis users.

They feel cannabis users deserve to be punished rather than protected. The Government needs reminding that cannabis smokers are also voters, and they will be very unhappy come election time!"

NORML's policy for cannabis law reform is to first stop arresting cannabis smokers. This would not require a law change, but would simply involve the police making cannabis use a lower priority than burglary and violent crime. The next step would be to allow people to grow their own cannabis, thereby greatly reducing the size of the cannabis black market. The next step would be to license and regulate cannabis retail outlets in a similar way to how we now regulate alcohol, thereby controlling the way in which cannabis is sold, and who it is sold to.


House of Representatives Health Committee Press Release on the subject - 10 June 1999
Report on Petition 1996/686 of Judith Ann Wickham and 326 others

The Health Committee has considered the Petition 1996/686 of Judith Ann Wickham and 326 others requesting: the decriminalisation of the recreational use of cannabis.

Background

The petition was referred to the Justice and Law Reform Committee on July 25 1997 and was transferred to the Health Committee on 18 November 1998. The committee requested and received submissions from the petitioner, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health and the Police.

In 1998 we conducted an inquiry into the mental health effects of cannabis.

While the inquiry was not focussed on the legality of cannabis but rather concentrated on the drug's mental health effects, it provided us with background information on the nature. effects and legal status of cannabis.

Consideration of issues

The issues surrounding the cannabis debate were discussed in detail in the report on our inquiry into the mental health effects of cannabis (1.6A) and we do not intend to restate all of that evidence. However, some important points relevant to the petition are discussed below.

As a result of our inquiry we concluded that moderate use of cannabis does not seem to harm the majority of people. We do not deny the serious impact cannabis may have on certain individuals, particularly those with schizophrenia or those with a vulnerability to psychotic illness. it is clear that current policies do not deter cannabis use to any great extent. If cannabis does cause harm to a small proportion of users then it is preferable that those people have good access to treatment without fear of stigmatisation or criminalisation. A harm minimisation approach aimed at reducing the incidence and severity of drug problems appears to be a realistic approach to cannabis use in New Zealand.

It is acknowledged that cannabis prohibition enforced by traditional crime control methods has not been successful in reducing the apparent number of cannabis users in New Zealand. Methods other than prohibition certainly deserve consideration.

In light of the evidence we have heard on the effects of cannabis and the high rate of cannabis use in New Zealand, the effectiveness of the current policy on cannabis requires examination. Accordingly, we restate the recommendation made in the report on our inquiry that the Government review the appropriateness of existing policy on cannabis and its use and reconsider the legal status of cannabis.

Brian Neeson, Chairperson, 10 June 1999