Sally Caswell: If we legalise cannabis we must keep business at bay

By January 22, 2019 Recent News

NZ Herald 22 January 2019 
COMMENTWe must beware of extreme ideological positions in our cannabis discussion. In particular it would be good to acknowledge the “war on drugs” is not a particularly relevant concept. In fact we are moving towards decriminalisation of cannabis use in New Zealand due to police discretionary practices.

Ministry of Justice figures for 2017/18 show three people were imprisoned for cannabis possession and it is very likely they had an extensive conviction history — legalising cannabis possession will not reduce incarceration. But this is not to argue against an informed debate on cannabis in New Zealand, including the possibility of legalisation.

Cannabis use does not inevitably result in harm for the individual user, nor is it risk-free. Looking at the emerging evidence from the United States where several states have legalised cannabis, often allowing profit-making industries to take control, it is very likely that if we follow suit, thereby increasing availability and normalising use, we will experience more harm.

A recent review of US data has drawn attention to increases in cannabis potency, prenatal and unintentional childhood exposure and, in adults, an increase in cannabis use, fatal vehicle crashes, cannabis-related emergency room visits, and cannabis use disorder (which includes dependence and harms such as social and interpersonal problems and neglect of major roles in order to use).

About one in five lifetime users met criteria for cannabis use disorder.

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