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Drugs: No. of people charged per month dropping dramatically; less bias against Māori

NZ Herald 11 May 2021
Police appear to have made a concerted effort to charge fewer drug users to close the gap in their treatment of Māori in the months since the election.

Frontline officers also appear to be offering more health referrals, though the proportion of those engaging with health services remains less than 3 per cent of all those who face drug use/possession charges as their most serious offence.

This follows a message from Health Minister Andrew Little after the cannabis referendum that people should almost automatically not be charged but given a health referral if their most serious offence was drug use/possession.

New police data released to the Herald under the Official Information Act shows how police have used their discretion from November last year to February this year.

Of those facing the possibility of being charged with drug use/possession as their most serious offence, one in five people – or 20 per cent – was charged.

The proportion with respect to cannabis dropped to one in 10 people, while more than half (54 per cent) were charged for methamphetamine.

Police also appear to be making more of an effort to treat Māori and non-Māori the same, though they are still more likely to be charged; 22 per cent of Māori were charged overall, while 12 per cent of Māori were charged for cannabis and 56 per cent were charged with having methamphetamine.

Frontline officers were already trending towards charging fewer people before the election, but in recent months they also appear to be encountering fewer people with drugs.

Both of these factors contributed to far fewer people being charged – 56 people a month – in recent months with drug use/possession as their most serious offence. Before a key change to drug laws in August 2019, it was about 130 people a month.

These trends in police data are similar to those in Ministry of Justice data, which showed 580 convictions for drug use/possession only in 2020 – a 37 per cent reduction compared to the 920 convictions in 2018.

Cannabis and public health—a need to reclaim the narrative

Springer Link 15 March 2021
Across Europe, cannabis has become the drug most likely to cause people to seek out addiction treatment, and a recent survey of drug related emergency department attendances across 27 sentinel hospitals in 19 European countries found that cannabis was the drug most likely to precipitate such attendances, surpassing drugs such as cocaine and heroin.

Sadly, this significant and escalating public health crisis related to cannabis use in Ireland has received remarkably little attention. The national conversation has been unhelpfully dominated by the campaign which has pushed for cannabis to be recognized as a “medicine.” Such campaigns soften up public opinion toward cannabis and cause confusion among young people about cannabis-related risks. Apart from the use of cannabidiol in the treatment of severe forms of childhood epilepsy, the evidence that cannabis related products have therapeutic properties is extremely weak. A recent scoping review of 72 systematic reviews found no good evidence that cannabis-related products have therapeutic efficacy for management of pain, spasticity, or nausea and vomiting and indeed found that they may be more likely to produce adverse effects. A systematic review of cannabis-related products for treatment of mental health conditions found no convincing evidence for efficacy.

Despite the lack of scientific evidence for efficacy, chronic pain is by far the most common reason for dispensing of cannabis-based products in other countries, In addition, campaigners will demand an end to the current restriction which limits “prescribing” to specialists as the experience in Canada and elsewhere was that most doctors did not wish to prescribe plants such as cannabis. The regime in Canada became so loose after decades of campaigning and litigation that any doctor could recommend these products to any patient for any reason.

There is a need for the Department of Health to reclaim the narrative on cannabis, and to avoid “own goals” such as calling it “medical” or “medicinal.” The medical profession should involve themselves more in this discourse and ensure that the drug policy in Ireland is truly health-led in practice.

Cannabis: Labour, National quash Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick’s hope for ‘green fairy’ amnesty

NewsHub 6 May 2021
Labour and National have quashed Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick’s push to grant amnesty for ‘green fairies’, those who illegally supply cannabis to people with health issues.

Swarbrick wrote to Health Minister Andrew Little advocating on behalf of TV presenter Katy Thomas, whose severely epileptic 6-year old son’s legal medicinal cannabis was confiscated and destroyed at the border because the CBD level was a fraction too high.

Swarbrick also asked Little to consider an amnesty for ‘green fairies’ who risk a prison sentence to provide relief to their communities. A Waikato man giving cannabis free to elderly people for pain relief was recently raided and charged by police.

But Little confirmed he has no plans to grant amnesty to green fairies, despite the unaffordability of legal products. National Party justice spokesperson Simon Bridges also poured cold water on the prospect.

“Conservative groups, the likes of Family First, decided to start painting it as ‘grow your own’ and that’s exactly why we’ve ended up with this highly pharmaceutical approach, with huge cost barriers to patients getting access to this medicine, because we’re treating it in the same way we treat things like morphine.”

Family First supported National Party deputy leader Dr Shane Reti’s unsuccessful medicinal cannabis Bill in 2018 that would have facilitated pharmacist dispensing but would have excluded loose leaf cannabis.

Family First’s Bob McCoskrie told Newshub he found it ironic the Greens voted against Dr Reti’s Bill which “would have sped up the process and increased the availability of product”.

“We don’t allow chemists to distribute illegal drugs willy-nilly.”

Swarbrick responded: “You only have to look at Family First’s anti-science, moral high-horsing history of telling people how to live their lives – what they can do with their bodies and who they’re allowed to love – to understand where these views come from.”


‘GRAVEST THREAT’ Cannabis related admissions to psychiatric hospitals increase by 250 per cent since 2007 as experts issue stark warning Craig Farrell

The Irish Sun 4 May 2021
CANNABIS-related admissions to psychiatric hospitals here have increased by 250 per cent since 2007 – as experts warn that the drug “represents the gravest threat to young Irish people’s mental health today”.

The College of Psychiatrists of Ireland (CPsychI) believe that the combination of increasingly potent strains and a perception that the drug is generally harmless, have had devastating effects.

There are an estimated 45,000 young adults – 15 to 34yrs – in Ireland who meet criteria for cannabis dependence.

In 2019, cannabis was the main substance for 71 per cent of those under 18s attending addiction treatment in Ireland.


Child addiction specialist Dr Gerry McCarney said he is concerned that the strength of the drug has reached a point where it’s causing young people to become more paranoid, more quickly.

The consultant child and adolescent addiction psychiatrist said: “We are seeing an increasing rate of difficulty coping by young people who are using a lot of cannabis.

“This can result in frequent presentations with low mood, suicidal ideation, increasing self-harm, anxiety disorders, clinical depression, and for a smaller number increasing paranoia and quite significant psychotic symptoms.”

Decriminalising Drugs: The Truth About Portugal – Report

A report published last year Decriminalising Drugs: The Truth About Portugal was written on behalf of the Swedish Drug Policy Centre about Portugal’s decriminalisation of drugs.

Reference is often made by New Zealand drug advocates to Portugal as an example of a country with a ‘successful’ drugs policy, attributed to the decriminalisation policy it carried out in 2001.

The report makes it clear that Portugal’s 2001 reforms were more far-reaching than just the abolition of penalties for using and possessing small quantities of drugs. Above all, they included major efforts including resources for primary prevention, funding for civil society projects, social housing, rehabilitation and substitution therapy.

The care efforts in Portugal draw on prompt action and good coordination between the various health services. Someone dependent on drugs and arrested by the police will appear before a CDT (Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Abuse) within three days and will often have an initial appointment with an addiction specialist within a week.

This is a good example of the ‘coercion of the law’. It’s both a health and a criminal issue.

But contrary to what you may have been told, use of cannabis – especially among young people – has increased since decriminalisation. The percentage of 15-16-year-olds who have used cannabis in the last 30 days is four times higher in Portugal than in Sweden. The number of hospital admissions for cannabis-related psychosis increased almost 30 times between 2000 and 2015. Researchers have found no fall in drug-related violence since the decriminalisation in 2001. The latest figures on drug-related mortality show that Portugal is now back at almost the same level as before decriminalisation.

There is also a concern that decriminalisation risks sending signals that promote increased use. Studies suggest that cannabis use has increased among the adult population.

The head of the Portuguese drug agency, SICAD, João Goulão, says that, “Decriminalisation is not a miracle cure. If that’s all you do, things will get worse.”

As the media push the decriminalisation narrative, we hope that you will be able to take the time to read this important report.


Colorado reckons with high-potency marijuana and its impact on children

The Denver Post 28 April 2021
Lafonna Pacheco hardly recognized her daughter, Roxanne Delte, by the time she turned 17.

“It wasn’t just a teenager thing,” Pacheco said. “It was beyond that. She was paranoid, she was oppositional. Something mentally was going on and it was scary because I couldn’t put my finger on it.”

After five stints in rehab, Delte is able to say clearly what was going on: She was consuming too much high-potency cannabis — flower, yes, but also concentrated wax and other products, too — and that was ruining her life. She recalls regularly puking, and how uncomfortably high she would get from the wax in particular.

“I lost glimpses of time,” said Delte, who has not used cannabis for a year. “It completely changed my mental state and my routine.”

“Her friends thought she was smoking something else,” added Pacheco, who lives in Colorado Springs. “She wasn’t on crack, not on meth. The way these marijuana products affected her in her mind and her actions was complete psychosis.”

Such extreme cases are showing up more among Colorado youth, parents and school health professionals say. And people like Pacheco are increasingly pleading with lawmakers to cut off teens’ easy access to cannabis products, as well as asking for more regulation of products like edibles, wax and shatter that contain THC levels that can be dangerous for developing brains.

Their champion in the Colorado Legislature is Rep. Yadira Caraveo, a pediatrician who has for months been negotiating legislation to limit THC potency. She’s unlikely to succeed in installing any THC caps this year, but said she’s “pretty certain” she’ll introduce a bill with other provisions to more strictly regulate cannabis sales for medical and recreational buyers, with a focus on limiting youth access.

Growing evidence shows high-potency THC products are more likely to bring on or worsen mental health issues in young people. The state’s own reporting says so, and a broader study of 204,000 people ages 10-24 released in January in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s pediatrics publication found elevated risk of self-harm among young people who misused cannabis.

“We found SUBSTANTIAL evidence that THC intoxication can cause acute psychotic symptoms, which are worse with higher doses,” the 2020 report from Colorado’s health department said.

But the overall body of research on this topic is limited, and the state’s report also recommended further studies on THC’s effects on kids.

“Surprising” results from new CBD pain study

New Atlas 25 April 2021
A new study from researchers at Syracuse University is presenting results from one of the first placebo-controlled trials exploring the influence of CBD on sensations of acute pain. The mixed results suggest CBD may reduce feelings of unpleasantness, helping one tolerate pain more effectively despite not actually lowering the intensity of pain.

Cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD, is one of the most prominent active compounds in cannabis. Unlike THC, which is primarily responsible for the plant’s more psychoactive effects, CBD is non-intoxicating.

Over the last few years CBD has been touted as a treatment for everything from insomnia to cancer. The vast majority of the claims surrounding CBD’s medicinal uses are unproven and scientists are quickly trying to catch up and figure out what conditions this compound actually helps.

It is commonly suggested CBD is an effective and safe analgesic, but there is a distinct lack of robust clinical evidence backing up those anecdotal claims. A new study, led by researchers from Syracuse University, is offering one of the first placebo-controlled investigations into CBD’s effects on pain.

Instead of focusing on chronic pain sufferers, the new research was more interested in how CBD influences responses to acute pain, and how strong CBD’s placebo effect is in this context. Fifteen subjects were recruited for the study, and each subject completed four experimental sessions.

Heavy marijuana use during pregnancy linked to premature birth, early infant death

NBC News 23 April 2021
As more states legalize adult use of recreational marijuana, researchers are trying to determine the drug’s impact on developing brains.

Women who use marijuana during pregnancy are putting their babies at risk, a study published Thursday finds.

Babies born to women who were heavy cannabis users during pregnancy are more likely to have health problems, including premature birth and death within a year of birth, compared to babies born to women who did not use cannabis during pregnancy, according to an analysis of nearly 5 million California women who gave birth between 2001 and 2012.

The report in the journal Addiction is more evidence of the risks of marijuana use during pregnancy. As more states legalize adult use of recreational marijuana, researchers have been trying to determine whether the drug might have deleterious effects on fetuses. A study published in August linked pot use among pregnant women with an elevated risk of autism in their babies.

“Because many states in the U.S. now have approved medical and/or recreational cannabis, we recommend regulatory approaches targeting pregnant women, such as developing guidelines for physicians to appropriately recommend medical cannabis and communicating potential risks of prenatal cannabis use,” said the study’s lead author, Yuyan Shi, an associate professor of health policy and health economics at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at the University of California, San Diego.

Another approach would be to require dispensaries to display warning signs and for cannabis products to include warning labels of potential dangers to fetuses, she said in an email.

It’s not known how many pregnant women are using marijuana, nor how many might be heavy users. Earlier research showed that the number of pregnant women using cannabis doubled between 2002 and 2016, from 3.4 percent to 7 percent. That’s probably an underestimate, the researchers noted.


Colombian senate debates plan to regulate cocaine

Transform Drug Policy Foundation 3 March 2021
What does this new cocaine regulation Bill propose?

The proposed Bill was based on Transform’s three-tier regulation framework to regulate stimulants. The main idea is to have three types of regulatory levels depending on the risks of the products:

  • The first set of regulations would cover low potency or non-psychoactive products such as the coca leaf itself, as well as beverages, food and cosmetic products based on the coca leaf. These products would be subject to lighter regulation, similar to those already in place for similar products such as coffee, with private actors allowed to buy and sell these products more freely.

  • The second type of regulation would cover psychoactive products derived from the coca leaf that are used for recreational purposes, such as cocaine. Under this type or regulation, consumers would have to go through a medical check-up and register in a database before being allowed to buy a certain dose of cocaine in registered pharmacies. All types of advertisements and sponsoring would be forbidden and only adults would be allowed to purchase cocaine.

  • The third type of regulation would cover psychoactive products derived from the coca leaf that, due to their health consequences, would remain prohibited for sale, such as crack cocaine. However, use would not be criminalised and a harm reduction strategy adopted, ensuring that all problematic consumers can receive adequate social and medical treatment.

The harvest of coca plants and the production of cocaine would also be subject to a strict regulation. Coca plantations would be authorized only in the areas where coca is currently being grown, as long as they remain outside of the environmentally protected areas. This is to ensure that the regulation of this market benefits the areas and communities most affected by the war on drugs and prevent new actors with potential advantages from entering the market. In addition, only local farmers and Indingeous communities would be allowed to grow coca plants and would benefit from the technical and financial assistance of the State. The harvest would then be bought by the State who would sub-contract the transformation of the coca leaf into cocaine to research centers and pharmaceuticals.


Legal weed’s first year in Chicago: High arrest rates for Black people, a boutique experience for others

Chicago Tribune 15 April 2021
Three times the number of African Americans were arrested for marijuana-related offenses in Chicago than other ethnicities combined in 2020, according to Chicago Police Department arrest totals retrieved under a Freedom of Information Act request.

The arrest figures are only the latest sign of disparity in the state’s fledgling marijuana industry.

Critics point out what they see as a troubling double standard: At the same time the state’s legal weed industry is making millions and white smokers are enjoying the boutique experience with designer weed in clean, fashionable North Side dispensaries, Black and brown people are left out of the windfall and continue to be arrested for selling weed illegally.

During the first year of marijuana legalization, Black people led all ethnic groups in arrests with 2,311, making up more than three-quarters of all marijuana arrests in Chicago. Latinos made up the second highest number of arrests with 506.

Whites made up about 4% of arrests in Chicago, with 117 arrests across the city for the entire year. Asians and Pacific Islanders made up fewer than 1% with just 25 arrests.