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Due Diligence on Cannabis Harm, Not ‘Fear’ – A response to Alison Mau

Bob McCoskrie asks why an ‘investigative’ journalist is so desperate to shut down a petition calling on an inquiry into the possible harms of cannabis. Mau doesn’t want you to go anywhere near it. What is she scared of? Below is our response. We would encourage you to take a few minutes to read it. The cannabis debate deserves robust and balanced debate. That may be difficult to get with the current NZ media. It is disappointing that the Sunday Star Times refused to allow us the opportunity to respond in full, despite repeated requests. Once you have read it, please take a moment to sign the petition that Alison Mau is so scared of!


24 May 2019
Alison Mau, an ‘investigative’ journalist, is desperate to shut down our petition (“Family First is trying to scare you – don’t fall for it” 19 May 2019) which simply calls for an investigation into a possible link between cannabis and violence – emphasis on ‘possible’.

Firstly, some background. Over the past couple of decades, studies around the globe have found that higher levels of THC – the active compound in cannabis – is strongly linked to psychosis, schizophrenia, and violence. A certain percentage of people who use marijuana can become psychotic and can also become violent.

And with increasing THC levels being found in marijuana products consumed via edibles, vaping, and dabbing, the risk is growing. For example, in Colorado the average THC content of all tested flower in 2017 was 19.6% statewide compared to 16.4% in 2014. The average potency of concentrated extract products has increased steadily to THC content 68.6% at the end of 2017. Potency rates of up to 95% have been recorded and today can be as high as 99.9% THC.

Researchers have studied alcohol and violence for generations, proving that alcohol is a risk factor for domestic abuse and assault. Far less work has been done on cannabis.

And that’s effectively the work that we’d like to see done – before we move to legalise it.

We would argue that the evidence is already building.

A just-published study in The Lancet concluded that “people who smoked marijuana on a daily basis were three times more likely to be diagnosed with psychosis compared with people who never used the drug. For those who used high-potency marijuana daily, the risk jumped to nearly five times.”

Last year, researchers at Ohio and Tennessee Universities found that marijuana use was associated with psychological, physical, and sexual intimate partner violence. A University of Florida study published in The Journal of Interpersonal Violence in 2011 found that frequent marijuana users in adolescence are twice as likely to engage in domestic violence as young adults. You would think this would draw attention from Mau.

Research published in 2016 in the journal Psychological Medicine concluded that continued cannabis use is associated with 7-fold greater odds for subsequent commission of violent crimes.

A 2007 paper in the Medical Journal of Australia looked at 88 defendants who had committed homicide during psychotic episodes. It found that most of the killers believed they were in danger from the victim, and almost two-thirds reported misusing cannabis – more than alcohol and amphetamines combined.

As with all research, of course there are limitations in the studies mentioned above. But those same limitations also apply to studies which say there is no association.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) summed up the issue in their 2012 report, saying that THC content and the potency of cannabis have been increasing over the past 30 years, and that this can increase psychotic symptoms in regular users.

Here in New Zealand, just last year, a man who stalked several women during a 24-hour drug-induced psychosis left one of his victims with “a lasting fear”. He lost his job after failing a drug test and then embarked on a four-day cannabis binge. The judge said that resulted in a psychosis.

Earlier this month in California, Bryn Spejcher, an employed, well-educated 28-year-old with no criminal record or history of mental illness appeared in court accused of stabbing her boyfriend to death — after smoking pot for the first time. The coroner testified that the victim had been stabbed 108 times, from his head to his knees, cutting his trachea, jugular vein and carotid artery and perforating his heart twice. A forensic scientist from the crime lab confirmed that no drug other than THC was present in Bryn’s blood and no drug other than THC was found in the bong.

Paranoia and psychosis can make some people dangerous, so a rising use of a drug that causes both would be expected to increase violent crime, rather than reduce it as drug advocates might claim.

Here in New Zealand, we know from a number of governmental reports (UNICEF reports in 2003 and 2007, a CYF report in 2006, and a Children’s Commissioner report in 2009) that one of the factors most commonly associated with the maltreatment of children is drug abuse.

Last year, Texas released its report on child abuse deaths, finding half the 172 child abuse deaths in 2017 coupled with substance abuse.  Marijuana was the most-used substance connected to child abuse and neglect deaths, followed by alcohol, cocaine and methamphetamine. In 2017, Arizona also published a report showing that marijuana was the substance most often linked to child abuse deaths.

But it is the most recent study that we should sit up and take notice of. The paper “Cannabis use and violence in patients with severe mental illnesses: A meta-analytical investigation” published last month is the most comprehensive survey yet on the issue. Findings showed a moderate cannabis-violence association in severe mental illness. What’s also striking is how recent most of the papers examined are – 10 of the 12 papers are in the last decade, and 7 of the 12 since 2016.

Mau contacted Otago University associate professor Joseph Boden – the Deputy Director of the superb Christchurch Health and Development study. So did I. Boden is in favour of some form of legalisation. In our respectful phone discussion, we both agreed that high-THC cannabis would increase the risks.

He argued that a regulated legalised market in New Zealand would keep this risk down by limiting THC levels. It’s a nice theory, but I’ve been to Colorado and California. Regulation simply empowers a black market – as is being seen in Colorado, California, and now Canada.

Mau also relies on comments from Ziva Cooper from the Cannabis Research Initiative at UCLA, where she works, solicits and takes money from cannabis users and investors in the industry. Insys, the company with which she collaborated from 2015-2018, is a poster child for terrible behaviour in the opioid crisis.

Mau also refers to ‘the scientific community’ of 75 academics and medical professionals who wrote an open letter opposing the premise of our petition. She forgot to mention the lobbyists from NORML and the Drug Policy Alliance in that list.

She also conveniently left out the bit that the signatories reiterated “their support for an end to marijuana prohibition and for the legal regulation of marijuana for adult use.

Ironically, Mr Boden told me he used to live in Massachusetts. Just this month, more than 40 clinicians, researchers, scientists, and other public health professionals from Massachusetts, including many from Harvard Medical School, released a Statement of Concern, highlighting negative effects of THC, including “Increased risk of serious mental health problems including acute psychosis (e.g., hallucinations, delusions), paranoia, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and suicide, with growing scientific evidence that daily use of high THC products bring greater risk”. They highlight 2018 research from the Copenhagen University Hospital which found that “41% of those who experience cannabis-induced psychosis later convert to schizophrenia.”

Last month in the liberal state of Vermont, the Department of Mental Health has warned legislators about the mental health implications of a commercial market, stating, “Perhaps the strongest evidence for severe mental health problems related to cannabis use is related to psychosis were multiple studies have linked regular cannabis use to an estimated doubling of the risk of a psychotic illness as well a more refractory course among people with existing psychotic illness. Violent behavior as a result of cannabis induced paranoia and other psychotic symptoms is also an increasing concern.”

 In Maryland, neuroscientist and author of “The Impact of Marijuana on Mental Health in: Contemporary Health Issues on Marijuana” Christine Miller warned legislators last month, “The causal link between marijuana use and the development of psychosis is quite simply the most well-replicated, high-impact finding in schizophrenia research today. Given current use rates and the strong potency of the drug available, it stands to be responsible for a larger proportion of schizophrenia cases than any other established factor. Who may be at risk cannot be reliably predicted.” 

Here’s the bottom line.

In the same way that there is some real evidence that components of marijuana can be made into medicine, it is based mainly on anecdotal ‘evidence’ that makes us think we should really study it more to isolate components and potentially treat other illnesses with them.

In the same way, there is building scientific evidence suggesting that components of the plant can lead to mental illness, at times severe, that can lead to violence. There is already anecdotal ‘evidence’ that higher THC-levels can lead to violence.

We are simply asking for research and scientific consensus before moving forward as a country with a change this massive. We believe this to be a responsible and thoughtful way to move forward.   

But Mau doesn’t want you to go anywhere near it. What is she scared of?

Mike Hosking: Legalising cannabis makes no sense

NZ Herald 23 May 2019
Family First Comment: Mike Hosking nails it!
“Mobile phone use in cars is illegal, buying alcohol when drunk is illegal, domestic violence is illegal. Yet it all still happens. Using the justification for the cannabis vote, why don’t we throw our hands up and legalise it all… They promote legalising weed when they’re barely getting off ground with tests for those behind wheel. They labour under delusion that if they regulate, gangs will give up selling it. There is not one single, solid, positive argument for doing what they’re doing… This is an aspirational country, and it needs to be led by aspirational governments. There is nothing aspirational about encouraging drug use.”
#saynopetodope VoteNO.nz

Ever since the announcement that we are to vote on legalising cannabis, I have been looking for the logic.

A sign from any one of the major players this somehow makes sense.

I can’t find any.

I have asked.

I have asked the Prime Minister, I have asked Winston Peters, I have asked Julie Anne Genter.

Not one of them has produced a sensible logical answer as to why we are wandering down this path of inevitable social health and economic harm.

The only response seems to be, what we do now hasn’t worked.

READ MORE https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12233388  (behind paywall)

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A million Kiwis want to try medicinal cannabis – survey

NewsHub 20 May 2019 
More than a million Kiwis are keen to try medicinal cannabis, according to a new survey.

With polls suggesting New Zealand will vote to legalise recreational use of the already popular drug, licensed medicinal cannabis developer Helius Therapeutics expects the market for its products to explode from 2020.

It commissioned a poll by Horizon Research to find out just how big the market could be, and was blown away by the results.

“Even if we just focus on those who would ‘definitely’ try accessing medicinal cannabis products, at 14 percent that represents phenomenal demand, set to be unleashed next year,” said executive director Paul Manning.

Fourteen percent of adult Kiwis equates to more than 430,000 people. In addition to them, another 20 percent said they are ‘most likely’ or ‘somewhat likely’ to seek out medicinal cannabis. It’s unclear what percentage would have a legitimate medical reason.
READ MORE: https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/lifestyle/2019/05/a-million-kiwis-want-to-try-medicinal-cannabis-survey.html

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Medicinal cannabis survey: How many Kiwis want access to the drug?

NZ Herald 19 May 2019
A third of Kiwis have indicated they could try to access medicinal cannabis products when they become more widely and legally available next year, a survey shows.

Licensed medicinal cannabis company Helius Therapeutics commissioned the Horizon Research survey of 1156 people, 14 per cent of whom said they would definitely try to access the products. Ten per cent each said they would most likely, or were somewhat likely, to do the same.

More than half of respondents indicated they wouldn’t seek out medicinal cannabis products, including 23 per cent who said they were most unlikely to do so and 22 per cent who said they definitely would not.

Twelve per cent weren’t sure.

Regulations, licensing rules and quality standards around medicinal cannabis are to be set later this year, after Parliament recently cleared the way by passing amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act.

The results gave Helius Therapeutics, New Zealand’s largest licensed medicinal cannabis company, an understanding of the potential market size, said the company’s executive director, Paul Manning.

“Even if we just focus on those who would ‘definitely’ try accessing medicinal cannabis products, at 14 per cent that represents phenomenal demand … it’s not just the sheer size of the potential market and groundswell of demand, but it’s a timely reminder that Kiwis are increasingly seeing cannabis as a mainstream health product.”
READ MORE: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/index.cfm?objectid=12231632&ref=twitter

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Colorado still fighting cannabis black market six years after legalisation

NewsTalk ZB 17 May 2019
Family First Comment: She said legalisation is not the solution to drug reform. “We just had a study released which said that we are actually spending US$4.50 for every dollar that we bring in on taxes. We are seeing one in four employees self report that they go to work stoned.”

The US State of Colorado is continuing to fight the cannabis black market, six years after legalising the drug.

Seizures of marijuana in the U.S mail system have increased more than 1000 per cent since 2013, as Colorado becomes a major exporter of the drug.

National Drug and Alcohol Screening Association executive director, Jo McGuire, told Kate Hawkesby greater rules and regulations are needed.

“Not only do people completely bypass the regulatory system when they are a player, but people from other countries [are] flooding our state and setting up illegal grow operations in our national forest.”

She said legalisation is not the solution to drug reform.

“We just had a study released which said that we are actually spending US$4.50 for every dollar that we bring in on taxes. We are seeing one in four employees self report that they go to work stoned.”
https://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/on-air/early-edition/audio/colorado-still-fighting-cannabis-black-market-six-years-after-legalisation/
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‘I’m too high. Something’s wrong.’ Teens caught vaping marijuana in scary new trend

USA Today 3 May 2019
Family First Comment: Consequences of legalising cannabis – even with ‘regulation’…
“Just as with tobacco, students can vape right under a teacher’s nose and go undetected. There is no telltale odor, and the handheld devices used are small enough that a surreptitious student can indulge in class. Compounding the trouble, experts say, is the potency the devices can deliver, giving a student a much more intense high than expected.”

As more teens vape, schools have struggled to keep the practice in check. Now, some schools are seeing a worrisome twist — students vaping marijuana.

Just as with tobacco, students can vape right under a teacher’s nose and go undetected. There is no telltale odor, and the handheld devices used are small enough that a surreptitious student can indulge in class.

Compounding the trouble, experts say, is the potency the devices can deliver, giving a student a much more intense high than expected. Often adults don’t realize a student has indulged until the teen confesses.

School resource officers at one large Indiana high school has seen a surge this year in something they have never dealt with before.

Several students were sent to the emergency room by the school nurse after vaping THC, the chemical compound in marijuana that produces a high.

“I’ve walked down the hallway, and you can visibly see kids who are so stoned that they don’t know where they are,” school resource officer at Carmel High School in Carmel. Ind. Shane VanNatter said. “They’ll self-report. They’ll come to the nurse and say, ‘I’m too high. Something’s wrong.’”

Seventeen students, including those who were hospitalized, had been caught this school year either using, possessing or dealing THC vaping products, VanNatter said.

One vaping cartridge VanNatter confiscated was 83.6 percent THC.

THC levels in plant marijuana generally range from 15% to 24%.
READ MORE: https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/allthemoms/2019/05/03/teens-caught-vaping-marijuana-their-e-cigarettes/3661177002/

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Marijuana users get high at work in states with legal weed – survey (US)

The Seattle Times 13 March 2019
Family First Comment: “One in four marijuana users who are employed admit to doing this within the past year, according to a new survey of cannabis consumers in Washington, Oregon and Colorado, three states where recreational weed is legal… The survey shows that after legalization, many cannabis consumers increased their usage.”
Read our Fact Sheet on this issue https://saynopetodope.org.nz/workplace/

One in four marijuana users who are employed admit to doing this within the past year, according to a new survey of cannabis consumers in Washington, Oregon and Colorado, three states where recreational weed is legal.

One in four also said they’ve gotten high before work — I’m guessing it’s the same one in four, but the survey doesn’t specify. The marketing communications firm Quinn Thomas, which has offices in Seattle and Portland, funded the survey, which was conducted by polling-and-opinion outfit DHM Research. A representative sample of 900 cannabis consumers were interviewed — 300 in each of the three states — from Jan. 8 to 14. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percent.

“There is a lot of information out there about the cannabis industry and its regulatory structure, but not much is known about consumers,” said Zach Knowling, vice president at Quinn Thomas, in an email. “We felt our experience researching and reaching unique audiences could build greater understanding of who they are.”

Washington and Colorado both legalized recreational use of marijuana through voter initiatives in 2012, becoming the first states to do so. Oregon followed in 2014. The survey shows that after legalization, many cannabis consumers increased their usage. In Washington 44 percent of respondents said they are now regular consumers of pot (daily or a few times per week), compared with 36 percent who said they consumed that much prelegalization.

… While the survey shows that getting stoned at work is a fairly commonplace activity, so is drug testing. Twenty-one percent of respondents said they’ve been subjected to a drug test that checked for cannabis within the past year. And just about the same number said they stopped getting high for a while in order to pass the test.
READ MORE: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/data/1-in-4-marijuana-users-with-a-job-get-stoned-at-work-survey-says/
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Andrew Dickens: Legalising cannabis is unnecessary

NewsTalk ZB 14 May 2019
Family First Comment: Another prominent broadcaster joins the NO camp…
“Chlöe Swarbrick said the main reason was being able to regulate and control the supply and in doing, so keep the drug out of the hands of gangs and out of the hands of kids. This does not wash with me. Currently, the Government has regulation and control of supply, because the drug is illegal. Meanwhile, the law is a tool to crack down on the gangs whose criminality goes much further than just cannabis. When asked what the gangs would do in a legalised market Chlöe hoped they’d go legit. Dream on.”
www.VoteNO.nz

So last night I sat down with my son and watched Jack Tame interview Chlöe Swarbrick about the proposed legalisation of cannabis.

On a purely superficial basis, it was remarkable watching a baby faced 31-year-old interview and even more baby faced 24-year-old on nationwide TV.

The skin was so smooth and the eyes were so clear. The conversation was snappy and polite. Welcome to the new world of millennial politics.

It started with an easy definition of the difference between decriminalisation and legalisation, which is important because we, in essence, have had an unofficial decriminalised status for the personal use of the drug for quite a while.

There is also the proposed changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act which gives police the discretion to sentence a person to rehabilitation rather than fines or imprisonment.

Slowly we are accepting that drugs are both a criminal and health problem.

So when asked why she wants cannabis legalised, Chlöe Swarbrick said the main reason was being able to regulate and control the supply and in doing, so keep the drug out of the hands of gangs and out of the hands of kids.

This does not wash with me. Currently, the Government has regulation and control of supply, because the drug is illegal.

Meanwhile, the law is a tool to crack down on the gangs whose criminality goes much further than just cannabis. When asked what the gangs would do in a legalised market Chlöe hoped they’d go legit. Dream on.

Saying that Governmental control of supply will keep the drug out of the hands of the kids is also fanciful. With the drug legal on the street, there will be a plentiful secondary market for the kids to tap into – older brothers, sisters, mates and budding entrepreneurs. Ms Swarbrick told us last night, that 80 per cent of New Zealanders have tried the drug under its illegal status. Let’s aim for 100 per cent shall we by making it legal.

The debate then wandered on to drug testing for drug driving and arcane driving statistics out of Colorado.

Which left my son and I asking each other who actually needs this bill? Who is crying out for legalised dope? What social issue is this measure trying to help? And for the life of us, we couldn’t see the reason.
READ MORE: https://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/on-air/andrew-dickens-afternoons/opinion/andrew-dickens-heres-why-legalising-cannabis-is-unnecessary/

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Random roadside drug testing must be urgently introduced

Stuff co.nz 14 May 2019
Family First Comment: Well said Mike Yardley… 
“The drug liberalisation lobby cannot ignore the inconvenient truth that drug impairment is now a bigger killer than alcohol-impairment on our roads. The latest available fatality data-set compiled by government agencies, and widely circulated by the Automobile Association, indicates that in 2017, drug-impaired driving cost 79 lives, compared to 70 deaths caused by drink-drivers… I remain firmly unconvinced that legalising cannabis for recreational use is in New Zealand’s interest. I have no problem with expanding drug addictions services, so long as the provider has a proven record in effectiveness, but legalisation will throw more fuel on the fire. More self-inflicted addiction, more wasted lives, when our mental health system is already bursting at the seams.”

OPINION: I received an email recently from a heartbroken North Canterbury couple, grieving the death of their son, who died at the hands of a cannabis-impaired driver.

Their family tragedy spurred them to sign the Matthew Dow petition, which his mother, Karen, presented to Parliament last week. The Dow petition calls for New Zealand to urgently introduce random roadside drug testing, replicating the saliva-based technology that has been widely deployed across the Western world.

Last week’s coronial inquiry into one of New Zealand’s worst mass-fatality road crashes has also highlighted the scourge of drug-impaired driving. It’s been revealed the driver responsible for the horror two-car crash that killed seven people in Waverly, Taranaki, had repeatedly consumed synthetic drugs before he got behind the wheel. Family victims from that catastrophe have also joined the crusade for drug testing.

The drug liberalisation lobby cannot ignore the inconvenient truth that drug impairment is now a bigger killer than alcohol-impairment on our roads. The latest available fatality data-set compiled by government agencies, and widely circulated by the Automobile Association, indicates that in 2017, drug-impaired driving cost 79 lives, compared to 70 deaths caused by drink-drivers.

The Dow petition is calling for the introduction of saliva tests on drugs to complement breath-testing for alcohol. It is conspicuous that in 2017 there were only 200 convictions for drug-impaired driving, compared with 16,000 for drink-driving.

The current cognitive impairment test, relied upon by police, is infrequently exercised and is best consigned to the 1950s. The current Police Minister, Stuart Nash, while in opposition, relentlessly hounded National about failing to introduce roadside driver drug-testing.
READ MORE: https://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/opinion/112674482/random-roadside-drug-testing-must-be-urgently-introduced

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Tommy Wilson: Do we really need to get high at all?

NZ Herald 10 May 2019
Family First Comment: “We seem to be stuck with two opposing choices. If we legalise or at least decriminalise dope we stop the stigma of breaking the law. The other side of the cannabis coin is we open up the availability to the already vulnerable – especially our tamariki. The damage done by drink is heartbreaking when you see it every day, so for me adding another drug to the problem can only go one way with no exit…  Maybe we should be asking ourselves – and each other, why do we need to get high at all, be it by drinking or drugging… (David) Bowie said, “Drugs gave me nothing. In the end I regretted I ever took them. There so-called liberating qualities were illusory”.

For me the issue is bigger than a bong full of buds, a jar full of rasta-infused gummy bears or growing a couple of plants in your own back yard for personal consumption.

I am all good for growing anything that either feeds you or fixes you up.

However, we seem to be stuck with two opposing choices. If we legalise or at least decriminalise dope we stop the stigma of breaking the law. The other side of the cannabis coin is we open up the availability to the already vulnerable – especially our tamariki. The damage done by drink is heartbreaking when you see it every day, so for me adding another drug to the problem can only go one way with no exit.

Bit of a Mexican marijuana stand-off really.

Maybe there is a third option to entertain?

Maybe we should be asking ourselves – and each other, why do we need to get high at all, be it by drinking or drugging.

In a recent interview on the Jim Mora Sunday show, Jim interviewed Mike Garson, David Bowie’s life-long friend and pianist who never took anything to enhance his creative talents during his 47-year touring career with the Starman.

His quote from Bowie himself about drugs has held its higher ground in my mind ever since and that in itself proves I still have some memory left.

Bowie said, “Drugs gave me nothing. In the end I regretted I ever took them. There so-called liberating qualities were illusory”.

Tautoko Rawiri I have come to the same realisation myself.

For my two bobs’ worth of what we should do about cannabis reform, all I can add to the pot pot is what I know from personal experience, and if we do decriminalise it – and we should, then let’s also sow the seed of sobriety.

Staying straight and getting high on love, life and learning is also equally as cool as cannabis.

So, this leads me back down the long and winding road to loss of memory and its possible connection to lazy thinking brought about by smoking too much of the “holy herb” back in the day.

If we legalise cannabis and it becomes available everywhere, what effect will it have on those who are already logged into lazy thinking? How will the instant everything generation react when Uncle Google is already dumbing them down by doing their thinking for them?

Lazy thinking induces a lazy lifestyle and limits the potential of our people, Māori and non-Māori.

We need to understand where the referendum will take us and prepare for the good, the bad and the ugly of decriminalising cannabis.
READ MORE: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/premium/news/article.cfm?c_id=1504669&objectid=12229174

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