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James Farmer QC: Cannabis Legal Reform – Arguments For And Against

James Farmer Q.C. 13 August 2020
Our additional comment: Excellent legal commentary on the possibility of legalising cannabis for recreational use. Rebuts the arguments used by drug advocates:
* cannabis is no more harmful than alcohol and it is legal to consume alcohol and so it should be too for cannabis
* medicinal cannabis is now legal and so cannabis for recreational use should be also
* the legalisation of cannabis use will decrease any harm to users because its production, supply, strength and price will be regulated
* legalisation of cannabis supply and use will eliminate the black market
*it is wrong that people using cannabis should be convicted under the criminal law
He concludes:
A health-focused solution, but via the deterrence and incentivisation (to seek assistance) of the criminal law, is in fact available now in new zealand, a fact that scarcely rates a mention in the current public debate leading up to the referendum.

I have consistently believed that cannabis is a harmful substance and that people who use it for “recreational purposes” would be more sensible to choose a healthy form of recreation that doesn’t put them and those dependent on them, i.e. their children and future children, at risk of harm.

A disappointing feature of the forthcoming cannabis reform referendum (apart from the fact that it’s being held at all) is that it is the consequence of a political deal between the Labour and Green Parties.  Another feature of dubious morality is that it is being promoted as a measure that will generate tax revenues that can be used, as the proposed Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill says, “to reduce the harms associated with cannabis use experienced by individual, families, whanau, and communities in New Zealand”.   Assuming the Bill is successful in achieving its objectives of eliminating the (non-tax-paying) black market – as to which, see below – and that legal cannabis becomes more readily available, the happy equilibrium will be attained of greater access to cannabis, more people using it, more people affected by its harmful effects and more public money to address those effects.

With the referendum now only weeks away, it is a useful time to collect together the arguments for legalization and test their soundness.  The arguments, as they appear to be, are:

(1)    Cannabis is no more harmful than alcohol and it is legal to consume alcohol and so it should be too for cannabis.

(2)    Medicinal cannabis is now legal and cannabis for recreational use should be also.

(3)    The legalisation of cannabis will decrease any harm to users because its production, supply, strength and price will be regulated.

(4)    Legalisation of cannabis supply and use will eliminate the black market.

(5)    It is wrong that people who use cannabis should be convicted under the criminal law.

My analysis, by reference to research, written expert and professional opinion, and plain logic suggests that there are flaws with each of these propositions.  My conclusion is that, properly used, the amendment that was made to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 last year that gives Police discretion not to prosecute where a health-centred or therapeutic approach can be achieved is more likely to achieve the proposed Bill’s objective of reducing harm from cannabis use than wholesale legalisation of the use of the drug.
READ MORE: http://www.jamesfarmerqc.co.nz/legal-commentary/cannabis-legal-reform-arguments-for-and-against
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Systematic review uncovers cannabis withdrawal syndrome among 47% of regular cannabis users

PsyPost 11 August 2020
Our additional comment: More harms – which will increase with legalisation…
“The findings suggest that almost half of regular marijuana users will experience cannabis withdrawal, something the authors say many people are unaware of. Cannabis withdrawal appears to be highly prevalent among people who consume cannabis regularly, or who are heavy consumers. Clinicians should be aware of its existence so that they can provide support to people who are considering cessation of or reduction in cannabis use. The literature suggests that cannabis withdrawal may be a driver of continued use…”

A literature review of 47 studies found that nearly half of cannabis users met criteria for cannabis withdrawal syndrome. The review was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Although cannabis is typically seen as a relatively safe drug, research has pointed to various risks associated with regular use. Short-term risks include memory impairment and paranoia and long-term risks range from addiction and cognitive impairment to suicide. More recently, researchers have identified the presence of cannabis withdrawal syndrome (CWS) in a subset of regular users.

Despite the emerging evidence of CWS, little is known about the prevalence or risk factors associated with its occurrence. “Cannabis withdrawal is a fascinating topic. We were not certain on the prevalence or risk factors for cannabis withdrawal, which was the basis of the study,” said study author Anees Bahji, an addiction psychiatry fellow at the University of Calgary.

The researchers consulted 8 electronic databases and ended up with 47 studies that met criteria to be included in their review. All studies included a validated assessment of CWS or CWS symptoms. In total, the studies involved 23,518 participants, 69% of whom were men. The studies involved 50 different cohorts; half of them were users seeking treatment and most (76%) were from North America.

The meta-analysis revealed an overall prevalence of cannabis withdrawal syndrome of 47%. The researchers further analyzed the results by study setting, to see if the likelihood of CWS differed depending on the sample used in the study. The highest prevalence of CWS (87%) was found in inpatient samples. Outpatient samples had a prevalence of 54% and population-based samples had a 17% prevalence of CWS.

“The finding that the prevalence of CWS was substantially higher in clinical populations—particularly inpatient samples—is consistent with the notion of a bidirectional association between cannabis use and mental health disorders . . . This finding may indicate that people with CWS are more likely to present to clinicians for help compared with those without CWS, notwithstanding the fact that CWS can be diagnosed and untreated,” Bahji and colleagues say.
READ MORE: https://www.psypost.org/2020/08/systematic-review-uncovers-cannabis-withdrawal-syndrome-among-47-of-regular-cannabis-users-57641

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Cannabis: What are the risks of recreational use?

BBC News 19 June 2018
The government has said there will be a review into the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes but has rejected suggestions by former Foreign Secretary Lord Hague that its recreational use could be legalised.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said there was strong scientific evidence the drug could “harm people’s mental and physical health and damage communities”.

What do experts think about the health risks of recreational cannabis use?
Cannabis is thought to be the most widely used illegal drug in the UK.

But while it can lead to feelings of relaxation, happiness and sleepiness, many experts say the drug is not the harmless “natural” high some claim it to be.

In some cases, it can increase anxiety and paranoia, lead to confusion and even hallucinations, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Beyond this, there’s also “compelling evidence” that regular cannabis use increases the risk of developing psychotic illnesses, such as schizophrenia, particularly in adolescents, says Dr Marta di Forti, from King’s College London.

Younger people are thought to be particularly vulnerable because their brains are still developing, says Dr Michael Bloomfield, from University College London.

Studies have linked the increased risk of psychosis to potent strains of cannabis that have higher proportions of the psychoactive compound THC, says Dr Di Forti.

previous study suggested the risk of psychosis was five times higher for people who smoked such cannabis every day compared with non-users.

Milder forms contain less THC and more CBD, which works as an anti-psychotic and counteracts some of the negative effects of THC.

However, research suggests the vast majority of cannabis being sold illegally in the UK is super-strength skunk.

But it’s worth pointing out that the vast majority of people who use cannabis do not develop psychosis and many people diagnosed with such disorders have never used cannabis.

It is also thought that genes may play a role in the risk.

The exact health impact of cannabis use is still a subject of debate, with not all studies reaching the same findings.

Does smoking cannabis cause depression?
While some studies have found an association between regular cannabis use and depression, Dr Di Forti says this link is less clear than that with psychosis.

And it may be the case that people who are depressed are more likely to use cannabis.

Is cannabis addictive?
There was a time when experts thought this was not the case.

But current evidence suggests that it can be – particularly if it’s used regularly – with about 10% of regular users estimated to have a dependence.

For some people who quit, there can be withdrawal symptoms, such as cravings, difficulty sleeping, mood swings, irritability and restlessness, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

“People end up having problems with relationships. It impacts on their ability to function at work and school,” Prof Celia Morgan, professor of psychopharmacology at the University of Exeter, says.

While some of this addiction may be psychological, Dr Bloomfield says there is good evidence to suggest that THC itself can be physically addictive for some people.

“Cannabis addiction exists and it can potentially ruin lives,” he adds.

What about memory?
Getting high on cannabis impairs memory and cognitive ability in the short term, says Prof Morgan.

And some of the effects of this, though mild and reversible, seems to remain for up to 20 days, the amount of time it takes for the drug to leave the system.

Can cannabis be a gateway drug for harder ones, such as cocaine or heroin?
Prof Morgan says that while some people who take hard drugs may also smoke cannabis, there is no strong evidence those who try cannabis will go on to become hard-drug takers.

However, cannabis may lead to a legal drug habit that is harmful in a range of ways – tobacco smoking.

Tobacco is “one of the most damaging addictive substances”, Prof Morgan adds.

What about cancer?
Tobacco smoking is known to increase the risk of a range of illnesses, including cancer and cardiovascular disease.

So does it follow that cannabis smoking also poses the same dangers?

It’s still not clear whether cannabis smoking itself raises the risk of cancer or if the increased risk seen among cannabis smokers is actually the result of them mixing the drug with tobacco.

In any event, people who smoke cannabis regularly, with or without tobacco, are more likely to have bronchitis – inflammation of the lining of the lungs – according to the NHS.

Are there any health benefits?
Many patients who have been self-medicating with recreational cannabis say it works for them.

Recently, the families of 12-year-old Billy Caldwell and six-year-old Alfie Dingley have made newspaper headlines. They say cannabis oil treatments have radically controlled the boys’ epileptic seizures.

While these cannabis oils are not recreational drugs, they’re not medically licensed treatments either.

A cross-party report found good evidence that cannabis treatments can help alleviate the symptoms of chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, nausea and vomiting, particularly in the context of chemotherapy, and anxiety.

It also found moderate evidence it could help with sleep disorders, poor appetite, fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder and Parkinson’s symptoms.

Now, a government review will look at the evidence and make its own recommendations on which cannabis-based medicines might offer real medical and therapeutic benefits to patients.

But regardless of what they find, Mr Javid added: “This step is in no way a first step to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use.”
https://www.bbc.com/news/health-44532417

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Pokie gambling costing economy $400 million a year – report

NewsTalk ZB 11 August 2020
A new report shows pokie gambling in New Zealand pubs and clubs, is costing the retail sector more than $400 million  a year.

The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research report was commissioned by The Salvation Army and the Problem Gambling Foundation.

NZIER principal economist Sarah Hogan says the report shows what could happen if there were to be an end to class four gambling.

“It could result in more than $440-million going into the retail industry and along with that we could be looking at upwards of 1100 full time equivalent jobs.”

Hogan says those from high-depravation communities, spend three times more on pokies, than those in the least deprived areas.

She says if they were to divert that expenditure into the retail sector, they’d be supporting jobs within their community.
https://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/on-air/mike-hosking-breakfast/audio/paula-snowden-pokie-gambling-costing-economy-400-million-a-year-report/

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Where the two major parties stand on legalising cannabis

Election 2020: A National-Act Govt may not legalise cannabis following a ‘yes’ vote
NZ Herald 12 August 2020
Our additional comment: Summary – National will put the brakes on. Labour will have it in law by lunchtime.

A majority “yes” vote in next month’s cannabis referendum would not necessarily lead to its personal use being legalised if National was in charge after the election.

The party’s drug reform spokesman Nick Smith said the party would abide by a “yes” vote by introducing the Government’s Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, which outlines the proposed regulatory framework for a legal market.

But whether National, which opposes legalising for recreational use, would then support the bill to become law would depend on the select committee process following the bill’s first reading.
READ MORE: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12355267

Election 2020: Jacinda Ardern refuses to say how she will vote in cannabis referendum
NZ Herald 11 August 2020
Labour leader Jacinda Ardern won’t reveal how she would vote in the upcoming referendum to legalise cannabis for recreational use.

Asked about the referendum to legalise cannabis and how she’d vote, Ardern said her vote was a good as her neighbour’s vote. Her focus was to ensure the Government was facilitating the referendum. She would not reveal her views when pressed on the issue by reporters.
READ MORE: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12355405

Radio NZ News
National caucus to vote against cannabis at referendum – Judith Collins
Stuff co Ltd
Judith Collins tries to smoke out Jacinda Ardern on how she’ll vote
NewsHub
Jacinda Ardern rejects challenge from Judith Collins to reveal recreational cannabis stance
NZ Herald
Jacinda Ardern refuses to say how she will vote in cannabis referendum
TVNZ One News
Jacinda Ardern keeps recreational cannabis vote to herself despite Judith Collins’ challenge

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Kate Hawkesby: Covid is hiding government failures

NewsTalk ZB 11 August 2020
Our additional comment: “I’m not sure whereabouts the mental health part got ignored in trying to legalise cannabis, but adding cannabis to the mix in a country awash with mental health issues doesn’t seem like the smartest idea to me.”
Yep

I know of four families who lost teenagers to suicide these past school holidays.

I hear there were 7 families impacted by suicide in the Queenstown area in the past two weeks.

Our suicide rates in this country should be of no surprise to anyone – we have the worst rate of teen suicides in the developed world. It’s a shameful and heartbreaking statistic.

But the reason I raise this is because one of this government’s promises, in a long list of lofty promises.. was zero suicides.

Zero. None. That was their goal.

Not only that, they were going to fix mental health.

I’m not sure whereabouts the mental health part got ignored in trying to legalise cannabis, but adding cannabis to the mix in a country awash with mental health issues doesn’t seem like the smartest idea to me.

And then there’s child poverty. They were fixing that too.
READ MORE: https://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/on-air/early-edition/opinion/kate-hawkesby-covid-is-hiding-government-failures/

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Duncan Garner: Why I’m voting against cannabis legalisation at the referendum

NewsHub 11 August 2020
Our additional comment: “Our country has faced a huge upheaval this year – well, the whole world has – but worse could be yet to come. Perhaps economic chaos, which will be life-changing for many. I think this is a poor time for another social experiment on our streets when the evidence on the upside is flimsy at best and even the PM’s own departmental report fails to recommend legalising cannabis.
I’m voting against.” 👍😄

OPINION: Just a new Government and a long process ahead where the cannabis Bill will still need to make its way through the lengthy process of Parliament, including a time-consuming select committee.

Depending on who makes it back, any number of MPs could make changes to the legislation which you will have no power over.

Justice Minister Andrew Little says he expects there may be changes to the proposed law given the public will have their say during the parliamentary process.

Basically MPs this term couldn’t decide, disagreed or weren’t organised enough to put a simple solution in front of you.

But what I know is you are not voting on a sure thing, you are voting on the next Government carrying on the work of the last.

This Bill has barely passed the first hurdle.

Now it’s up to you to either give it life or put it to sleep.

Our country has faced a huge upheaval this year – well, the whole world has – but worse could be yet to come. Perhaps economic chaos, which will be life-changing for many.

I think this is a poor time for another social experiment on our streets when the evidence on the upside is flimsy at best and even the PM’s own departmental report fails to recommend legalising cannabis.

I’m voting against.

Be careful what you wish for.
Duncan Garner hosts The AM Show.
READ MORE: https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2020/08/duncan-garner-why-i-m-voting-against-cannabis-legalisation-at-the-referendum.html

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NZMA: Voting ‘no’ in the cannabis referendum

Cannabis referendum: Four experts weigh up the pros and cons of legalising marijuana
NewsHub 9 August 2020
Our additional comment: Do we listen to drug advocates who want to normalise all drugs…. or to medical professionals who are health and patient-focused? 
Pretty simply answer eh.

Dr Kate Baddock – chair of the New Zealand Medical Association, a pan-professional medical organisation representing the interests of doctors

The NZMA holds the position that the social, psychological, and physical harms of cannabis are real and relevant, and does not support the legalisation of cannabis based on those harms.

The social harms of cannabis include particularly the reduction in academic performance in younger people so that they underachieve educationally, and amotivational syndromes that are seen with continued prolonged use, affecting adults’ ability and motivation to work. Cannabis also affects the ability to drive safely through psychomotor effects slowing coordination and reaction times and increasing the risk of accidents. Cannabis and driving can be a fatal combination.

The psychological harms include impairment of thought processes, such as the organisation of complex information, short-term memory and executive processes. There is some evidence that these changes are not reversed on cessation of cannabis use, so cognitive function once lost cannot be regained.

Other psychological impacts include changes in mood and paranoia, anxiety, or panic. The association with the development of psychosis is well-recognised, although the strength of the causal relationship has been widely debated. There is also the risk of cannabis dependence (CAD) which appears to be related to a blend of unique environmental and shared environmental characteristics, and genetic propensity.
READ MORE: https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2020/08/cannabis-referendum-four-experts-weigh-up-the-pros-and-cons-of-legalising-marijuana.html
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Vaping law ‘a tepid win’ in halting youth increase

Radio NZ News 8 August 2020
Family First Comment“This unregulated world of marketing of vape as a lifestyle choice has actually created an image and an appeal that means the marketing methods have worked. The message that comes across is that this is something that is cool, hip and trendy. We see the same playbook from the smoking and tobacco ads of the 60s and 70s from Big Tobacco. We know this playbook and they’re using the same rules.”
And if Big Marijuana is allowed to come to NZ, it will be far far worse.

Vaping legislation has come too late to stop a new generation of non-smokers becoming addicted to nicotine, according to a marketing scholar who has researched the use of e-cigarettes.

The bill regulating vape products passed its final hurdle in Parliament this week.

It will outlaw marketing and sponsorship from November.

Point-of-sale marketing and on-site posters will continue, and will not carry health warnings and R18 language until February 2022, said AUT senior lecturer of marketing Dr Sommer Kapitan.

“That’s a long time for habits to be formed and for perceptions that this is a less risky product to still be part of the perception of young people.”

Promotions, social media influencers and festival sponsorships had been used by vaping companies to entice smokers trying to quit, but also to create a new market.

“This unregulated world of marketing of vape as a lifestyle choice has actually created an image and an appeal that means the marketing methods have worked. The message that comes across is that this is something that is cool, hip and trendy.

“We see the same playbook from the smoking and tobacco ads of the 60s and 70s from Big Tobacco. We know this playbook and they’re using the same rules.

Customers had seen colourful vape posters plastered across dairy counters since 2018 and that would continue, she said.

Schools and families had been on the frontline, witnessing the vaping increase among young people, and she herself saw students taking up vaping who had never smoked before.

“For parents, teachers, and principals of today’s youth, this is a win, but a tepid win,” she added.
READ MORE: https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/423047/vaping-law-a-tepid-win-in-halting-youth-increase

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Vaping law passes: Advertising banned, flavours restricted and illegal for under 18s

NZ Herald 6 August 2020
The “wild west” vaping industry has three months to get its house in order after a new law banning advertising and restricting flavours has finally passed under urgency.

It’s taken 620 days to get the law over the line after Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa promised to regulate the industry in November 2018.

It wasn’t until this year she introduced the bill, which was voted through the House late last night – just before the final sitting day in this term of government.

Salesa blamed the delays on it being a “complex bill”, and said it was the most significant change to the Smokefree Act.

“It has taken a while.”

The Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Vaping Amendment Bill will come into effect in three months’ time, in November.

It has broadly been welcomed but some fear it is too restrictive and could result in people using vaping as a smoking-cessation tool to turn back to cigarettes.
READ MORE: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12354092

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