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18th of January 2018


Editorial: Govt's 'halfway house' of cannabis law

The Government is looking to legalise medicinal cannabis for people with terminal illnesses. PHOTO: STUFF

The Government is looking to legalise medicinal cannabis for people with terminal illnesses.

EDITORIAL: Legislation is often merely the final, official acknowledgement of a situation or practice that has long been in place and is largely accepted by the populace. Even when those practices are controversial.

So it was with homosexual law reform, which legalised what had been going on between consenting adults for centuries; also, prostitution legislation removed the idiocy of an act that was legal to acquire and illegal to sell. In both cases, the sky remained intact.

Yesterday the Government attempted to finally acknowledge and legitimise what has been going on for a number of years: terminally ill people and those suffering chronic pain turning to cannabis to relieve debilitating symptoms.

Health Minister David Clark introduced the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill to give people access to medicinal cannabis and create a scheme to produce such products in this country in future.

READ MORE:* We would legalise medicinal cannabis - Labour leader * Where do political parties stand on cannabis law reform? * Kiwis will now be able to get a medicinal cannabis extract from their doctor

The legislation would, among other things, "introduce a medicinal cannabis scheme to enable access to quality products" and also "remove cannabidoil from the schedule of controlled drugs".

It's a timely issue given the campaign of the late Helen Kelly, the former Council of Trade Unions president, who fought to give sick and dying people the option of medicinal cannabis, and also the early success of the End of Life Choice legislation, potentially giving people more permanent options to face terminal illness with dignity and power.

Polls have shown Kiwis are largely supportive of people in pain or near the end of their lives having access to anything that will ease that passage.

So it's right that our politicians make progress towards something that the public and, more importantly, those in great pain, say is needed.

Interestingly this legislation was introduced on the same day that Green MP Chloe Swarbrick's own member's bill was discussed. It has similar aims but goes much further, giving sufferers the right to grow their own cannabis or be supplied by others. And it appears to have a wider catchment, with the Government's version applying only to those in "their last year of life".

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Clark has acknowledged that his legislation is not as bold as Swarbrick's and "won't make the activists happy". It appears to build bureaucracy around both the manufacture and supply of cannabis.

So the activists won't be happy, but the rest of us will be left a little confused.

The infrastructure and industry to grow and manufacture medicinal cannabis will take some time to set up, so in the meantime the Government wants to "introduce a statutory defence for terminally ill people to possess and use illicit cannabis".

That seems sensible, but it will still be illegal to supply that cannabis, "unless it is pursuant to a valid prescription from a medical practitioner".

That seems like a halfway house of legal and moral horrors: dealers would now be semi-legitimate pharmacists acting on a prescription from a doctor. Maybe they'll end up working in partnership. It is questionable whether that is any better than Swarbrick's allowance that mature people be allowed to grow their own, for personal use and relief from chronic pain.

It appears the Government is twisting itself in knots to avoid any link to the controversial and polarising subject of decriminalisation.  

 - Dominion Post

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