The Big Read: Cannabis law.

John Key has stated before that the legalisation of marijuana would “never” become a reality under his leadership, and he has sent more than the odd hint he isn’t in favour of decriminalisation too. Worried he must be for the future of the National Party then, as a Young Nat on an episode of Backbenchers last year admitted to once hot-boxing a car in Dunedin. The young man also said he support legalisation, much to the disappointment of his party elders.

But as National faces an identity crisis (new libertarianism vs traditional conservatism), New Zealand faces a crisis of its own. Our cannabis law is so incredibly strict, that some parents are resorting to breaking the law to be able to provide their children relief to the pain they suffer. Even the elderly, the last people you’d expect to see consuming this drug usually associated with rebellious young adults, are noticing benefits. Perhaps that is part of the problem and a roadbloack on journey to liberalising marijuana; an outdated and uninformed stereotype we hold about its users.

In any case of changing the law around this drug, we should first legalise medicinal cannabis. The discussion of this proposal has been evident among the New Zealand public for a fair while now, after numerous stories of parents or individuals breaking the law told on such current affairs programs as Sunday (TVNZ), Seven Sharp (TVNZ) and Inside New Zealand (TV3).

Perhaps the story that caught the attention of most of the New Zealand public was the story of 11 year old girl Paige Gallien.

In May 2014, Sunday reported:

If you knew medicinal cannabis could save your child’s life, would you break the law? That is the dilemma facing 11-year old Paige Gallien’s parents.

Paige suffered up to 15 seizures a day which, according to Doctors, and those should have ended Paige’s life when she was first diagnosed with the disorder, which began to happen to her as a healthy six month year old baby. Paige, when not using cannabis, cannot feed herself nor even walk. When her parents are able to supply cannabis her daily seizures are significantly reduced.

The pain and suffering by both Paige and the Gallien family is completely unneeded. Paige’s parents, and many others, are criminals for trying to help their children. But the Government has ignored requests even for a trial into medicinal cannabis.

Paige’s story is not unique. Nor does it just relate to children. Inside New Zealand’s piece on the issue told the story of a pensioner who suffered extreme pains, and grew and consumed cannabis as a much-needed pain relief. When she was found to be breaking the law she was sentenced to 300 hours community service.

You read that correctly. A pensioner in utter agony, at her last resort, was forced to work 300 hours community service. If that isn’t a sign New Zealand needs to change its woefully outdated cannabis law, then what is?

But there is the problem. Every time this medicinal cannabis topic is brought up it usually generates a huge amount of interest in the public realm of attention, but hardly ever is it seriously, in turn, discussed by our law makers in parliament and cabinet.

New Zealand is falling dangerously behind in regards to medicinal cannabis. Victoria will legalise medical cannabis by December this year, and trials have already begun. Daniel Andrews, the Victorian premier, took the policy to the election as Opposition leader. He won that election for his Labor Party.

“No parent should ever have to make a choice between saving their child and obeying the law. That is the definition of a law that is out of date,” Mr. Andrews told Fairfax media.

And similarly in New South Wales the conservative premier is saying he’ll also take the issue of medical cannabis to the election. He will support it.

Mike Baird, the Liberal Party premier in New South Wales said he has been inspired to amend the New South Wales law after the death of “someone [he] was proud to call a friend”.

He was referring to the death of Dan Haslam, the man, it is believed, who convinced premier Mike Baird to change his mind on medical cannabis. Dare I say then, all we need do is take John Key to a cancer sufferer, like Dan, and show him their story.

“It’s interesting. All of us face challenges on a daily basis” Baird told media on Wednesday when questioned about Haslam, who had just passed away from cancer “And you see someone like Dan [Haslam] and he puts it all in perspective. My thoughts are with his family and friends. This is such a tough time for them. I’m so sad to have lost Dan, and I count him as a friend having met him and worked alongside him, I think what you’ll see from Dan Haslam is that medical cannabis research and developments we’ll make here in New South Wales; they will be on the back of the footsteps he has left. He inspired us. He inspired me.”

Like socialism to communism, the legalisation of professionally prescribed cannabis is a gradual method. Of course the ultimate aim should be to eliminate the government from making this intrusion into people’s lives and legalise the use and sale of cannabis, whilst continuing to help those who suffer with addictions.

Of course the dangers of cannabis must be observed, but they shouldn’t consume the debate. Smoke inhalation, of anything, is damaging to the lungs. An addiction can lead to mass consumption, entirely dominating a person’s life and income, just as gambling hurts so many lives. But cannabis addiction among cannabis users is minor. The law of cannabis should not be based upon a minority who suffer addictions. Rather, there should be government-funded help services to assist these people and private charities which currently help those suffering from drinking, smoking and gambling problems – all of which are entirely legal.

The next important step in the gradualist method, after medicinal marijuana is decrimialisation.

Medical cannabis legality in the United States

Medical cannabis legality in the United States

Cannabis laws around the world. Orange = decrim.

Cannabis laws around the world. Orange = decrim.

There is some confusion in this area. Some often dismiss decriminalisation as complete legalisation. This is not the case.

Others view decriminalisation as a pointless step. That, neither, is the case. If we are to reach our aim of complete legalisation, we must first take the inherently conservative society we live in social preparation for our goal, step by step. We cannot rush to legalisation at all.

On February 25 news network Al-Jazeera reported Jamaica decriminalizes marijuana, adding to international trend.

Among other things, the importance of marijuana or ‘ganja’ is significant to the local Rastafarian religion.

The use of ganja in Jamaica is an important religious element to Rastafarianism.

The use of ganja in Jamaica is an important religious element to Rastafarianism.

Decriminalisation, put simply, is not the legalisation of the sale of cannabis (that is to allow private companies to make profit off selling cannabis), but to legalise personal use. That is, one can grow cannabis plants (within a reasonable quantity) to self consumption. Whenever the grower may attempt to sell his or her product, they are breaking the law if cannabis is simply decriminalised and not legalised. This is where New Zealand should be right now, and countries around the world and several US states allow people to make their own decisions when it comes to what they put into their bodies.

The annual cost of not decriminalising cannabis in New Zealand is an eye-sore. Taxpayers are paying $116m in the enforcement of New Zealand’s tough and outdated laws on cannabis. This includes people growing for themselves, and using cannabis as a pain relief. Not only is that a restriction on personal liberties, but in unique cases, it could be argued, New Zealand’s cannabis policy is inhumane, indecent, and cruel for those who require medical cannabis to get through simple daily routines.

So what are the benefits of full legalisation? Well, first the police will spend millions less on law enforcement, and more police and time and resources will go into chasing down criminals doing harm to our society, rather than those just trying to have a good time.

Colorado is already, per annum, gathering $26m in revenue from taxes on cannabis, and in 2014 gained a total of $76m benefiting the state’s finances.

But the legalisation of cannabis will also unlock an entirely new market. The products companies could make from hemp based resources extend from everything from oils to beauty products.

And of course the cannabis industry would be a significant boost to jobs, especially in the rural communities of New Zealand.

But we must be slow and gradual in our approach to this issue. We cannot afford to rush this, or we will not succeed in freeing a plant which was originally made illegal over fears it damaged the timber industry’s profit.



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