Pubdate: Sun, 17 Apr 2016
Source: Sunday Star-Times (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2016 Sunday Star-Times
Author: Richard Meadows


Chris Fowlie started fighting for cannabis law reform in his 
university days. Twenty-four years later, the National Organisation 
for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (Norml) president believes the tide 
of public opinion is changing.

Fowlie wants a moratorium on arrests for cannabis possession, saying 
it's impossible to have a fair discussion when one side is deemed criminal.

A regulated cannabis market could generate half a billion dollars, 
investigations show, but the Government is still saying 'nope' to legal dope.

So Fowlie says police are decriminalising by stealth. Prosecution of 
low-level cannabis offences has dropped sharply in recent years. 
"Even though Parliament has shown it isn't able to have a sensible 
discussion ... police has brought in its own form of decriminalisation."

He says relying on discretion is not enough, though, with Maori and 
those in rural areas treated disproportionately harshly.

Peter Dunne is speaking at a special United Nations meeting this 
week, which reformers hope will spark changes to prohibition treaties.

The Associate Health Minister has described the war on drugs as "an 
abject failure".

Five years ago, he said the Misuse of Drugs Act would be overhauled, 
as recommended by the Law Commission.

While minor steps have been taken, Dunne says the Government is still 
"looking at" the role of drug laws and no changes are being 
contemplated at the moment.

Legalising cannabis, despite the possible economic benefits, was not 
on its agenda.

Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell says all drugs should be 
decriminalised, with a health system replacing criminal penalties.

The foundation favours regulating lower-risk drugs, such as cannabis.

The main outcome of the Law Commission review was the Psychoactive 
Substances Act, regulating legal highs. Hailed as world-leading, it 
stalled over testing requirement issues.

Massey University drug policy expert Chris Wilkins agrees the 
framework could be adapted to cannabis.

However, he says, not enough planning went into the Psychoactive 
Substances regime. "They ended up with a slightly hybrid, cowboy kind 
of market that no one understood or really liked."

Wilkins says cannabis has been extensively studied, and "the answer 
is not that it's harmless".

Risks include dependency, impact on mental health, and problems 
associated with use by young people. "It's important to really 
understand those risks, because they are going to affect people's lives."

No party in Parliament currently advocates for cannabis decriminalisation.

Bell says politicians instinctively try to look tough on drugs.

"My sense is that's no longer a tenable position. This public is 
expecting more."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom