Pubdate: Mon, 18 Apr 2016
Source: New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2016 New Zealand Herald


An international conference at the United Nations headquarters in New 
York this week is expected to agree that the UN's "war on drugs" is 
over, and it has failed. In its place, delegates will probably agree, 
certain drugs should be decriminalised and treated as a health 
problem. Most people will probably agree, particularly where cannabis 
is concerned. Smoking the leaf of a plant that is fairly easily 
cultivated has proved impossible to stamp out, and a charge of 
possession of cannabis has long ranked as one of the most common and 
least serious of criminal offences in countries such as ours.

The case for its decriminalisation has been strengthened of late by 
those who have admitted committing the crime of the alleviation of 
their pain in their battles with cancer. Associate Health Minister 
Peter Dunne, who evidently has the authority to approve the use of 
cannabis for this purpose, had no advice that the plant's properties 
were superior to other pain-killers on the market but he appears to 
have relented in the face of testimony from the late Sir Paul Holmes 
and Martin Crowe and, now, former union leader Helen Kelly.

It is easy to agree that, regardless of whether cannabis is more 
effective than other painkillers, if people fighting cancer find it 
helpful they should be able to have it legally.

Likewise, it is easy to agree that recreational use should be 
permitted since prohibition has not worked. Some who agree with that 
statement will do so because they believe cannabis does no harm, or 
at least no more harm than alcohol. Others will agree because they 
believe cannabis is harmful and ought to be discouraged. They hope 
health regulation might be more effective to that end than the 
criminal law has been.

The UN conference is likely to take the latter view. But agreeing on 
decriminalisation in principle is the easy part. If possession is no 
longer to be a crime, what about growing or supplying? If it remains 
illegal to grow it, or to grow more than a specified quantity for 
personal use, how would cancer sufferers receive a supply? Is it 
practical to legalise a small industry for medicinal purposes, but 
not for general use? And how ill would people need to be before they 
could lawfully buy it? Would it need to be available only on 
prescription? That would seem excessive.

The health argument for general decriminalisation is that it would be 
easier to discourage use of the drug if users are no longer afraid of 
the law. It might also mean that the quality of the drug can be 
controlled, though that would require decriminalising its production 
and distribution so supplies of the required standard could be 
licensed and accompanied by the warnings and advice that public 
health campaigns have attached to alcohol and tobacco. Those would 
not be as effective if only home-grown cannabis for personal use is permitted.

A commercial supply of cannabis has been legal in a few countries for 
some time now and it remains a fairly low profile business in those 
places. It is not everyone's cup of tea and, fortunately, it's 
unlikely it ever will be.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom