Pubdate: Sun, 24 Apr 2016
Source: Sunday News (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2016 Fairfax New Zealand Limited
Author: Tony Wall


MINISTRY of Health officials tried to get an intelligence report on 
cannabis harm recalled because of "significant concerns" about its 
quality but police refused.

The report, New Cannabis: The Cornerstone of Illicit Drug Harm in New 
Zealand, said cannabis was getting stronger and putting more than 
2000 people a year in hospital.

It was produced by analyst Les Maxwell of the National Drug 
Intelligence Bureau, a police-led agency also involving Customs and Health.

Senior police lauded the work as the first real assessment of 
cannabis harm, but sources say controversy around the way it was 
released led to a major review of the governance of the NDIB.

Last week, it was revealed sociologist Steve Dawson of west Auckland 
spent five years getting hold of the data used for the section of the 
paper dealing with hospital admissions.

His research showed the figures had been exaggerated tenfold.

Now, further documents obtained under the Official Information Act 
show that Ministry of Health officials warned that the report would 
harm the NDIB's reputation.

Matthew Andrews, acting team leader of the ministry's National Drug 
Policy, emailed bureau chief Mick Alexander in January 2008, saying 
there had been inadequate consultation and asking that all copies be recalled.

Andrews said the paper's sources were one-sided and "not particularly 

He said the overall theme of "new cannabis" being more potent was 
inappropriate as it was a contentious issue not backed by evidence in 
the report.

Andrews said parts of the assessment were inaccurate, it 
inappropriately criticised other countries' drug policies and could 
be "perceived as having an agenda".

It also had the potential to "negatively affect the reputation of the 
NDIB for producing high-quality intelligence assessments".

Detective Sergeant Stuart Mills, acting head of the NDIB at the time, 
wrote back saying while there could have been better consultation and 
peer review, the report would not be withdrawn as to do so would 
"impact on the bureau's reputation".

He said the bureau's job was to provide "authoritive intelligence and 
advice on illicit drugs" and the Maxwell report "does precisely this 
at a strategic level".

He added: "It also supports decision-making at an operational and 
tactical level".

That contradicts a statement provided last week from current NDIB 
head John O'Keeffe, who said the paper was "never intended to be an 
operational document to inform drug enforcement operations".

O'Keeffe said the report was no longer referenced.

Dawson said he was "gobsmacked" that health officials tried but 
failed to have the cannabis report withdrawn.

"The police have captured the bureaucracy  at some high level someone 
has given authorisation to run roughshod over the sister agency."

He said police had "manufactured social harm that doesn't exist".


Pot debate draws crowd

CANNABIS conversations are smoking in Nelson.

In just one hour yesterday, more than 250 signatures were collected 
on a petition at a medicinal-cannabis rally in the city.

People from many walks of life gathered to support legal medicinal 
cannabis use, or listen to the debate.

Legal cannabis advocate Victoria Davis said the rally was held in 
conjunction with the United Nations meeting to address the failure of 
the war on drugs.

"It's acknowledged by all global experts now that the war on drugs 
was expensive, ineffective and made criminals out of a lot of 
ordinary people. If someone is sick it shouldn't be a crime to make 
them feel better."

Davis said no drug worked as well as cannabis to ease conditions such 
as seizures. Jessica Long
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