Pubdate: Sat, 23 Jul 2016
Source: New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2016 New Zealand Herald


Treasury ' Brainstorming' Paper Shows Government Up $ 500m With Legalisation

Long Bay High School principal Russell Brooke has urged parents not 
to smoke cannabis in front of their children.

The advocates of decriminalising cannabis now have an economic case 
to press. A Treasury official, in a document prepared for a 
brainstorming session, suggested the Government could save more than 
$ 500 million a year legalising the popular drug.

The report, intended for internal use but seemingly based on robust 
calculations, suggested tax from a legal cannabis industry could be 
worth $ 150m, with annual savings of $ 400m from lower policing costs.

These are not trivial numbers, though both Treasury Secretary Gabriel 
Makhlouf and Finance Minister Bill English were quick to dispel any 
idea that drug policy reform was under way.

Makhlouf said that although the figures in the report were drawn from 
high-level estimates, they were not official Treasury assessments. 
English said the report did not cross his desk and was not intended 
to be widely distributed.

Nor does the enthusiasm of the Treasury analyst reflect the 
Government's position, which treats drug use as a health issue.

Its drug strategy through to 2020 does not propose decriminalisation, 
though the policy did anticipate the medical use of marijuana going 
mainstream as a pain relief therapy. That alternative seems likely to 
occur, and sooner rather than later.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne says if trials in Australia 
clear the way for medicinal cannabis, then MedSafe is likely to 
approve products for manufacture and use in New Zealand.

At present, the law provides an exemption for people wanting to bring 
in drugs for medicinal use. The drugs must have been legally supplied 
for the patient's own treatment and be no more than a month's supply. 
The restrictions limit the medical application to those who can afford it.

So the perception of cannabis, in the medical area at least, is changing.

This week, it was announced that a team of Auckland University 
researchers had a $ 157,000 grant to study whether cannabinoids can 
help treat brain cancer.

The university's head of pharmacology, associate professor Michelle 
Glass, said the research should not be seen as condoning cannabis use 
but could result in helpful therapies for a combined attack against 
cancer cells.

The Treasury paper makes the point that drug reform "isn't a 
particularly radical idea these days". It observed that Denmark, 
Germany, Portugal, parts of Australia and the United States have 
decriminalised possession of cannabis to varying degree and have had 
"positive" experiences "and don't seem to have an increase in drug use".

Despite these trends, there would seem to be limited political 
appetite for New Zealand to open the kind of recreational dope shop 
found in Colorado, Washington and Oregon.

There is good evidence to support this cautious approach.

The New Zealand Drug Harm Index, compiled by the Ministry of Health, 
estimates the social cost of drug-related harms and intervention 
costs in 2014/ 15 as $ 1.8b. Cannabis contributes to this cost, given 
that the most recent survey found 11 per cent of adults over 15 
reported using the drug in 2012/ 13. Users report harmful impacts on 
work and study. A minority have noted learning problems, and some 
consumers acknowledge the drug has a harmful effect on their mental health.

In the Herald on Sunday last weekend, Long Bay High School principal 
Russell Brooke urged parents not to smoke cannabis in front of their 
children. He accepted the drug had become widely available, with the 
medical discussion normalising debate about its recreational use.

The problems related by the Ministry of Health's survey confirm that 
his message - and the circumspect approach of the national drug 
policy - remains a prudent one.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom