My personal position on the sale and supply of cannabis for recreational use

Green MP Kevin Hague
Photo by David Tong

I was in Vancouver last year, and medicinal cannabis shops were everywhere. We checked one out. The deal is we had to go and get a certificate from a doctor (some of the shops have a doctor onsite) to say we had a medical condition (you know pain, nausea, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping) that would benefit from using cannabis, and then we could buy whatever we wanted in all sorts of smokable, edible and drinkable formats.

Some other jurisdictions (eg California) have this approach too. It is precisely what opponents of medicinal cannabis access are concerned about, because it’s legalised supply with the thinnest of veils over the top.

Difficulty sleeping – I mean, seriously?

Unfortunately the illegal status of cannabis has led to this kind of approach and has confused the meaning of the term “medicinal cannabis”, with the unfortunate consequence that we lose support for medicinal cannabis from those who would be open to genuine medicinal uses but who are opposed to recreational use for whatever reason, thereby slowing down and complicating progress.

My personal position, as most people probably know, is to support legalisation of the possession, use, cultivation, sale and supply of cannabis for recreational use, although each of these should be subject to some level of regulation. I support the development of a framework that is consistently applied to all recreational drugs including both currently licit and illicit ones, with the heftiness of regulation being in proportion to the risk of harm from a drug (the only basis I can think of for the State to be involved at all). When such an analysis has been undertaken previously, the risk of harm from cannabis has generally been found to be significantly less than that of alcohol, for example, so it’s not unreasonable to think of recreational cannabis being regulated in a similar way to alcohol is now (though regulation for alcohol should probably be stronger). There are various models for doing this being experimented with around the world as the ‘war on drugs’ thankfully begins to fall apart, so while there are some interesting debates to be had (state supply like Uruguay, or free for all like Colorado, for example) these are questions for another day.

Suffice to say that in the same way that some people might get home from work and drink some alcohol to relax, enjoy food more or sleep better, we should expect that some of the recreational use of cannabis is and will be for these same kinds of effects. This is not what the medicinal cannabis debate should be about.

Instead the medicinal cannabis debate, in the absence of the distortions caused by illegal recreational use, ought to be about finding and using compounds and combinations of these in the same way that we use other medicines. Research has been hampered worldwide by the legal issues (how do you test an extract from cannabis if it’s illegal to grow it?) and so definitive strong evidence of efficacy is weak, but there is considerable indicative and anecdotal evidence of efficacy of different cannabis extracts in treating a range of conditions. In the same way that other medicines have to be put through a rigorous trials regime to establish safety, effectiveness and then value for money, these tests also need to be passed by cannabis extracts. If the medicinal use of cannabis extracts is to be scientifically meaningful, it is also essential that we know exactly what compounds are being used, and what their dose is. This is not about smoking dope, but about taking medicines derived from cannabis.

A bunch of issues emerge. We need to encourage and support research. Because progress has been hampered by recreational prohibition we need to be very active in reviewing the safety of products with a view to making them prescribable here, we need to work with doctors to overcome their reluctance to prescribe, we need to encourage manufacturers to submit their products to Pharmac for funding support and we need to encourage Pharmac to take the legal history into account in assessing applications for funding for Cannabis-derived medicines. And in the interim we need a more streamlined process for doctors to be able to use cannabis-based medicines, when they have yet to be registered as medicines in New Zealand.

One last area, which I have blogged on previously. In the early days of the HIV/AIDS pandemic we didn’t have any treatments and people were dying. Those people who were terminally ill fought for the right to be able to use treatments that had not been proven or which carried risks for their health. These are sometimes referred to as catastrophic rights. While I think the debate on medicinal cannabis rightly relates to manufactured products sourced or extracted from cannabis in precise formulations and doses, it seems to me that somebody who is terminally ill, or who has a grievous and irremediable condition should simply be able use more or less anything they want if it improves their subjective experience of life. The most straightforward way of achieving this, while not being completely satisfactory, is for having such a condition to become a complete defence against the prohibition on the cultivation, possession and use of cannabis and its extracts. Other jurisdictions have taken this course, and our Government should do also.



About Kevin Hague 163 Articles

Green Party Member of Parliament

4 Comments Posted

  1. Yes, good up-data.
    With so much of this and that, not to forget about the other…

    We’re just a bicycle ride from Nijmegen, The Netherlands, from here in Germany.
    They have a good selection of “wiet”, including medical breeding. There is a big difference between the heavy or purple sativas that are typical of NZ bush weed, and the more Himalayan indica kushs. Bit of education required in this game.
    The legalised wiet sale in The Netherlands is ok, but the supply side is still illegal. So you need to get to know a local shop, one that does things ethical. I try to imagine an old lady growing half a dozen plants in her basement, so she can afford to buy gifts and visit the grand-kids.

  2. One of the BIG problems in Cannabis legalisation is Ahh yes .The DELICIOUS pile of VICTIMS . You know. The LIGITIMATE KILL of the EVIL cannabis user. Notice there is always a group to pick on so NZers can feel better about their sorry social structure and weak life style choises ie working like a dog to buy more stuff then shittyness at its lack of spiritual happiness. Then of course its dope smokers fault. BASH BASH. Now of course they have to be right because there are tens of thousands of victims now arent there. Fammillies businesses,nice people, BASH BASH BASH. Get that shit out. Makes them feel better about their shitty life. Have to be right .Dope smokers just havnt played the new vision. So where does that leave the victims of NZers little taste for someone to bully. NOW YOU WILL SEE DENIAL.

  3. People use and abuse prescription drugs all the time. You think weed is any different? I have PTSD and a chronic pain condition and my treatment helped after nothing else would. One might argue that many many prescription drugs are on the controlled substance list – they are also illegal drugs being used recreationally – unless you’ve got a legitimate health problem which you require them for. Are you a doctor, can you say these conditions are not improved by Medical Marijuana? This seems like a huge double standard to me, based on the political and economic history of the drug – not the reality of it. You don’t think those medical uses are “real” well, speak to some of those on prescriptions and maybe you’ll find some education. Did you know people with sleep deprivation actually experience higher levels of pain on a daily basis than those who sleep fine? Why discount the beginnings of our research, just cos you want to smoke a joint for fun. Not cool man, not cool.

  4. Good analysis of the issues. A senior policeman told me years ago that the only issue in policing alcohol and drug issues in driving was impairment, as different people reacted differently. He wanted to see a return to improved impairment tests in driver testing. As a previously self employed person in a sole operator business that others had to rely on I was very conscious of safety and managing any recreational time where a drink or a puff was a possibility. I find nowdays, the pressure by businesses for THC testing rather short sighted and misplaced. The tests applied for employees have little relationship to impairment, and we saw a lot of people going to legal highs to avoid employment problems. In fact my reading of the reliability of many of the employment tests is low, but because of the lower burden of proof in civil employment cases compared with criminal law there is little challenging going on. I wonder whether better systems need to be in place here and less pressure from ACC. Other than the impairment on the work site there is no understanding of the benefits of a puff for many after work, for things like sleep and relaxing the sore tired body and the benefit for the work capability the next work period. The tests don’t allow for this.

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