I certainly think that there's a case for decriminalisation of cannabis, but I'm somewhat uneasy when the same argument is applied to P/crystal meth. The two drugs have vastly different pharmacological and toxicological properties, so I think the best way to go is probably streamlining the Misuse of Drugs Act and abolishing the Class C category altogether, albeit with an R18 age limit. Some Class B substances may be best governed by harm minimisation and risk reduction. Reserve the interdiction and hardline prohibitionist policies for Class A drugs, where they might be justifiable. Methamphetamine psychosis does exist, and it is far more severe than the limited effects of similar adverse reactions to cannabis amongst particularly susceptible individuals.
Presumably by relying on existing pharmacological guidelines about psychoactive or toxicological properties, Rich? If they exist?
On a related matter... People with HIV and other chronic conditions have used prescription marijuana to treat the side effects of medication for decades, but a new study published in the February issue of the journal AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses suggests that daily doses of one component found in marijuana could help cells fend off the virus.
The study is the second of its kind to indicate that delta-9-THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana, could help increase the number of healthy cells in HIV-positive patients who use the drug on a regular basis. A 2011 study by the same team of researchers at Louisiana State University Health Science Center’s Department of Physiology found that HIV-positive rhesus monkeys treated with daily doses of delta-9-THC had lower levels of viral infection, higher numbers of immune cells, better survival rates, and less weight loss. So while HIV-positive humans who use marijuana don’t yet have concrete scientific proof that the herb is good for them—and anything smoked and inhaled includes dangerous carcinogens—it’s safe to add Molina’s study to the growing body of evidence that the active ingredient in marijuana does have some legitimate medical properties.
There are at least four other studies that say the same thing:
An Ohio State University study indicates that HIV-positive people’s cognitive function may worsen when they use marijuana.
Researchers at Imperial College in London find that HIV-positive marijuana users report reduced muscle pain and nausea, among other improvements.
Results of a Columbia University study suggest that marijuana increases caloric intake and improves mood in HIV-positive people.
Tel Aviv University scientists report that small doses of marijuana can halt brain damage in the general population.
Granted, unfortunately, antidrug populism is a default position in drug policy debates in New Zealand, sadly. However, where does moral panic end in this whole situation and actual adverse reactions to a specific psychoactive neurochemical response begin? Undoubtedly, the latter does occur, but you're right, Russell, it is being blown out of proportion by moral panic mongers. Rather reminds me of the South Auckland street prostitution debate in that respect. Contested space and cultural conflict, classic Stanley Cohen stuff.
At least this'll probably stop the horizontal hostility toward the Greens, one hopes.
Blogged about the issue of drug policy a few months ago...
Drug policy reform is a more intractable question. Given New Zealand’s difficulty in even organising medicinal cannabis reform, I am pessimistic about its immediate prospects. It may well be advisable in the context of palliative medical needs in the context of HIV/AIDS, and the consequences of cannabis prohibition may be disproportionately severe compared to the effects of that Class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1981, but the cannabis reform lobby itself is too disorganised.
Why does a single-issue ideological purist party like the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party even exist? And if the objective is wider drug policy reform, then why hasn’t a lobby and advocacy group emerged to advocate for sensible, sequential and incremental legislative reform, in response to the questionable claims from antidrug populist groups? ACT Leader Jamie Whyte might well be correct about the need for such reforms, but the way to such legislative reform is through evidence-based medical and scientific corroboration, which I am not sure that he appreciates. In any case, substance abusers are difficult to empathise with, compared to shared communal experiences like dealing with chronic or terminal disease and impending mortality. This even applies to pot smokers, given their annoying behaviour when high and the social nuisance factor that would increase due to decriminalisation.
However, we don’t ban alcohol for that reason, and its consequences are far more severe. This does lead to questions about the scope of drug policy liberalisation and regulation. To me, the Netherlands solution seems to be the most advisable- decriminalisation of small amounts of recreational drugs, except perhaps in the case of Class A drugs such as P/crystal meth, crack cocaine and heroin. Of these three, only P/crystal meth is a serious problem in New Zealand. I accept that there is a continuing case for the interdiction of such drugs, given their greater severity, toxicity and contingent consequences. However, any such campaign should target producers and distributors.
However, as I’ve noted, such reforms are still probably some time away, given the disorganisation of this particular cause and its lobby groups.
[National has made a hash of the Psychoactive Substances Act and needs to provide remedial evidence-based research about the harms of synthetic cannabinoids. If there was a genetic test that could predict in advance what potential users could experience adverse outcomes from use, that would be very useful. However, realistically, pharmacogenetic research may not be able to provide that for at least a decade. At present, regulation and zoning of legal high providers may be the best outcome possible.
One question occurs to me. Are these legal high users also using other drugs? In which case, are we dealing with straightforward reactions to cannabinoids or polydrug abuse in this context?]
Oh, and here are some references for consultation:
Charles Lees: The Red/Green Coalition in Germany: Politics, Personalities and Power: Manchester: Palgrave: 2000.
Werner Reutter: Germany on the Road to Normalcy: Politics and Policies of the Red/Green Federal Government: 1998-2002 Manchester: Palgrave: 2004
Franko Zelko and Caroline Brinkman: Green Parties: Reflections on the First Three Decades: Washington DC: Heinrich Boll Foundation: 2006.
Elizabeth Bomberg: Green Parties and Politics in the European Community: London: Routledge: 1998.
Tad Shull: Redefining Red and Green: Ideology and Strategy in European Politics: Albany: State University of New York Press: 1999
Here's an overview of how social democratic/green/anti-market populist party coalitions have worked out from an international perspective (an excerpt from a forthcoming Gaynz.Com article on the issue):
I must also admit that frankly, I find remarks from some political commentators that a Labour/Green coalition would be unstable or unworkable either woefully ignorant or highly selective in terms of their awareness of overseas centre-left social democratic/green coalitions that have worked well. In Germany, Social Democrat Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder led a successful and effective Social Democrat/Green coalition (1998-2005) for two Bundestag terms. In Finland, Social Democrat Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen's government included Cabinet minister representation from both the Green League and Finnish People's Party (akin to New Zealand First), so it might be interesting to focus on how that worked (1995-2002). Iceland saw (out lesbian) Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdasdottir lead a 'red/green' coalition in power for four years (2009-2013). There are therefore ample examples of functional and stable social democratic/green coalitions in place within Western Europe should anyone wish to consult them for precedents. In Canada, the centrist Liberal Party and Green Party of Canada also have an informal 'red/green' relationship in the House of Commons. I would suggest that instead of unsubstantiated and subjective opinion, television news and current affairs programmes research these prior instances, as indeed should Labour and the Greens themselves. Germany, Finland and Iceland suggest that a red/green coalition is stable and workable.
What about 'traffic light coalitions' that might conceivably include Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First? These have existed overseas. In particularly, the Czech Republic may offer some interesting insights into how this might unfold. Rather like New Zealand First, the Czech Peoples Party is predominantly targeted at elderly voters and its political existence is marginal, depending on whether or not it is acting as a protest vote or taking advantage of the cyclical weakness of one of the major Czech political parties. However, in Denmark, the Danish Peoples Party has aligned itself with the centre-right Conservatives and Liberals in government over the last decade, which might hearten New Zealand First (and National?), or not. Similarly, in 2007, the Polish Peoples Party formed a coalition with the centre-right Civic Platform, the major winner in that year's national election. However, again, in Slovakia, its Peoples Party formed a coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats (2006-2010). Thus, if Winston Peters chose to play a more constructive role in current New Zealand electoral politics, he would have precedents on both sides of his prospective balancing act. The Czech Republic and Slovakia offer one set of examples, while Denmark and Poland offer the other option. However, the Czech Republic seems to be the only example of a 'traffic light' coalition arrangement. Winston could go either way, judging from the behaviour of his counterparts and closest political equivalents elsewhere.
If Collins falls, that could have major strategic consequences, given that she's a senior Cabinet Minister in a core portfolio of high importance. It could sow antagonism between Key and Collins, dent her leadership aspirations but also clear Steven Joyce's probable role as Key's ultimate successor. Or not, or might even sow Joyce/Collins animosities in any post-Key National leadership contest and caucus.
Uh, what about Germany's Social Democrat/Green governments?