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Andrew Dickens: Let's not make light of cannabis risks

Author
Andrew Dickens,
Section
Opinion,
Publish Date
Friday, 18 January 2019, 5:11p.m.

So as the proposed Cannabis legalisation referendum, commonly known as the “reefer”endum approaches, you may have noted the number of claims and articles that have been published minimising the health risks of marijuana smoking.

Certainly with statistics claiming that 80 per cent of New Zealanders over 35 have smoked pot at some time in their life and the common knowledge that most will not lose themselves in a deadly drug spiral, there’s more than a few people supporting the liberalisation of our drug laws.

Then again I’m also sure that all of us know of people who didn’t cope. The ones who went paranoiac, even schizophrenic, or fell into a lazy torpor, fryed their brain or lost ambition. I know of marriages destroyed by excessive pot smoking and I also know one person who believes their lung cancer is due to heavy habit he had when he was young.

Just as we know tobacco and alcohol is harmful I would hope we also know that cannabis is not benign.

So it’s interesting to see more negative coverage of legalisation emerging.

This morning Otago University released research collated over 40 years highlighting the negative health and mental effects of cannabis use. They urge caution and decriminalisation rather than legalisation.

I was very interested and slightly surprised to see a similarly cautious view in the Listener’s editorial last week.

They highlighted what has happened overseas after legalisation. And it’s not good. Car crashes have increased by up to 6% in US states that legalised.

Rates for use by all people aged 12 and over are nearly twice as high as in non-legal states. 

Underaged users – those 12 to 17 – are now nearly 50% more likely to have consumed cannabis in the previous month compared to pre legalisation

In Colorado, which legalised the drug in 2010, youth cannabis-related emergency hospital admissions quadrupled.

In Ontario, Canada, which legalised in October, cannabis-related emergency cases went from 449 in 2013 to 1370 last year. And most worryingly cannabis poisoning amongst children doubled.

As both the Listener and the Otago University study points out, legalised use of marijuana doesn’t just replace the existing illegal use.  

People who used only occasionally, or who had tried it and given up, are taking it up again. Those who used not very frequently are using more often. And kids are giving it a crack. And all that’s worrying

And they’re discovering that dope these days is not the mild cabbage you may remember from your youth. It’s pretty goddamned strong and psycho-active these days.

I also have no idea what a legalised environment would look like.  For instance would the state make the dope, a sort of Kiwiweed like Kiwibank and Kiwirail. Or would the gangs existing production chain just be legalised and regulated or just home production or we let mutinationals in?

Apparently we are going to have a bill to approve in the 2020 referendum which is good, because otherwise we’d have a ridiculous Brexit scenario.

But at the moment, until I see the whole plan, I’m voting no. The unofficial decriminalisation we have right now is just fine to me and keeps a lid on widespread excesses.

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