Are we are nearing “Peak Cannabis”, the tipping point where significant and sustained law reform is not only possible but inevitable?
Consider just some of the amazing breakthroughs we’ve had over the past 12 months, that even just one year ago might have seemed improbable:
- For the first time, people have spoken about their use of cannabis – including administering it to children – and they have not been promptly arrested. In the past most patients and users in the media were before the courts, or soon found themselves to be.
- Alex Renton became the first patient in a New Zealand hospital to be administered a cannabis medicine, sparking a nationwide debate that has propelled cannabis law reform by allowing patients to speak out with their own stories.
- More than 100 Kiwi patients have now been prescribed Sativex, which has reached mainstream awareness and again sparked a debate about funding.
- Helen Kelly’s application for non-pharmaceutical grade medicinal cannabis from the USA was “deferred“, but spurred revelations that Sir Paul Holmes and Martin Crowe both used cannabis medicinally to ease their pain from cancer.
- Australia has fast-tracked making medicinal cannabis legal, putting added pressure on the government here, especially in light of a recent court case that confirmed patients could bring in their own supply of legally obtained medicinal cannabis.
- The new National Drug Policy emphasises “compassion, proportion and innovation”- previously unthinkable under a conservative National government, and with Peter Dunne in charge of drug policy, but there it is.
- Overall, cannabis arrests have dropped significantly, to their lowest levels since the mid 90’s. Now while even one cannabis arrest is one too many, Police do deserve some kudos for finally reading the mood of the nation and not wasting so much time chasing pot smokers – nationwide almost half are now let go with a warning. Having said that, they still go after the wrong people a lot of the time.
- Kelly van Gaalen’s imprisonment for growing two cannabis plants shone a light on how our Police and Courts treat the cannabis community: a victim of home invasion, Police decided to prosecute the Kaikohe community leader rather than going after the violent thugs who had invaded her home. The judge claimed to have had no choice but to send her to jail – but the charges should never have been brought in the first place.
So given all this, what do we need to do to reach “Peak Cannabis” and get significant cannabis reforms over the next year or two?
- Australia will begin growing medical cannabis this year – and NZ needs to follow (or lead!) or we will get left behind. Licenses to join their clinical research trials and breeding programs can already be issued under the current law. Regulations for access to medicinal cannabis – both pharmaceutical and “non pharmaceutical herbal cannabis – can be amended at any Cabinet meeting. They are currently tighter than for any other medicine, but that could change. Patients, caregivers and health professionals need to make their views known – now. Everyone can help by signing the petition.
- We need continued pressure on our courts to not imprison canna folk, but instead show compassion and clemency. Non-violent cannabis offenders should be freed and their records expunged. Anyone can write to any court or judge expressing their views on any case or sentence (heeding any suppression orders that may be in place). But what might have the greatest effect is writing to, or visiting your MP. It’s not as scary as it sounds, and it really does have a huge effect. People opposed to reform are doing it, but we are not doing it nearly enough.
- World drug treaties are being reviewed next month. All the signs point to significant reform of the UN drug treaties at UNGASS, held in New York from 19-21 April, which will allow New Zealand and other countries to experiment with alternatives to prohibition. The scheduling of the meeting in itself represents a huge breakthrough. The South American bloc has stared down the Russians, Chinese and other anti-reformers with a threat to leave en masse if the treaties are not changed. Obama has signalled his belief that all countries should decriminalise drugs. Peter Dunne will be there along with officials and, representing our harm reduction sector, Ross Bell and Russell Brown. New Zealand should take a stand and press for reform.
- More US states will make cannabis legal this year, further accelerating the worldwide shift to regulating, rather than prohibiting, cannabis. At elections in November, up to 11 more states are expected to join Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Washington DC in legally regulating cannabis sales to adults. Reforms in the USA are undeniably having a huge effect on the rest of the world. Other international steps forward that will bolster law reforms everywhere include Canada legalising cannabis, Ireland decriminalising small amounts of all drugs, and Uruguay continuing to implement their “grow, club or pharmacy” model.
- Ultimately, we need more people to get actively involved. You can join a myriad of online groups to become better informed and share ideas. We also need real activism in the real world – old fashioned but effective methods like letter writing, visiting your MP, demonstrations, petitions, stunts, marches, and peaceful civil disobedience (like J Day on Sat 7th May). Engage with your elected representatives and local officials. Send them information and follow up. We need to work to broaden coalition of supporting organisations and individuals by finding common points of agreement – not just preach to the choir.
Cannabis law reform has gone mainstream, and continued progress will come from mainstream “ordinary” people and groups – as we have seen this year with medical cannabis. The end of alcohol prohibition came when parents, especially mothers, called to repeal that ban to “protect the children”. Now, we also need parents, especially mothers, who want cannabis law reform to speak up – because it’s the right thing to do.