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Coalition Govt won't change cannabis legal status

Coalition government won't change legal status of cannabis

Associate Health Minister, Jim Anderton, today released the coalition government's formal response to the recent Health Select Committee's Inquiry into the Public Health Strategies Related to Cannabis use and the Most Appropriate Legal Status.

"The committee did not make a recommendation to the government on the legal status of cannabis which is of course an acknowledgement that there is neither a mandate from the public, nor a call by Parliament, for any change," Jim Anderton said.

"The Labour Progressive coalition government, which has a mandate until the end of 2005, will not change the legal status of cannabis. My party, the Progressive Party, will never support a change to the legal status of cannabis unless or until it is proven safe," he said.

Jim Anderton noted that the Health Select Committee recommended that another select committee of Parliament, the Justice and Electoral Committee, give its consideration to the legal status of cannabis.

"That committee has not yet commented on this request, but I personally believe the Justice Committee’s priorities should be directed to more serious and pressing issues, although I accept that is of course up to the committee to determine," he said

The Progressive Party is campaigning around the country against any change to the legal status of cannabis until it is proven safe. It believes teenagers, in particular, need to be sent a strong message that drugs like cannabis are not OK nor an acceptable lifestyle choice. The Progressives fear that those calling for decriminalization of the drug are inadvertently sending completely the wrong message to vulnerable young people into thinking that perhaps illegal drugs are OK.

Jim Anderton noted that the first recommendation in the Health Committee's report was for the coalition government to accept "a leading role" in promoting the message that young people should not use cannabis.

"The Labour Progressive coalition accepts that role wholeheartedly. As chair of the Ministerial Committee on Drug Policy over the past year, I can assure New Zealanders that we are working comprehensively across all areas from prevention and education, to enforcement and treatment.

"Of the specific recommendations made in the Health Committee's report, most are in fact already included in projects, policies or practices of the various agencies involved tackling drug-related challenges to our society. A list of the recommendations which are already part of the coalition's work programme can be found on Page 17 of the Government Response document," he said.

The Health Committee also made recommendations related to the medicinal use of cannabis and for the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs to give early re-consideration of the legal classification of cannabis.

"It should be noted that in order for cannabis to become an approved medicine in the future, it will first need to meet certain standardized dosage, safety and therapeutic efficiacy requirements, as do all other registered medicines.

"Medsafe is currently monitoring cannabis products, in pill and inhaler forms, which are being trialled by a British pharmaceutical company. That company may apply for consent to market its product after it has completed its field trials and it will be for the experts at Medsafe to recommend to the coalition government whether it is a good or a bad product at that time," Jim Anderton said.

"On the second issue, likewise, it is for the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs to independently decide if or when it should next consider the classification of cannabis. The processes they use to determine what priority to give to re-examining the classification of any drug is an issue of science, not politics," Jim Anderton said.

"I believe that cannabis is one of a number of substances that the Expert Advisory Committee may conceivably consider in the future, but its schedule is flexible and affected by what other drugs might demand its more urgent consideration in the future.

"For example, the precursors of methamphetamine were considered by the Expert Advisory Committee recently because those drugs were identified by the committee itself as needing immediate action and re-classification," Jim Anderton said.

One of the constant calls from parents and teachers, and reflected in the Health Committee's recommendations to the coalition government, was for more information on the harm that cannabis misuse can cause.

"The coalition supports initiatives to further explore the relationship between road accidents and alcohol and other drug use and we support the current Police proposal for funding for a study in this area.

Jim Anderton said his Progressive Party will support the provision of funding for such initiatives in the 2004-2005 Budget round.

"The coalition also supports introducing a test for impairment caused by cannabis, as soon as that is practical. The New Zealand Police are working with the Victoria Police on their current trials of roadside detection mechanisms which include saliva testing," Jim Anderton said.

"The coalition government is also sympathetic to the recommendation that there be testing of suicide referrals for traces of illegal drugs and alcohol so that professionals can more methodically investigate the extent of the relationship between cannabis use and suicide. The new coronial regime currently being developed will better enable this to occur," he said.

Commenting on one further recommendation by the Health Committee, Jim Anderton noted the select committee's call for using the diversion scheme for minor cannabis offences. He said the Police is currently reviewing the operation of the Adult Diversion Scheme to ensure good practice and enhanced natural consistency. The Law Commission is also reviewing this area of the justice system

The coalition parties, Labour and Progressive, will study any recommendations on the diversion scheme and other matters as they come to hand.

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