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Background Notes on Cannabis Report

Background Notes on Cannabis Report

The Health Select Committee made 23 recommendations to Government and two recommendations to the House of Representatives.

Most of the recommendations of the Committee to the government are already included in projects, policies, research and practices of the various government agencies that are involved in drug related matters. (refer to pg 17 of the response document).

With regard to its recommendations on youth, education and community action

The government accepts a leading role in promoting the message that young people should not use cannabis and notes with concern the heavy use of cannabis by 18-14 year olds and the trend of increasing use by 15-17 year olds particularly women.

The evidence suggests that to combat this trend societal norms around cannabis use must be addressed. Kids model adults whether it is binge drinking, intoxication or cannabis use, and its adults who supply in the majority to kids.

There is evidence that anti-smoking campaigns are effective also early drug education, along with community programmes. The government is already pursuing a three-year drug education project aimed to identify and encourage best practice alcohol and drug education that results in sustained behaviour change (refer to para 16 &17 of response document). The first phase is near completion with a report due to be published in December. The Ministry of Education is already collecting data to formulate more effective policies around suspensions and stand downs and on-going funding has been provided for the five existing community action programmes with more funding this year for a further 15.

In relation to other recommendations:

Legal Status

It is up to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee as to whether it takes up the Health Committee’s recommendation that it consider an appropriate legal status for cannabis but there will be no Labour/Progressive government change to the legal status of cannabis.

I am advised that the Justice and Electoral Committee has not yet commented on this recommendation.

Medicinal Cannabis

In order for cannabis to even be considered for approved medicine status under the Medicines Act -standardised dosage, safety and therapeutic efficacy data would be required.

It is unlikely that sufficient safety and efficiacy information could ever be provided for “home grown’ plant cannabis. However, a pharmaceutical form of cannabis grown in a controlled manner may be able to meet the requirements of the Medicines Act.

A British company GW Pharmaceuticals has in development a number of cannabis preparations for therapeutic use (tablets, inhalers) and the Government anticipates if trials are successful the company will make an application for consent to market their cannabis product.

Medsafe is monitoring the progress of this product but has not received an application for the approval of a pharmaceutical form of cannabis or otherwise.

Cannabis classification

The existing arrangement with regard to consideration of cannabis classification by the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs’ is viewed as adequate by the government. The Coalition government will not be directing it to place a higher priority on the reconsideration of cannabis. However, I am advised that cannabis is among a number of substances that the EACD will conceivably be considering in the near future but the committees’ schedule is such that precedent will always be given to emerging risk substances like the precursor ingredients of methamphetamine and therefore no definitive date can be given as to when cannabis will again be considered by that committee.

The EACD is a statutory committee of experts the function of which is to make medical and scientific evaluations of controlled drugs and make recommendations to the Associate Minister on the classification of the drug based on the risk of harm the drug poses to individuals or society by its misuse. Class A drugs pose a very high risk of harm, Class B drugs pose a high risk and Class C drugs pose a moderate risk of harm.

Recommendations with regard to testing for cannabis

The Coalition government supports initiatives to further explore the relationship between road accidents and alcohol and other drug use and supports the current Police proposal for funding from the Cross Departmental Research Pool for a study in this area. It also supports introducing a test for impairment by cannabis as soon as it is reasonably available. The New Zealand Police are working closely with the Victoria Police on their current trials of roadside detection mechanisms, which include saliva testing.

Testing suicide referrals for traces of all illegal drugs and alcohol to investigate the extent of the relationship between cannabis use and suicide is supported and it is envisaged that the new coronial regime currently being developed through the Ministry of Justice will enable this recommendation to be implemented. A cabinet decision on a new coronial regime is expected sometime before Christmas.

Recommendations relating to diversion for minor cannabis offences and legal aid eligibility.

The current review by Police of the Adult diversion scheme and the proposals being considered by the Law Commission will provide an opportunity to consider the Police’s response to minor offences including minor cannabis offences. A Police discussion document on diversion will be circulated amongst government agencies in November published. The legal aid eligibility is currently being reviewed for both criminal and civil legal aid and the Health Committee’s report will be considered in the context of that work.

Testing for THC levels in artificially grown cannabis is not seen as a priority at this time.

Although it is often stated that cannabis potency has increased significantly the few reports done to date have found no evidence of such an increase. The ESR has analysed some plants grown hydroponically and found the female heads from these plants were within the range of plants grown outside. Therefore until the intermittent tests done by the ESR for the Police show a clear trend research is unlikely to be initiated by government agencies. Currently cannabis oil and resin are classified as Class B due to the higher levels of THC whereas cannabis plant is Class C with much lower THC levels.

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