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ALCP: Coroner wrongly blames cannabis

24 August 2005

Coroner wrongly blames cannabis for fishing boat deaths

The ALCP is disputing a coroner's conclusion, reported last week, regarding the loss of a sea vessel, the Iron Maiden, and its two-man crew.

The Party is calling for coroners' reports to be published on-line to assist public discussion and scrutiny. It also says fundamental law reform is needed to enable drug-related education and harm reduction in the workplace.

Aotearoa Legalise claims the Northland coroner, Robin Fountain, is categorically wrong to blame cannabis for an apparent bad decision by the skipper which resulted in the sinking of the Iron Maiden in heavy seas south west of Cape Reinga last July.

According to Mr Fountain, "the only logical explanation was that, affected by cannabis, the skipper got it wrong" when considering whether to sail ahead or wait.

The ALCP does not dispute the possibility cannabis use may have played a part in 24 year-old David Thirkettle's fateful decision. However, people can make illogical decisions - especially under stress - even when completely drug-free. Did the coroner allow for that possibility?

"Coroners seem to be going out of their way to point the finger of blame at cannabis as the cause of accidents when it is discovered in the blood of victims, even if it means excluding other more likely reasons for the accident."

The skipper was in a potentially high-stress situation where he was under pressure to deliver the boat to a deadline.

It appears too, that the Environmental Science & Research agency could well have a conflict of interest in advising coroners, related to its stakehold in 'drug testing'.

ESR reported Thirkettle's post-mortem blood THC level of 0.7mcg per litre "consistent with smoking a cannabis cigarette from about one to eight hours before death." The ALCP say this was only a metabolite measure that cannot accurately indicate when the cannabis was consumed, and demonstrates neither intoxication nor impairment.

Regarding the coroner's call for legislation banning workplace cannabis use, Aotearoa Legalise says there can be no credible guidelines in the workplace while there exists a general rejection of Government's health promotion double standards (c.f. alcohol and cannabis).

The prohibition law is promoting dangerous indifference to any possible risks of cannabis use in the workplace in NZ. It is therefore well within the bounds of possibility that cannabis LAW played a decisive role in the sinking of the Iron Maiden. The Party believes that even if cannabis did adversely influence the skipper's decision, the decision would have been subject to a chronic 'criminalisation-related' health promotion obstacle, which is putting all young New Zealanders at risk.

It was pathetic of the 2000-2003 Parliamentary Cannabis 'health promotion' inquiry not to isolate and fix this impediment, despite being highlighted in the unanimous conclusions of the 1998 Cannabis 'mental health' inquiry.


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