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NORML's response to Govt's cannabis inquiry

NORML's response to Government's response to cannabis inquiry

National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, New Zealand Inc.

Government's response to cannabis inquiry a defeat for Jim Anderton and Peter Dunne, says NORML.

Behind the anti-drug hype, the reform process goes on.

National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) president Chris Fowlie today criticised the Government's response to the Health Select Committee's inquiry into the legal status of cannabis as a "cunning attempt to avoid the issue, continue the anti-drug hype, and yet quiely allow the law reform process to continue."

"It is extremely disappointing that it has taken the Government four years to do so little, during which time more than 85,000 people have been arrested for so-called cannabis 'offences'," said Mr Fowlie.

"It is even worse that it comes the day after the UK parliament voted to downgrade cannabis to be a non-arrestable offence. Our Government has lost a real chance to lead the world in rational, evidence-based drug policy."

However, Mr Fowlie said that it was important to note that the Government has not opposed any of the major recommendations of the health committee's report. "They're open to the medicinal use of cannabis, are supporting more use of diversion, and are not opposed the Justice and Electoral committee completing the inquiry into the legal status of cannabis", he said.

"As much as Peter Dunne and Jim Anderton don't like it, this Government privately supports cannabis law reform, even if they are leaving it to the Greens to promote," said Mr Fowlie. "Their response tabled in parliament today will allow the reform process to keep moving along, with an eye on the next election and a new parliament."

The health select committee's report had proposed several ways to reduce the criminalisation of adult users and keep the issue of cannabis law reform alive - none of which have been opposed by the Government - including:

* wider use of police cautions and diversions; * allowing the medicinal use of approved forms of cannabis; * the reclassification of cannabis by the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs; and * recommending the Justice and Electoral Committee complete the inquiry into the best legal status for cannabis, and investigate police abuse of search powers.

The Health Select Committee's inquiry confirmed that the current law is often applied unevenly, unfairly and unreasonably; and that cannabis law reforms overseas have not been associated with any increased cannabis use.

The inquiry report concluded that "Prohibition results in high conviction rates for a relatively minor offence, which inhibits people's education, travel and employment opportunities. Prohibition makes targeting education, prevention, harm minimisation and treatment measures difficult because users fear prosecution. It also facilitates the black market, and potentially exposes cannabis users to harder drugs." (p. 57)

Mr Fowlie said "If the Government is truly concerned about the availability of cannabis to minors, it would control the availability of cannabis with a minimum legal age of 18 years. Licensed sales also separate the markets for cannabis and other drugs, so that cannabis users are not put in contact with hard drug sellers. As the cannabis inquiry report noted, this was the stated aim of the Dutch 'coffeeshop' policy, and they now have one of the lowest hard drug use rates in the world".

"The Associate Health Minister says there is no public mandate for law change, but he and the Government must recognise the overwhelming public support for cannabis law reform. A clear majority of submissions backed legalisation, and public opinion polls have consistently supported a new approach," said Mr Fowlie.

"Cannabis law reform is inevitable and the cannabis law reform movement is undeterred. We will step up our campaign to end the discrimination against cannabis users."

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