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Prof Doug Sellman, Director of the National Addiction Centre at the University of Otago, has welcomed Don Brash’s call for a change in our cannabis laws. Dr Brash suggested that cannabis should be decriminalised after the UN Commission on Drug Policy said the worldwide war on drugs had failed. Prof Sellman responded to Dr Brash’s comments saying:
“Compared with alcohol, which has been demonstrated to be a Class B equivalent drug with a high risk to public health, cannabis is estimated to be of low/moderate risk to public health”.
He says there are four main risks associated with frequent heavy cannabis use:
1) Chronic respiratory illness, including lung cancer associated with smoking the drug;
2) Injury and death from driving under the influence of cannabis, but less than with alcohol intoxication;
3) Increased psychotic symptoms, which is clinically relevant in less than 1% of the population; and
4) Negative impact on learning which is particularly relevant for adolescents.
Illegal drug found in wine
Adding to the risk posed by alcohol, recent research in Britain has found that wine actually contains GBL which in New Zealand is classified as a Class B drug. This means that wine drinkers are now getting two Class B drugs for the price of one - one of them legal - but the other one not.
Dr Sellman said that New Zealand wines should be tested for the presence of these illegal drugs. He noted that:
“The recent Law Commission Review of the Misuse of Drugs Act has encouraged public discussion about drugs from a health perspective rather than just as a criminal justice issue, and to use scientific evidence to guide policy making rather than perpetuating drug use as a moral issue”.
The 700,000 cannabis smokers in New Zealand would probably agree. But Mr Brash was roundly criticized by politicians and pundits alike for raising the subject without consulting his ACT colleague, John Banks. Unfortuntely, there was almost no discussion in the mainstream media about whether cannabis should actually be decriminalised.