- Date published:
7:06 am, January 31st, 2018 - 34 comments
Categories: greens, labour, national, Nikki Kaye, nz first, Politics, same old national, the praiseworthy and the pitiful - Tags: cannabis, helen kelly, medicinal cannabis
National has this weird approach to drug reform. They hate the idea of any sort of drugs liberalisation.
Their position is difficult to rationalise. Alcohol is accepted, presumably because there is a good profit to be made if it is done right. But the mention of Cannabis causes all sorts of ructions to occur.
It is hard to understand why. Sure Cannabis can for a small part of the population cause considerable problems. But for most of us it is a coming of age drug. You cannot claim to have been through university in the 1970s or 1980s or 1990s and not have at least a nodding acquaintance with the drug.
And the problems caused by alcohol are legendary. Yet there is this strange double standard. Alcohol is fine but cannabis reform is somehow taboo.
Such is the moral panic associated with cannabis that the last Government thought it better to prohibit the use of the drug for medicinal purposes unless applicants jumped through all sorts of hoops rather than allowing people dying of cancer the ability to use the drug for simple pain relief. According to their view it was better that people die in pain and doped up to the eyeballs on morphine based drugs than actually use something that many have reported provides the best pain relief they can ask for.
Helen Kelly had to go through this. That an intelligent capable woman who understood what was best for her body was not trusted with making a decision on what was best for her still rankles.
If she wanted opiates no problem. If she wanted something that allowed her to think clearly and deal with the pain and still live then she needed Ministerial agreement. And the Minister at the time was not cooperating.
So the time for a real debate about drug reform is now. And the Greens have the opportunity to seek meaningful change to the current law.
Chloe Swarbrick has inherited Julie Ann Genter’s Medicinal Cannabis Bill and it is up for debate today. The bill is somewhat simplistic and lawyers could drive busses through it. But it is a bill drafted by a smaller party and the intent is to put the issue on Parliament’s agenda. Sure it can be tidied up and refined but this is what the select committee process is for. Let the public see what is being proposed and comment on such things as the drafting. Then see if Parliament can improve what is being proposed, if this is the wish of the majority.
And most do. Even Grey Power wants Chloe’s bill to proceed to select committee. From Radio New Zealand:
Grey Power president Tom O’Connor said the government’s bill was too restrictive and had too many hoops to jump through.
But he said the Greens’ effort went too far.
“It would be just tempting fate far too much to allow people to grow cannabis at home for their own medication amongst the tomatoes and spuds.
“They’d never harvest it for a start. People would be over the back fence to steal it anyway.”
Regardless, Mr O’Connor hoped both bills would pass so they could go before a select committee and be debated.
“These things need to be discussed in the public and we’d like to see that discussion be as wide-ranging as possible.”
But National is afraid to allow a real debate to occur and will allow only a token number of MPs to vote for the bill’s introduction.
They are well and truly on the wrong side of public opinion on this issue. From National’s pollster:
It is worth reflecting that there is overwhelming public support for cannabis to be available for pain relief. A poll Curia did for the Drug Foundation last year had 78% support for medicial use of cannabis not to be a criminal offence and only 17% opposed.
The net support for not having medical use of cannabis being a criminal offence by party vote is:
National voters +60% (78% to 18%)
Labour voters +61% (78% to 17%)
NZ First +54% (77% to 23%)
Greens +77% (88% to 11%)
National has made the call that it cannot whip its MPs to vote against the bill. That would be too obvious. But it has chosen to whip them enough so that all but those with a compelling electoral argument for have to vote against the bill.
From Henry Cooke at Stuff:
National leader Bill English announced on Tuesday his party would support the Government bill, which already has the numbers to pass.
His party would in general oppose Swarbrick’s bill, but a “small number” would be allowed to vote for it if they wished.
“National will support the Government bill, and will oppose the Greens bill – but the caucus gave permission for a small number of MPs who feel very strongly about the bill to support it if they wish to,” English said.
“I expect it to be less than a handful.”
He pushed back on the idea that this made it a “conscience vote” as the National Party did not see drugs as a conscience issue.
This is paint by numbers stuff. Have a significant conscience position determined by Caucus fiat but allow a few strugglers such as Nikki Kaye and Chris Bishop who represents liberal electorates to vote in support.
National supported the introduction of Labour’s medicinal marijuana bill but to be frank Labour’s bill is very timid. That timid that New Zealand First supported it. The bill allows medicinal cannabis but only for medications that contain a small amount of cannabis and only those who can be reasonably expected to die within 12 months can safely use it.
If someone is dying why not let them use what is a fairly mainstream drug. Why put so many complications and difficulties in place?
If you want to understand the situation more fully then Helen Kelly’s post from January 2016 deserves a read. Here are the first few paragraphs that perfectly summarise what is at stake:
I am taking Cannabis Oil to manage my pain as my lung cancer takes over my body. It’s sort of as simple as that really. For some people talking about dying is confronting but actually talking about it allows us to think about how it happens – it is actually as much a social event as a physical one and knowing someone is comfortable, getting good treatment and pain relief is very much part of the social dimension as the physical one.
Since I have been public about it I have received so many very very sad emails from families also wanting access. Children with brain tumours, partners in their last stages of life zonked out on morphine and wanting something less brain numbing, people with elderly parents who are suffering from terrible arthritis and can’t cope with opiates so are basically in pain constantly and unable to move etc. It really has been incredible and quite heart breaking. Many are resorting to illegal supplies and this in itself is so far from satisfactory. They have no idea what the strength of the product is or what it even has in it some of the time. In countries which allow medical cannabis these things are sorted – Doctors are trained on its use and products are tailored to kids, elderly etc etc.
I might be able to get permission from our esteemed Associate Minister of Health to access a medical product. I have to apply. This actually requires me to find a product, contact the producer, convince my doctors to support my application (which I think they will do, but they will have to jump through hoops and wouldn’t it be better if they were like US doctors – trained in the various products, able to understand them and prescribe them based on their knowledge not mine) and then meet the Ministry of Health criteria which includes that other available drugs have been tried and don’t work – not that cannabis works better!
And Helen’s son Dylan Kelly supports Chloe’s bill and thinks Labour’s bill is too timid. From Benedict Collins at Radio New Zealand:
But Helen Kelly’s son Dylan said the bill was deeply disappointing and would continue to criminalise people.
“It’s woefully inadequate – terminally ill patients are not the only people who need medicinal cannabis.
“But sort of more importantly a lot of people who do need this medication can’t really provide it for themselves, and a lot of the people who supplied my mum’s medicine are putting themselves in really quite serious legal jeopardy in order, not to make money, purely in order to help people with chronic pain,” he said.
“And I think a bill that continues to criminalise those people is insufficient.”
I hope all MPs reflect on Helen’s and Dylan’s words. It is not proposed that cannabis be made available without limitation, even though this is a debate I think we need to have given our tolerance of alcohol. What is proposed is that ill people be allowed to use a naturally occurring compound that many have found relieves the worst aspects of their symptoms and their supporters be allowed to provide it.