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NZ Medical Association drops its opposition to the legalisation of cannabis

Written By: - Date published: 6:05 am, October 13th, 2020 - 38 comments
Categories: drugs, Ethics, law - Tags: ,

Newshub are reporting that the NZMA no longer has a position on the current referendum on the legalisation of cannabis,

NZMA chairperson Dr Kate Baddock wrote a letter in NZ Doctor apologising to members who felt they hadn’t been given the chance to speak their minds.

Until Dr Baddock’s letter was published, the association opposed its legalisation.

It comes after at least one doctor quit her NZMA membership and others spoke out against the association’s stance on the cannabis referendum.

Dr Baddock said NZMA has opposed the legalisation of cannabis since 2012, saying it should be decriminalised and treated as a health issue.

Dr Baddock told RNZ last week NZMA “didn’t do anything” to further inform its position when the referendum was announced. She also admitted to not consulting members before previously choosing to oppose the legalisation of cannabis. New Zealanders will be asked in the election if they believe recreational use of cannabis should be legal.

TVNZ political reporter Benedict Collins on twitter,

So after staunchly opposing the legalisation of cannabis all year NZ Medical Association chair Kate Baddock has issued a statement and apology, in the middle of voting, saying actually the NZMA has “no position regarding the cannabis referendum”.

Followed by Green MP Chole Swarbrick’s response,

1.1 million New Zealanders have cast a vote. Already misleading “no” campaigns latched onto Dr Baddock’s misrepresentation of NZMA’s view with fervour – all year – and it spread far and wide. It’s far harder to undo a mistruth than tell it. This is just so disappointing.

If you haven’t voted yet, this quiz from the NZ Drug Foundation is a good explainer of what the various issues involved are and why to vote yes. Bullet points of the 8 key control measures of The Bill,

  1. Tax revenue will go towards drug education and treatment
  2. Free up Police to focus on serious crime
  3. Increased access for those that use cannabis for medical treatment
  4. Cannabis will remain strictly illegal for people under 20
  5. Potency levels will be limited for safety
  6. Sales will be restricted to licenced premises
  7. There will be no consumption in public places
  8. There will be plain packaging and clear warning labels, with zero advertising.

The Royal NZ College of General Practitioners has held a neutral stance, but provides more in depth explanations of the medical issues here.

38 comments on “NZ Medical Association drops its opposition to the legalisation of cannabis ”

  1. tc 1

    This has an odour about it to strong to ignore given the lofty position many people hold these bodies in.

    Suddenly a week from the date voting closes the position changes ? Whiffy indeed from the doctors pulpit.

    • lprent 1.1

      It sounds like there was rather more internal opposition inside the NZMA than the executive had realised. Hardly surprising after some of obviously pent up opinions by doctors expressed recently about the NZMA position.

      I voted on Sunday. I voted yes for the Cannabis referendum.

      Despite never being a consumer of cannabis*, I can’t see any reason to continue to try to suppress it. I couldn’t see any reason back in the late 1970s. I can’t now.

      I’d prefer it to be regulated, taxed heavily and treated as a medical problem. In other words – just like alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs. Having set of laws around that simply aren’t enforced (except when used for police pressure) like the misuse of drugs act with regards to cannabis is an abuse of process and travesty of the legal process.

      Sure there are people who have difficulties with it. There are people who have problems with food, sunlight, and driving a straight line. But in the last 22 years in my 60 unit apartment block, I’ve seen several people carried out feet first after failing in their battle with alcohol addiction – one last week. I haven’t seen anyone have the same problem with cannabis, and the waft of reefers is often strong here.

      • Just for the record. I tried smoking cannabis once in 1979. I found that it interfered with programming for days because I wound up as fuzzy as hell. Never used it again. Hangovers were somewhat easier to deal with – and educational as well. I have relatives who do/have used cannabis. Some even have stupid convictions to prove that. I still can’t see any point to either. But I guess that is why I still refer to cannabis as ‘dope’. Using cannabis in my mind is just silly. Trying to suppress it is an exercise in futility. The whole debate is daft
      • bruce 1.1.1



        But the guys who had a bit to do with development of the idea both supported freedom to use it. And to me thats the whole debate different strokes for different folks. Everybody is different and have different reactions to different things, so why mandate the we can only use the most destructive of the myriad of mind altering substances out there. Its very hard to find a people that don't use something, its as much a part of humanity as the colour of skin or who we choose to sleep with, not an issue for government regulation.

      • Tiger Mountain 1.1.2

        I was a yes vote too, after never being a Cannabis leaf user apart from brief sampling in 70s, partly because I never took up smoking cigarettes and did not like the delivery mechanism.

        Many of my friends have smoked Cannabis socially and recreationally for years without the fights, aggression, and brain damage that some of the drinking population seem to excel at. But I have recently tried micro doses of good quality custom produced NZ Cannabis oil and it is great stuff for relaxation and arthritis pain!

        The Cannabis Referendum has to be the most information rich one ever run so far, with longitudinal Academic studies, international social and medical experience, proposed legislation that covers all the grumpy brigade worries–age, when, where, health, pricing, product quality etc. and; millions in venture capital are raring to add to the economy. Our young and brown communities will likely get less attention from the coppers and less records and fines/incarceration. Yet despite all this it seems the “Nope” lobby has put big money into a negative, talkback level campaign that sees the result teetering on a “No” vote. One wonders if the liquor industry is in the background contributing a few bucks also to the nopers. This is so frustrating given the coherent arguments for a “Yes” vote.

        • Mika

          I think the question is not necessarily "are there potential harms from cannabis use" (there are), rather, does the current criminalisation model mitigate or exacerbate these potential harms. Clearly, the criminalisation framework is not helping harm reduction goals.

          In contrast Portugal decriminalised all drugs around 20 years ago, the result being reduction in use across the board, along with incredible improvements in rates of health and social harms.


          Our approach should be guided by evidence like this.

        • Treetop

          Good to hear that cannabis is helpful for arthritic pain.

          Were cannabis to become legal it is going to be interesting to hear how beneficial it is for chronic health conditions. I would try a balm first for the arthritic pain.

      • RedLogix 1.1.3

        My experience with the leaf is much the same; not interesting enough to be worth persisting with. And much the same with alcohol, we only drink to be sociable. (As a pair of introverts that isn't too often either.

        Alcohol addiction takes out around 5% of the population and cannabis has it’s own downsides. If it were up to me I'd like to see both drugs off the table, but I recognise that the law is probably not the correct tool to be using to achieve that.

        I suspect a lot of people are heavily conflicted and as a result are not saying much on this; and that while we're willing to tolerate the legalisation of cannabis, does not mean we have to like it much.

    • weka 1.2

      My understanding too is that it's been members who've forced the issue and made the NZMA change their position. Good on those members.

  2. RRM 2

    The only difference between Ardern and Collins on this issue, is – at least you know Collins would never honour a yes vote in the referendum.

    Ardern won't even say what she thinks about it, because just like Collins she's afraid of upsetting the conservative element of her base.

    So if weed referendum was polling 80% or 90% YES, then there would be some hope of a law change occurring. But as it stands I think the cause is probably dead for another 10 or 20 years… 🙁

    • Sacha 2.1

      It will be an easy issue to paint as a coalition win for the Greens, thus satisfying right-leaning Lab voters.

    • I Feel Love 2.2

      And like the rest of us Adern has the right to keep her opinion to herself. Sure there maybe politics involved, but just shows why she's leader of a country likely to win another term.

      Ex long term pot smoker here, gave up about 5 years ago, best thing I did giving up, it's addictive, harmful and makes you stupid. I voted "yes", as I believe it's a health issue, not a criminal one.

      • Bearded Git 2.2.1

        Good post I Feel…..I've smoked 2 joints in the last 35 years, and only the very occasional spliff before that, but cannabis was my friend in 1987 on top of a Bolivian Hotel listening to the UK election result and finding out that Thatcher had been re-elected as PM.

        • greywarshark

          Thanks for sensible informed opinion I Feel Love. I had experience trying to reading-coach at a recovery from drug house. They had not realised that the cannabis users had difficulty with their memory retention. They could read a page of the book on drug taking and feel they understood it but to actually recall the message to relate it to someone couldn't be done, there was no retention. Apparently the memory does come back, after some time, all – I don't know.

          Despite seeing that I think that legalising it and making it a medical thing with controls, brings it into the sunlight and cuts the ground from under most of the criminal element. There will still be the growers of the potent high THC? but hey it is in our DNA/DNZ to not do everything according to the rules, some revel in breaking them so can't aim for 100% solutions.

      • bruce 2.2.2

        Current long term smoker, addictive yea maybe but theres some on the shelf but not feeling like smoking for the last few months so it stays there for summer. In the past smoke every day for 6 months stop to go overseas no problem, While working a conference or week away with work stop no problem. I've always been stupid so no problem there. And i really hate to think of my health if I'd drunk like I smoke.

        Vive la difference

        • Dennis Frank


          So, if you don't actually do anything stupid, self-classifying as such is a pretension. Useful tactic due to being a survival skill. Sergeant Schultz played it. Play dumb, stay alive. That saved many during times of tyranny…

          • greywarshark

            Actually a lot of what we do is stupid Dennis Frank. It is just given an imprimatur by the fact that the mass of the 'right' people accept it.

            Sergeant Schultz lives to see another day, and chuckle.

  3. Sacha 3

    The NZMA can dress this up as a 'clarification' of their stance as hard as they like. Their open letter to members tries to justify their initial firm opposition:

    The Cannabis Legalisation and Control referendum is not an actual Bill; it is a vote for or against recreational cannabis (with a proposed Bill in the offing). NZMA’s normal process regarding any topical issue, whether it be climate change or cannabis, is to fall back on its position statements (if there is one) and speak to the content of that. The cannabis position statement was created in 2012 and reiterated in 2019 when the Medicinal Cannabis Bill was being introduced.

    Obvious bullshittery. The referendum question quite clearly refers to the drafted law. Plenty has been written about the medical implications of that law as proposed. It's not some abstract question about whether cannabis is harmful.

    It was always within NZMA's power to take a neutral stance on something their members were likely to be divided on, just like the College of GPs did. Instead, Baddock spent weeks braying her strong opposition all over the media. Not professional at all.

  4. Robert Guyton 4

    To my amazement, Shaun Plunket, right-wing talkback jock on Magic Radio, reversed his opposition and voted yes for the cannabis referendum, then broadcast his action on his show. His listeners were, by and large, incensed but Plunket, in his usual way, blazed away at them in defence of his change. His usually-regressive positions generally rile me; he's hammered the word "woke" into the softened brains of most of his reactionary, Nat-voting listeners, and actively erodes left-wing positions on almost everything, but here, he's done right.

    • Dennis Frank 4.1

      Interesting, Robert. What reasoning did he deploy against his listeners? I won't ask what your motivation was for tuning in… angel

  5. Dennis Frank 5

    The medical establishment is an orthodoxy. It was established originally to provide a reliable alternative to folk medicine. Trouble is, it got infected by the ideology of scientism. So we ended up with establishment robots vs alternative charlatans as a lose/lose proposition. Competent practitioners on both sides of the ideological divide got ignored in the public arena. Word of mouth drove sufferers towards them instead.

    I have a nuanced view of the user thing – retrospectively looking back on over half a century of weighing the pros & cons. In the 1960s Timothy Leary told us: turn on, tune in, drop out. I discovered it wasn't that simple. Joints rolled with leaf didn't actually turn you on, just gave you unlimited lungfuls of smoke. Much experimenting later, I did manage to get high & after refining the technique in subsequent years I found you only need a toke or two of high-thc stuff to shift consciousness. That gets you tuned in.

    Into what?? Cosmic consciousness (was the slogan). I'd frame it in more prosaic terms. You attuned to the world around you. Ego separates you. Getting high diffused the barrier. Your psyche transcends the ego-driven perspective you are used to, you don't just see the big picture, you feel it. You become a part of the whole.

    That reconnection to nature is organic in effect. Recall that health and holistic evolved from the same language root. You are whole when you embed as part of the natural world. Tough for city kids to achieve, when the psyche develops encultured to be separate and individualistic. So thinking hippies reconnected & became Greens while the others toked too much & went blotto.

    Then the drop-out phase, where the rubber really hits the road. Leary ushered it in as liberation via de-conditioning. Cool for the time, but no thought of consequences. Eventually we had to drop back in. Altered. Then operate as shapeshifter, talk to the straights as if their world is plausible – and subtly alert them to all the reasons why it isn't. A lifetime campaign.

    The neuroplasticity angle is where the action is, I reckon. Why did it empower me & friends so much while disempowering other users? Coevolution. As Castenada explained, there are ways to use a plant ally & here's how. Shamanic function mediates the real/imaginal boundary, but mental discipline is required at all times. If you lose the plot, you get delusional. Your brain rewires itself in response to the experiences you have. As the doormouse said, feed your head. Feed it quality, do it right.

    • McFlock 5.1

      lol it's that sort of rambling foolishness that stopped marijuana being decriminalised twenty years ago.

      I've long felt its biggest proponents were its worst advertising.

      • weka 5.1.1

        not sure what it says that this reads to me as one of Dennis' more understandable comments 🙂

        • Incognito

          It was almost lucid 😉

        • McFlock

          I've clawed through it three times and it still seems to boil down to the same old "more people would be smart and rational like me if they got stoned".

          • mac1

            The reference to Casteneda gives it away. Shaman or charlatan? Non-fiction or fiction? Cultural anthropologist or cultist? I read his first four books as a young man. I favour the second of each of my three options.

            Mind you, as one of the Irish diaspora, there is a little green man living at the bottom of my garden. Well, that's what I tell the kids who visit.

            I can even show them the door to the house in the palm tree, but, unlike Casteneda, I never claimed to go inside.

            • Dennis Frank

              Binary framing doesn't help much. I never decided one way or the other. The book by the woman he spent a large part of his life with illuminated his dodgy side: her testimony convinced me that he did succumb to the guru complex eventually. The books written about him by sceptics (I own at least one of them) helped clarify the extent to which he (may have) embroidered his experiences to sell his books.

              I personally, even as a young man, found parts of his narrative too much of a stretch. Other parts, I did verify from experience. Having been brainwashed by physicists at university gave me a different perspective too – hard to say who was less convincing! wink

    • weka 5.2

      the great thing about legalising is that we'll now get much better at growing strains for specific purposes. The people that respond well to contemplative cannabis will have a choice.

      I really hope that the per household limit gets interpreted loosely by the police. Some of our best growers are going to be small, too small to warrant all the costs and process of a licence.

      • Dennis Frank 5.2.1

        You seem confident of the outcome. I'm not so much. The electorate seems like to split on the issue & 5/10% one way or the other isn't important. So Labour will have to take a stance collectively, which will pit their progressives against their conservatives. Most likely outcome of that will be muddle thro the middle: decriminalisation, not legalisation. We have defacto that now, of course, but they'll have to eliminate the racist targeting of Maori users that the cops are addicted to.

        • Ad

          It's a non-binding referendum on a future legislative proposal, so no party would have to take any notice of this referendum result. Whichever way it went.

          • Dennis Frank

            Oh yes, I do realise that. I'm just doing a reading of how the expediency side of things will play out. Do nothing would kill any pretence that Labour is progressive stone dead. Doubt they'll be that stupid!!

          • Patricia Bremner

            However Jacinda did say in the Debate, she would be guided by the Public vote.

        • weka

          More that if it's a no vote, then it will happen later rather than sooner.

  6. RedBaronCV 6

    Fascinating how some personalities claim the right to speak for others without ever consulting on what views those others may actually hold.

    I can see the Chairperson being replaced sometime in the near future. Anyone calling for a resignation?

  7. In Vino 7

    I feel very similar about that red-necked old duffer who spoke out on behalf of Greypower without any consultation that I knew of.

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