The growth of the medicinal marijuana issue

An American I was talking to the other week had seen the media coverage of Helen Kelly’s raising of the medicinal marijuana issue, and noted that marijuana is already being steadily legalized across the United States. She said, I paraphrase, “you know the only reason it’s illegal is because the pharma industry can’t figure out how to monetize it, right?”

It’s an argument that sounds pretty spot-on when you see stories like this:

The parents of a 7-year-old girl have the green light to use medicinal cannabis to control their daughter’s severe seizures.

Karen and Adam Jeffries have Health Ministry approval to give their daughter Zoe the cannabis oil-based mouth spray Sativex for the next six months.

Each bottle lasts around four weeks and costs $1050. The Jeffries paid for the first script with a well-timed tax return and have set up a Givealittle page to help fund repeat scripts.

But Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has rejected calls to allow the use of raw cannabis for medical reasons, saying the Government’s policy was “not to decriminalise the cannabis leaf”, while there was not sufficient evidence for its medical value in an unprocessed form.

Over a thousand dollars a month for a product derived from a plant which has been cultivated for thousands of years? Yeah, that doesn’t feel right, does it?

Peter Dunne is one in a short line of government ministers who are firmly stuck in the Reefer Madness, “marijuana will destroy society” frame of drug control.

When he permitted the use of medicinal marijuana for Alex Renton, Dunne tried to insist this “wasn’t a precedent.” But back in May a poll showed nearly half of New Zealanders supported decriminalisation for medicinal marijuana, and the stories – like Helen Kelly’s, and Zoe Jeffries’ – have kept coming.

This feels like one of those issues which is only going to be talked about more and more. Like marriage equality, where even the United States is unafraid to go, we tend to follow. And politicians like Peter Dunne can figure out for themselves whether they want to be on the right side of history, or remembered as an anachronism in a bowtie.

Telling quote of the day

[Content note: rape, sexual assault, drug use]

From Family First head Bob McCoskrie, on an article about a chemistry exam containing a question about Rohypnol:

“There would be a red flag if it was glamourising or condoning it, but given it’s a technical question then education is actually key. Hopefully it will be a deterrent more than anything,” he said.

What McCoskrie – and literally everyone else interviewed for that article – ignores is that no one’s complaining about the question ~glamorising~ Rohypnol. The problem is that no one involved in the process of vetting this question seemed to have the slightest regard for students who may be survivors of sexual assault, and almost certainly have no idea that they’re going to be reminded of it when they sit down in the school hall at the end of term.

Scholarship-level exams are stressful enough without being asked to apply your technical knowledge to a clinical rundown of exactly why the drug someone slipped into your drink rendered you unable to stop them from assaulting you.

The telling bit about this quote is that Bob McCoskrie – who rails daily against good sexuality education, against giving children the actual facts about sex and consent and contraception – naturally has no problem with the potential distress of young people who’ve been sexually assaulted. As long as it “hopefully” scares young people off the entire idea of drinking, or sex itself, it’s all fine by him.

But teach kids that they should only have sex when they’ve decided they’re ready, and that it’s okay to demand your partner use a condom? It’s corrupting our youth and killing Western civilisation.

(And “education” is a red herring. It’s an end-of-year exam in Chemistry, not Health. That’s like saying all those pointless School Cert math questions about “If you bake 120 muffins and sell them for $3 each” are imparting valuable business principles.)

Hat-tip @Dovil.

Thoughts about synthetic cannabis

I left this comment at this post on The Standard. The original Herald article which I refer to is here.

This doesn’t cover every aspect of the synthetic cannabis issue, but I think the particular issue I touched on is an important one, especially thinking about how we discuss social issues: whose voices are heard, and what assumptions are made.

I must admit to being a bit concerned at the paternalistic tone of some of the reporting on synthetic highs, specifically around people who have serious mental health issues like schizophrenia. I would prefer to hear from those people themselves. I appreciate it can be difficult for people whose relatives have issues like this, but I think there are a lot of risks involved: as you’ve said in your post, Shane, you appreciated Una Macnaughton’s bravery in telling ‘her personal story’.

To be honest, it isn’t her personal story. It’s her son’s (and he’s 21, not ‘a boy’.) He’s clearly going through an incredibly tough time. Maybe synthetic cannabis is the one thing which helps him control his symptoms. Maybe natural cannabis would be even better. But in the kind of summary we get from that Herald article, there’s no nuance, just a basic ‘bought Kronic, got schizophrenia, is crazy and dangerous, ergo ban synthetic cannabis’ narrative.

There’s certainly no statement from a qualified psychiatrist to establish that the Kronic gave himschizophrenia (and there are studies which show no link between cannabis causing schizophrenia). But that’s the obvious implication, and I don’t think this issue needs scaremongering. Untested substances with damaging side effects should be regulated. It’s common sense.

I also think there have to be other factors in play which explain why people are ‘queuing’ up to get synthetic cannabis. There aren’t jobs, there aren’t opportunities to get ahead, our government is grinding people down to benefit the wealthy and eroding our ideas of community and solidarity. Making synthetic cannabis the focus of our outrage is a lot easier than addressing those things – but it won’t address the underlying issues, and people will just find other risky ways to escape.