What if cannabis was legal? – In the News

With Green MP Julie Anne Genter’s medicinal cannabis bill due to be debated in Parliament, the issue of legalisation is a hot topic this election year.

Stuff.co.nz tackled the subject with a week-long series: What if it was legal? Fairfax reporters talked to a range of experts, from economics, political and medical backgrounds to discuss what the implications would be if cannabis was legalised in New Zealand, for either medicinal or recreational use.

Legislation and tax

Research from the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) showed the potential tax take from legal cannabis would we well short of the Treasury estimate of $150 million per year. Rather, the modelling shows a 25 per cent excise tax would raise $40m, with an additional $30m from GST.

NZIER principal economist Peter Wilson told stuff.co.nz he still felt the drug should be legalised. “Prohibition has been an expensive failure. It has allowed illegal groups to charge higher prices and there is no evidence that is has changed consumption.”

Massey University’s Associate Professor Chris Wilkins suggested any legislation would need to keep the price of cannabis artificially high, to avoid prices plummeting, which could wind up in heavy drug use. Some models suggested prices could fall to 10 per cent of their current value, as was seen in the US in states where marijuana was legalised.

Medical benefits?

University of Otago’s Dr John Ashton said there was a gap between what some cancer patients reported and the “underwhelming” clinical trial evidence. “People still say that it ‘makes them feel better’ – this may be because of the mood-altering and sedative effects of cannabis as well as mild pain relief.”

Evidence for pain relief was even weaker, he said, though there was some evidence cannabidiol could reduce the number of seizures in children with epilepsy.

However, he cautioned that long-term, non-medical use could have adverse social and health effects. “It’s quite a different matter when talking about people in cancer palliative care using cannabis, as opposed to general cannabis liberalisation.”

“By analogy, opioids are used medically for certain indications, but when potent opioids become widely available there are problems, as in the situation in USA today. Cannabis obviously isn’t the same league as strong opioids, but it isn’t without harm either, especially for younger heavy users.”

University of Auckland’s Dr Michelle Glass, who studies cannabinoid compounds and the brain, said she hasn’t seen any robust evidence on whether the compounds affect brain cancer cells. However, a US review on medicinal cannabis found evidence for benefit in chronic pain, nausea and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis.