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Sunday 11 October 2009

Postmortem: Why did the Medicinal Cannabis Bill fail?

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 8th July 2009

When I heard that Metiria Turei's private members bill to decriminalise medicinal cannabis derivatives had fallen at first hurdle, I was briefly annoyed - until I realised that perhaps there were underlying flaws.

Granted, at times it seems that drug policy is the last refuge of hardened anti-science populists and advocates of moral panic as a basis for "sound" public policy, compared to other areas where Parliament does take notice of evidence-based research- such as LGBT issues.

Unfortunately, though, the medicinal cannabis lobby has failed to learn one of the cardinal lessons of successful social reform. It is not enough to have a mass movement that backs one's legislative reform initiatives, unless one also has a strategic alliance with professional organisations that can provide evidence-based proofs to ground one's case. In the case of every successful prior social reform in this country, groundwork was done beforehand. In this case, sadly, it wasn't.

There are two reasons why. One of them is the disunity of the medicinal cannabis reform lobby, split between the romantic but unelectable Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party and the Greens. The other is the absence of the aforementioned professional allies. I would suggest that Metiria Turei take a good look at successful medicinal cannabis reform initiatives in Canada, the Netherlands, the United States and Spain, and that medicinal cannabis advocates prioritise lobbying those professional organisations to support their case.

It also needs better and prolonged public education, so that the general public is well-informed before the actual mooted reform occurs. Indeed, few informed people, familiar with the pharmacological science involved in this argument dispute the utility of cannabis derived chemicals for alleviating some of the more traumatic consequences of terminal or chronic disease, including relieving bodily wastage and acting as a digestive aid in the context of HIV/AIDS.

Isupport medicinal cannabis derivative decriminalisation. However, as Metiria Turei's own Green colleague Sue Bradford will tell her, successful social reform takes time and preparation. Hopefully, after the first try, she will tackle some of the tactical and strategic problems that were evident with this initial reform effort.


Janet Joy, Stanley Watson and John Benson (eds) Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base: Division of Neuroscience and Behavioural Health, Institute of Medicine: Washington DC: National Academy Press: 1999: ISBN: 0309071550

Alison Mack and Janet Joy (eds) Marijuana as Medicine? The Science Behind the Controversy: Washington DC: National Academy Press: 2001: ISBN: 0309065313

Votes For Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill:

Those who voted for the bill, according to my info:

Jacinta Adern ; Carol Beaumont ; John Boscowen ; Sue Bradford ; Brendon Burns ; Steve Chadwick ; Charles Chauval ; David Cunliffe ; Catherine Delahunty ; Ruth Dyson ; Darien Fenton ; Jeanette Fitzsimons ; David Garrett ; Kennedy Graham ; Kevin Hague; Hone Harawira; Rodney Hide; Chris Hipkins; Pete Hodgson; Sue Kedgeley; Annette King; Iain Lees Galloway; Keith Locke; Moana Mackey; Sue Moroney; Russell Norman; Lynne Pillay; Rajan Prasad; Grant Robertson; Heather Roy; Carmel Sepuloni; Maryann Street; Metiria Turei M; Phil Twyford (apologies for any mistakes)

Four out of six of our LGBT MPs voted for the bill.

So: 9 Greens, 1 Maori Party, 4 ACT and 20 Labour

Craig Young - 8th July 2009

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