Call for Cannabis Law change on Health and Justice Grounds
Release Date: Friday, August 11, 2000
Cathy Gunn, External Blackboard Lecturer
An immediate relaxation of cannabis laws, so that possession of small quantities of the drug for personal use is no longer a criminal offence, has been called for by a leading health expert.
Professor Max Abbott, Dean of the Faculty of Health Studies at Auckland University of Technology, made the call to day (Sunday August 13) at the official launch of the Coalition for Cannabis Law Reform in Wellington.
Professor Abbott says a formal investigation of th e economic,social and health impacts of more extensive reform should follow this law change, including the possibility of state control of the production and di stribution of cannabis. This could include consideration of potential ga ins from using tax revenue from legal cannabis sales to fund drug education, pre vention and treatment programmes, he says. "It is essential that this investigation is fully informed and involves widespread consultation throughout all sectors of society. This will be very difficult to say the least while people who acknowledge or are believed to be using cannabis remain under threat of criminal conviction. "
I favour a law change because I want to see reduced cannabis consumption in the future, particularly on the part of young people and other at-risk groups. This may seem contradictory but I believe it follows logically when the focus is on cannabis, the drug in its actual social context rather than on cannabis the myth, cannabis the dogma, cannabis the fantasy," Professor Abbott says.
In his address, Professor Abbott quoted sections of a paper that he gave at the Great Marijuana Debate held in the Auckland Town Hall 16 years ago. This 1984 meeting, chaired by Peter Williams QC on behalf of the Criminal Bar Association, attracted an audience of over 1,200 people and was broadcast live nation-wide.
The meeting was a response to a call by Judge Nick Brown for public debate of cannabis law reform. Professor Abbott says he is disappointed that after 16 years of debate on the issue, most people remained poorly informed, and opponents of reform still tend to rely on "rhetoric and emotion rather than logical argument." "The fact is, the present law does not work and is counterproductive. I am convinced that it is time for change."
Professor Abbott says he is in favour of law change because:
* Under the present law cannabis consumption has increased
* In most places where the law has been relaxed consumption has not significantly increased
* Relative to other legal drugs and gambling the known health costs of moderate cannabis use are insignificant and treating cannabis differently from more harmful substances and activities is hypocritical and illogical
* Current laws waste scarce criminal justice resources that could be put to better use fighting serious crime and supporting victims of crime, are applied in a discriminatory manner, stigmatise many otherwise law-abiding citizens, and probably constitute more of a health hazard than cannabis use per se.
* The present situation inhibits full public education and debate about cannabis use, research, and access to help for the small number of people who are cannabis dependent
* The present situation contributes to serious crime and may lead some regular cannabis users into criminal circles and on to other drugs that have serious adverse health consequences.
Professor Abbott says he believes that more radical reform, including state control of production and distribution, requires detailed investigation before implementation. He says there is a danger that Government could get seduced by the allure of high tax revenues and lose sight of its role in controlling consumption. Gambling, where about one-in-five regular gaming machine participants become serious problem gamblers, provides a cautionary note, according to Professor Abbott.
For more information please contact: Professor Max Abbott Dean of the Faculty of Health Studies Auckland University of Technology (AUT) Phone: 09 6315470 09 307 9894 021-680583 For more information please contact : Professor Max Abbott