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New Zealand holds symposium to discuss a regulated cannabis market

Logan Lowrey-Rasmussen

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The New Zealand Drug Foundation organized a Parliamentary symposium to discuss the possibility of a regulated cannabis market, as well as a call to decriminalize all drugs found inside their borders this week.

During the symposium, New Zealand’s Parliament discussed a cannabis decriminalization proposition, in which offenders would be issued a mandatory caution that offers both health and legal advice for the individual. If the individual is caught possessing cannabis more than once, they will be directed to a mandatory intervention, where they will learn about optional addiction treatments.  

Anne McLellan, the Chair of Canada’s legalization task force and Canada’s former Deputy Prime Minister, said the reforms would focus on treating the individual as a patient, and not as a criminal.

She stressed the importance of educating versus incarcerating and identified the effects of decriminalization in Portugal and Canada. Decriminalization of all drugs, including cannabis, correlated a sharp drop in incarcerations, overdoses, and the spread of drug abuse in those countries.

McLellan said aggressively educating the individual and instating multiple resources on the federal level will lower the amount of drug-related crimes in New Zealand, as it did in Canada.

The symposium followed a poll released by the New Zealand Drug Foundation in August 2016, which found 64 percent of respondents think possessing a small amount of cannabis for personal use should be either legal or decriminalized. Thirty-four percent voted to retain prohibition. With the overwhelming public response, the New Zealand Parliament found it necessary to bring the topic of cannabis decriminalization to the parliament floor.

Currently, the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1975 lists the cannabis plant as a “Class C” drug, which the sale, possession, or use of cannabis can start from a $500 fine and three months of imprisonment, escalating to three years depending on the offense.

New Zealand’s Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne announced doctors would be able to prescribe Cannabidiol, or CBD, and restrictions against the drug would be dropped by August 2017.

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New Zealand holds symposium to discuss a regulated cannabis market