Monday 21 May 2018

Legalise it already

Marijuana legalisation started in America over twenty years ago with medical marijuana in California. It's expanded considerably since then. It is hard to look at the overall experience and conclude that New Zealand should not follow suit.

Remember that we are not talking about inventing marijuana for the first time or something. Marijuana exists and is consumed regardless of whether it is legal. Arguments about how bad marijuana is are a bit stupid. However bad you think marijuana is, you should be more worried about whether those harms are better mitigated by current prohibitionism, or by legalisation.

I had a chat with Bryan Crump over on Nights at Radio NZ about it a couple weeks ago, then wrote up my notes a bit more fully for a column over at Interest. A snippet:
Next up, the children. Won’t somebody think about the children? It has never seemed plausible that prohibition particularly discourages youths from using marijuana. A dealer of illegal drugs will not care about his clients’ ages unless there are sufficiently higher penalties for selling to children than for selling to adults though licensed retailers care about keeping their licenses. But, again, it is an empirical question. Legalisation could normalise or de-stigmatise marijuana use and could consequently increase youth uptake. Did it happen?

No. Anderson, Hansen and Rees showed that medicinal marijuana laws, if anything, led to a slight decrease in youth uptake of marijuana. Sarvet et al’s later metastudy looked across eleven different studies of adolescent marijuana use and found no support for the idea that legal medicinal marijuana encourages youth uptake.

How about marijuana as a gateway drug – or as substitute for other drugs? Victoria University of Wellington’s Luke Chu showed that medical marijuana laws did increase overall marijuana consumption, but also resulted in a 20% drop in medical admissions for heroin-related treatment, with no effect on cocaine. By that measure, marijuana access reduced use of harder drugs.

And Powell et al’s recent study showed that medical marijuana laws reduced opioid mortality rates. Opioids have become a scourge in much of rural America, with abuse of Oxycontin being rampant. But access to medicinal marijuana dispensaries cut opioid overdose rates by about a quarter. And, in the earlier period when regulation around dispensaries was less tight, the reduction in opioid mortality rates was even higher.
If a couple decades of American experience plus a Labour/Green coalition here can't get us toward legalisation, I wonder what can.

1 comment:

  1. A Labour/Green coalition relying on the moral reactionaries of NZ First for their precarious majority. This is precisely an issue that could shatter that.

    A 1% swing to National from NZ First voter disgusted by legalisation would have National in power.

    Helen Clark could have rammed it through, but chose prostitution and gay rights as her issues.

    No government in NZ will touch this until they have a true majority.