Cannabis law hurting the sick

Last updated 11:30 17/10/2012
UP IN SMOKE: What should be done with cannabis law.
UP IN SMOKE: Cannabis law is not fitted to the times, says William Rea.

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It has been 36 years since the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 was first enacted. It has been amended on numerous occasions and is complex and difficult to understand and navigate.

OPINION: The Act’s framework is based on the recommendations of the 1973 report of the Blake-Palmer Committee and largely reflects the drug policies and issues of that era. There is concern that the Act is not well aligned with New Zealand’s National Drug Policy and does not provide a coherent and effective legislative framework for responding to the use of psychoactive drugs.

In 2010 The Law Commission issued its report, Controlling and Regulating Drugs – A Review of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 (NZLC R122, 2011). Among the key proposals contained in the report are:

• Legalising cannabis for medicinal use.

• A mandatory cautioning scheme for all personal possession and use offences that come to the attention of the police, removing minor drug offenders from the criminal justice system and providing greater opportunities for those in need of treatment to access it.

• A full scale review of the current drug classification system which is used to determine restrictiveness of controls and severity of penalties, addressing existing inconsistencies and focusing solely on assessing a drug’s risk of harm, including social harm.

Our government has failed to act urgently on some of the key proposals and, as a result, people who use cannabis for medicinal purposes are being arrested, charged, convicted and even sent to prison.

Billy McKee is the latest victim. He is an amputee and the director for GreenCross (a support group for people who use cannabis medicinally). He faced one charge of cultivating cannabis and four charges of selling small quantities of cannabis to an undercover policeman who posed as someone suffering from severe migraines.

Billy is being sentenced on October 30 in Palmerston North and could be sent to jail for this act of compassion, this is clearly not justice.

A protest is planned outside the courthouse from late on the day before his appearance.

Billy lost his leg in a car crash. He is confined to a wheelchair and in constant pain from nerve damage to the stump, as well as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The pain medications he was prescribed by doctors caused intolerable side effects.

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