Doctors' group favours medical use of cannabis

BY REBECCA TODD - HEALTH REPORTER
Last updated 05:00 10/07/2010

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Cannabis should be decriminalised or made available for medicinal use, some health experts say.

Doctors want to be able to prescribe cannabis-based drugs to patients, and addiction specialists say decriminalisation would put greater focus on the health issues associated with smoking marijuana.

A paper on controlling and regulating drugs was released by the Law Commission in February. It asked for comment on whether medicinal cannabis should be available and whether users should be licensed to cultivate small amounts.

Other options included having licensed cannabis cultivators or a government organisation to grow cannabis for medical supply.

The New Zealand Medical Association submission on the paper supported allowing cannabis for medicinal use but said it should not be smoked.

"For the appropriate medical use of cannabis to be endorsed, medical practitioners would require it to be viewed and treated as a drug, and conditions surrounding its prescription and use would then be determined in a like manner to other drugs and treatment regimes," the association said.

People could be prescribed it when other treatments or drug therapies had proved ineffective, it said.

The Law Commission's report suggested a range of approaches for dealing with low-level drug offences, such as personal use of cannabis, which would be called "social supply". Proposals included a formal cautioning scheme, infringement notices and a greater use of diversion to education and treatment.

A submission from the National Addiction Centre suggested creating a category of drugs that were "low harm".

Illegal drugs would be classified as either high or moderate harm, while the third group would be called "regulated substances" and would have restrictions on sale and availability.

National Addiction Centre senior lecturer Simon Adamson said BZP, used in party pills, and cannabis could be considered for the regulated-substances category.

Some degree of decriminalisation of cannabis for personal use was "worth considering", as it would make it a health issue, rather than a justice one.

Adamson said there was a "big hole" in public awareness about the health impacts of smoking cannabis, while messages about tobacco and alcohol were well known.

"There could be a public campaign saying `ease off the dope'."

In their submission on the Law Commission paper the police said "social supply" could be used to mask commercial drug dealing.

However, greater use of diversion for drug users could be explored, along with better access to drug assessment and treatment for addicts.

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