Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick chided the National Party on its drugs policy earlier this year but said she hoped its involvement in public debate was positive.
Her comments followed National announcing deputy leader Paula Bennett’s appointment as the party’s first drug reform spokesperson and Bennett’s thoroughly reasonable insistence that she wanted to know more about the implications of legalising marijuana –
“I want to know, ‘What does it mean for the illicit drug trade? What does it mean for drug driving? How do we meet our goals of being smoke free if we’re saying it’s okay to have a joint?’ “
Swarbrick, the Green’s spokesperson on drug reform, said National was portraying themselves as “rational sceptics” but drew a distinction between “constructive criticism and obfuscation which stifles change”.
She hoped Bennett wasn’t aiming to degrade the quality of debate.”
More significantly, she said “We are in favour of an evidence-based approach”.
Here’s hoping the debate is evidence-based and that the public are kept apprised of the evidence for and against liberalisation in the run-up to the cannabis referendum during the 2020 election.
A New Zealand Medical Journal editorial, for example, urges caution in how the law is changed.
It said an unfortunate feature of the cannabis law debate was that relatively few contributors had talked about either the harms of cannabis, or the potential risks of decriminalisation.
“Cannabis has multiple harmful effects which are particularly evident for young users, and the extent to which legalisation is beneficial is by no means clear,” the editorial said.
“Most contributions (to the debate) imply that cannabis is a relatively harmless drug, and that cannabis law change will only have beneficial consequences.
“We would argue that, on the basis of evidence generated by longitudinal studies based in New Zealand, both assumptions are incorrect.”
More evidence has emerged in research published earlier this month: it seems legalising cannabis leads to more university students flunking their exams.
According to the The Mail on Sunday, three new studies provide striking evidence that legalising the drug negatively affects undergraduates’ behaviour and makes weaker students particularly likely to fall behind.
Study one: American researchers found that students’ grades at Washington Western University fell after Washington became the first US state to legalise the recreational use of marijuana in 2012.
Legalisation “leads to an increased incidence in the assignment of D and F grades”, authors Adam Wright and John Krieg wrote in the journal Economic Inquiry.
“Specifically, we estimate that Ds and Fs are given about seven per cent more frequently after legalisation.”
They also found “a much stronger [negative] effect on grades of men than women” – consistent with evidence that young American men are twice as likely to smoke cannabis as young American women.
Study two: This discovered that students were more likely to slacken off even in American states where only medicinal cannabis use has been legalised, with average study time around a fifth lower than in states with a blanket ban.
College students in medical marijuana law states spend approximately 20 per cent less time on education-related activities and 20 per cent more time on leisure activities than their counterparts in non-medical marijuana law states, the research team reported.
The researchers further said that while medical laws should mean the drug is confined to patients who are prescribed it, to relieve multiple sclerosis, for example, in practice the drug “commonly leaks from legally qualified patients or dispensaries to illegal users”.
They noted that part-time university students – “who are more likely to be first-generation college goers and to come from under-represented racial and ethnic groups” – were more likely to reduce their study time in states with medical marijuana laws.
Study three: Economists in the Netherlands found students’ grades at Maastricht University improved when cannabis laws were tightened. Behavioural economists Ulf Zölitz and Olivier Marie examined the impact of a decision by the city’s authorities in 2011 to continue to allow Dutch, German and Belgians to buy the drug from ‘cannabis cafes’, but banned individuals from all other countries, including students, from doing so.
Writing in the Review Of Economic Studies, they said the academic performance of students who are no longer legally permitted to buy cannabis substantially increases, with grades rising on average 5 per cent. By comparison, the grades of those who could smoke cannabis legally remained unchanged.
Professor Zölitz told The Mail on Sunday:
“There is increasing evidence that legalising cannabis has a negative impact on students’ grades, which should be taken into account when considering the pros and cons of legalisation.”
Tory MP Craig Mackinlay, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group of Cannabis: Harmful Effects on Developing Brains, said:
“These studies illustrate that there should be no doubt about the harmful cognitive effects that cannabis can have on young people’s development.”
There is already strong evidence that the frequent use of strong cannabis raises the risk of schizophrenia and Mackinlay said people of influence need to stop toying with the idea of legalising and consider the implications for future generations.
Bob Edlin is a veteran journalist and editor for the Point of Order blog HERE.