Government referendum on cannabis doesn't go far enough - Expert

By Tema Hemi

A drug policy expert says the government's referendum on cannabis does not extend far enough to address people suffering from chronic illnesses.  Dr Huhana Hickey will be part of the Start the Conversation panel which is leading a national discussion about cannabis law reform in the lead-up to the country's planned referendum. 

Hickey says her struggles with multiple sclerosis are getting worse.

A user of medicinal cannabis, she's disappointed the upcoming referendum may not help her to get access to medication.

Hickey says, "The bill we are currently doing submissions for is only recognising terminal cases and not looking at people with chronic cases like myself.  The referendum should ask whether or not cannabis should be decriminalised, whether there should be a regulated market and if over-18s should be able to grow up to six plants at home."

Hickey also says, "We need a more streamline way of how we are going to address cannabis in the future in New Zealand and they're not doing it like that, we've got the medicinal argument and the recreational argument."

The NZ Drug Foundation says Māori bear a hugely disproportionate burden from drug convictions and drug reform should consider better health and justice outcomes for Māori.

Hickey is frustrated with the time the government has taken and says, "We are taking too long, people are dying, so we need to be very real about this as we still have people being criminalised.  Why can't we have cannabis regulations?  Alcohol for me is far more damaging to my whānau than cannabis ever has been.  Alcohol has killed my whānau, it's turned people into dying from sclerosis of the liver, it's done a lot of damage to my whānau whereas cannabis hasn't, other than prison sentences."

 The Winter Panel 2018 is made up of five experts and will hold a discussion on this matter at the Pump House Theatre in Takapuna on August 5.