Marijuana legalisation around the world serves as an educational resource for New Zealand
As New Zealand prepares for its referendum on cannabis legalisation, to be held during the 2020 general election, there is a lot that the land of the long white cloud can learn from the authorities that have already legalised marijuana. These include obvious factors that are fully anticipated such as a reduction in court cases associated with cannabis, to specific health warnings and many more for policymakers.
Read on to discover just some of the most significant lessons New Zealand can learn, from the countries and US states where cannabis is already legal.
1. Less stringent policy equals fewer criminal
One of the fundamental reasons for the impetus to legalise cannabis is to free up justice system resources, dealing with small-scale marijuana use. It is pretty obvious that when a government stops prosecuting people for recreational cannabis use, arrests and prosecutions drop abruptly. Arrests associated with cannabis in Colorado fell from 12,894 in 2012, when legalisation was approved, to 7,004 in 2014, the first year legal recreational sales – that’s a 46% reduction. Further, marijuana charges that were filed in the courts in Colorado fell from 10,340 in 2012, to 1,954 in 2015 – an 81% fall. These figures illustrate exactly how thousands of people escaped unjust punishment, and also highlights how much time and money has been saved for the criminal justice system, freeing up their resources for activities with higher priority for the public.
2. Kids are unknowingly ingesting cannabis-infused edibles
With the normalisation and legalisation of cannabis use, more attractive forms of the drug are available than ever before. Marijuana edibles can be baked goodies such as brownies or cookies, chocolate bars, gummy bears, and suckers. They even come in snacks like nuts and pretzels, making it impossible to distinguish cannabis products from regular sweets, thereby attracting tweens and teens.
Here are some examples in the news:
- In a recent story out in Florida in the United States (U.S.), five middle school students were hospitalised after they ate gummy bears infused with cannabis.
- Last October, a young girl from Vancouver Island, Canada, was hospitalised after she accidentally ingested an unknown number of cannabis-infused gummy bears found in the back seat of the car she was in.
- Last July, a four-year-old in Nova Scotia was rushed to hospital after consuming 15 pieces of a marijuana-laced chocolate bar she found in the console of the family vehicle. Note that the recommended consumption for an adult is one piece a day.
There is a delay in the onset of the effects of cannabis when consuming edibles. Therefore, the risk of overconsumption is much higher compared to either smoking or vaping. Edibles can also have a stronger and a more prolonged effect, even at appropriate doses, especially in kids under the age of 12. Overconsumption of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can cause a lack of coordination, insomnia, or breathing problems. With an increasing number of children being exposed to cannabis, their health and safety has become a significant concern.
Lesson: There should be strict laws that require products containing marijuana to have clear labeling, a list of warnings and child-resistant packaging. Also, there should be educational programs for both parents and children.
3. Problems detecting people driving under the influence of Cannabis
According to the findings of a new study from the University of Michigan, more than half of the medical cannabis patients surveyed confessed driving while being a little or very high on cannabis.
In Colorado, traffic fatalities linked to cannabis have risen sharply since the legalisation of cannabis in 2013. Between 2013 and 2016, Colorado saw a 145 percent increase in the number of drivers under the influence of cannabis involved in fatal crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis data.
Similar statements are coming from other areas where marijuana is legal.
Lesson: These findings underline the need for interventions to prevent impaired driving among medical cannabis users. There must be a standard recommended dose for medical cannabis across conditions. New Zealand should focus on research to better understand the appropriate doses of cannabis products.
4. Cannabis is not good for the environment
A study from 2012 found that growing marijuana indoors, results in 1 percent of all energy consumption in the US, rising to 3 percent in California. Indoor marijuana production in Colorado uses 2 percent of the state’s electrical load and 45 percent of all new electricity demand coming online. Jonathan Page, a botany professor at the University of British Columbia, suggests outdoor growing to reduce water and energy use. However, outdoor production of cannabis can also be harmful to our ecosystem. In California, marijuana crops have polluted natural life to the point of being hazardous to surrounding communities.
Additionally, pollution caused by illegal growing has inflicted animal casualties. The poison used to reduce rodent populations at farms has, in turn, killed large numbers of spotted owls, an endangered species according to the Endangered Species Act. Previous findings suggest that cannabis farming also affects soil quality and reduces stream and river flows because of inadequate irrigation methods.
Lesson: There should be strong environmental standards to ameliorate the adverse effects of cannabis production on the environment. It will also help create a genuinely sustainable marijuana industry in New Zealand.
5. Children under the age of 25 are getting ahold of Cannabis
Despite the claims of marijuana-industry lobbyists that loosening the drug policies will not affect its use in the younger population, the data from recognised studies show teens are rapidly increasing their consumption of cannabis in states where it is legal.
According to data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the average rate of regular teen cannabis consumption in the legalised states of Alaska, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon is 30 percent higher than the U.S. rate as a whole.
Cannabis use in the states where it is legal has increased
The legal age to use cannabis is 21 or below in most of the states and countries where marijuana is legal for medical or recreational purposes. However, research says that cannabis use can be harmful to the brain up to the age of 25, and so scientific literature supports an older legal age.
Richard Taite, CEO, and founder of Cliffside Malibu addiction treatment center says that people under the age of 25 do not have the capacity to make informed decisions about substance use or abuse. With regard to marijuana, he argues that the legal age for marijuana use should be 25 years old after the brain has completed its development.
Lesson: The New Zealand government should seriously consider these findings when drafting their cannabis policy. If the government agrees with Taite’s statement, they should gather enough evidence to justify why the legal age for cannabis use should be 25, to convince the public.
6. Employers are having difficulty with creating workplace cannabis policy
Availability and use of cannabis have increased, leading to a rising number of employees testing positive for cannabis in the workforce. Within three years after legalisation in Colorado and Washington, positive oral-fluid test results for cannabis use increased by almost 75 percent. Marijuana urine test results in Colorado and Washington are now two times the national average.
Positive urine tests for employees’ marijuana has increased
A 2018 survey found that 71 percent of employers are not prepared for cannabis legalisation in Canada. They don’t know how to deal with impaired employees and how to define a justified cannabis policy.
Lesson: The government, at all levels, should provide employers and employees with proper guidance on how to operate in the new environment. There should be appropriate guidelines on how to identify impairment and sample cannabis policies and procedures in the workplace. The policy should be clearly defined, displayed and distributed to each employee.
7. Shortage of cannabis supply
Canada’s largest private marijuana retailer – National Access Cannabis Corp. has tasked a team of five with watching 24/7 for new inventory from Alberta’s provincial regulator. A government-controlled retailer in Quebec has restricted its operating hours to four days per week due to inadequate supply. These are clear signs that Canadian cannabis retailers are plagued with the severity of the supply shortages since legalisation in October 2017.
Similarly, nearly 40 medical marijuana dispensaries in Michigan are facing a deficit of cannabis from licensed growers, which may cause some dispensaries to shut their doors until spring.The lack of legal cannabis could create opportunities for the black market.
Lesson: The New Zealand government should look into this matter seriously. They should evaluate recommendations, such as allowing licensed centres to purchase marijuana from registered caregivers and open temporary growing facilities, to overcome the potential supply shortage after legalisation.
8. Invest in Effective Implementation
Colorado and Washington had an aggressive timeline to develop and implement a regulatory structure for retail products and sales of cannabis. It limited opportunities to engage stakeholders, collect data and ensure that regulatory agencies and other partners can determine their resource requirements.
Stakeholders in both states highlighted the value of developing physical and human resources to administer new regulations and central leadership for coordination and collaboration with stakeholders.
Lesson: The government should make a proactive investment to build capacity before the implementation of the regulatory framework. The government should also invest in the public health approach in the context of cannabis legalisation.
Bringing it all together
Challenges, solutions, and achievements following cannabis legalisation internationally, form a solid basis for New Zealand to implement an effective, successful, and sustainable marijuana policy.
In fact, the dialogue on cannabis legalisation should begin by debating all of the problems, harms, and benefits of legalisation. Such analysis is necessary for any strategy, not just government policy, and the cannabis legalisation discussion should be no different.
Although other countries and U.S. states have taken early steps to legalise marijuana, New Zealand may be the first in its region to do so as a result of the 2020 referendum. With the aid of the available blueprints left by other jurisdictions around the world, perhaps New Zealand has a great opportunity to be a rarity by getting it right from day one.