5 Jul 2017

Medicinal cannabis bill: 'It's a useful discussion to have'

6:02 pm on 5 July 2017

The minister responsible for drug reform will give his initial support to a member's bill legalising medicinal cannabis.

Associate Health Minister, Peter Dunne, at the United Nations for the General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem, New York.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Peter Dunne is sometimes coy about which way he votes, but he was put on the spot at a drug symposium in Wellington today, when a political panel was asked to put up their hands if they supported the medicinal cannabis bill.

Just last month, Peter Dunne criticised Green MP Julie-Anne Genter's bill, saying it was "unworkable" and changed the whole ball game in an unintended way.

However he said today he would vote for the bill in the first reading as it was worth trying to sort out some of the issues

"There are a lot of the things in the bill that would need to be changed before it could proceed further but I think it's a useful discussion to have and see where the Select Committee gets to."

Some of the problems included the scope of the bill and how it would work practically, Mr Dunne said.

The members bill would make it legal for people suffering from a terminal illness or debilitating condition to use cannabis or cannabis products with the support of a GP.

It also allows doctors to permit qualifying patients to grow and possess cannabis.

At the drug symposium in Parliament, MPs from the ACT, Green, Māori, and Labour parties said they would all support the bill.

But National MP Chris Bishop said his party hadn't made its mind up yet.

"It's one of those issues where we do want to have a good discussion about it as a caucus. We may decide to have it as a conscious vote where MPs can vote individually. We also may decide to have it as a party vote.

"So we haven't had a process-based discussion or a substantive discussion."

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei wanted the legalisation to go further than medicinal cannabis.

"New Zealanders, adults, should be free to grow their pot, to consume their pot, and to share it with their friends.

"It is effectively making legal, what people do now everyday."

Māori party co-leader Marama Fox said the policing of drugs was inconsistent.

"I could not get a police officer to come to the school where I found out one young man was selling drugs, they didn't even want to talk to him."

This inconsistency often hurt Māori and Pacific communities as shown by their high representation in prison, she said.

There was one thing everyone on the political panel agreed on - the current prohibition of drugs wasn't working, and some kind of law reform was needed.

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