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OPINION: The debate surrounding cannabis use

Tuesday 23 November 2021 | Written by Te Tuhi Kelly | Published in Opinion

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OPINION: The debate surrounding cannabis use
More than 30 cannabis plants were seized by police in late October in Arorangi. 21110107

Nothing provides such a division in the community as discussion about gay rights and cannabis reform. The debate regarding cannabis or marijuana and laws relating to its decriminalisation has been going on for decades worldwide.

In this article I want to open a debate about cannabis reform. It is important that you are well informed about the debate surrounding cannabis use and the laws that are introduced to marginalise those who use it medicinally and those who use it recreationally.

There is a particular hysteria that is attached to the word marijuana, and it is founded on ignorance, superstition, hypocrisy and vested interests. Ignorance by those who cannot be bothered to educate themselves properly about marijuana and then make uninformed judgements. Superstition by those who believe it leads to harder drug use and the hypocrites reading this article who take recreational drugs which are legal and cause the most pain and misery long term. But more importantly vested interests by those who apply the law, pharmaceutical companies who control our use and access to their drug products and politicians who are mindful that they will not be elected by their constituents especially Christian constituents if they even hint at reform. You only have to read in the Cook Islands News several years ago when the former prime minister Henry Puna was asked about gay rights and he couldn’t move quickly enough to distance himself from any reasoned debate about gay rights reform.

I intend to discuss this from several points of view:

  • What is marijuana
  • What does it do?
  • Historical use
  • Medicinal and recreational use
  • The current legal status
  • Cannabis reform
  • Economics

Of the main varieties of marijuana, the one I am going to talk about is called cannabis sativa and the main ingredient in it that gives you the “high” factor is called THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). It belongs to a family of plants that produces a state of euphoria, disassociation, and serenity in the user. It is taken into the body by being inhaled as smoke or ingested by eating. Marijuana is a very versatile plant and has been used for thousands of years for making rope, clothing, medicines, and oils and in alternative health care products as well as used in indigenous native ceremonies. The active ingredient THC depending on how much is present in the sample, acts on different parts of the brain, and can leave you with a feeling of being high for several hours and if it is especially potent can make you go to sleep or very ill for a period until your body metabolises its effects. Once you come off the high, apparently, it is especially good for those who have sleeping or eating disorders, as the marijuana gives you the ‘munchies’.

Marijuana in this article refers to medicinal marijuana and recreational marijuana and whilst they may seem similar, depends on how they are used and for what purpose. Please also remember that separating one from the other isn’t quite as simple as it seems. The World Health Organisation provides statistical health data and tells us that the most popular recreational drug is marijuana. Statistics around the use of marijuana medicinally are problematic as in some countries there is the legal use of marijuana medicinally and then there is anecdotal evidence of illegal self-medication and there are no reliable statistics regarding this data.

Contrary to popular belief, not all types of marijuana can give you that “high”, so no matter how much you smoke or ingest you will never get that “stoned” feeling. These varieties of marijuana whilst they contain small amounts of THC, these amounts are too small to have that euphoric effect. However, they are usually rich in a different chemical compound called “Cannabidiol” (CBD) and it is this strain of marijuana that is the focus of medicinal marijuana for treating pain, glaucoma, some cancers, some mental illnesses, and rare forms of epilepsy. Increasingly the recreational use of marijuana continues to be the subject of debate amongst health professionals, the legal fraternity, governments, and the ordinary people, because there is no consensus as to whether marijuana use should be treated as a health problem, a social problem, or a crime.

The health profession is concerned about self-diagnoses and self-medication with marijuana because people who do self-medicate may be unaware that there are underlying medical issues which can only be assessed using modern medical clinical and scientific diagnoses. The history of the criminalisation of marijuana in the Cook Islands is filled with lies, deceit, the manipulation of evidence, ignorant, incompetent, and lazy politicians, slanted journalism, fear and hysteria and a population that is under educated and biased.

The hysteria surrounding marijuana is that you’ll get hooked on it and become a ‘pothead’ and this can lead to the misuse of harder drugs like cocaine, heroin, and crystal meth. This then leads to people engaging in criminal activity to pay for their ‘habit’. What a load of cobblers and this is the misinformation that has been bandied about by vested interests for decades to such an extent that it has assumed scientific fact in people’s minds. There is no debate that some people can and are affected by their first experience with marijuana, and they never try the stuff again. It is also true that more scientific evidence through the study of the human genome is opening new scientific frontiers that show that we are a product of our genes and our environment.

It is also called the ‘nurture or nature’ effect which states that we are a product of our environment and along with our genes determines how our bodies react to different stimuli, for example drugs. There are many examples of people living to ripe old ages on the back of cigarette smoking for decades, despite the prevailing scientific data stating that smoking for so long will lead to cancer and other diseases. We’ve also heard of the so called ‘addictive personality’, we all know people like that who are just over the top in smoking, drinking, retail therapy and any other vices you would like to name. They just cannot control themselves without the buzz they get from their ‘fix”.

We’ve also grown up on the stereotypical ‘pothead’ who is unwashed, unkempt, long hair, away with the fairies and of low intellect. The truth is far simpler than that because there are many ‘pot’ smokers who look just like you and I, so they don’t fit that stereotype at all. Your local MP, pastor, policeman or woman, shopkeeper, CEO, GM, supervisor, traditional leader, and all manner of paragons of our community are just as likely to smoke pot as those who are stereotyped. In addition, if you are a marijuana user, does this mean you have a social problem or does it mean you have an addictive personality or could it be as simple as, ‘I enjoy it, I’m not hurting anyone else, so what’s the real issue here’?

The real issue is that the current legal status of marijuana, marijuana products, seeds and paraphernalia associated with marijuana is illegal in the Cook Islands. Depending on whether you are in possession, growing it, selling it or smuggling it, the current law says that this is punishable by a fine and or a stiff sentence. This ridiculous situation culminated in ‘Operation Eagle’ in which a number of people were sent to prison for breaking the Narcotics and Misuse of Drugs Act 2004 and more recently a number of locals also up before the court for similar offences. Our country is facing huge economic challenges, incompetent politicians and public servants, domestic violence, increasing obesity and other health problems and what do we do?

We waste public money to send these people to prison at a huge cost to the public and this contributes to a flow on money trail for lawyers, witnesses’ expenses, prison costs and all other costs associated. All this for what is essentially turning rikiriki into criminals for what is nothing more than a social problem. While we’re about a stiff penalty, you are far better off bashing the missus or the kids or running someone over, assaulting someone, or stealing, burglary and any other act punishable under the Cook Islands Crimes Act. The punishment for being in possession of marijuana here in the Cook Islands is unfair and inequitable when compared to penalties imposed for other serious breaches of the Crimes Act.