Wednesday, June 17, 2015

That Burning Sound You Hear Is The Gateway Drug Argument Going Up In Smoke

Well this is interesting, isn't it. A "massive new study" from the US has clarified that the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes DOES NOT lead to increased cannabis usage amongst teenagers.

Given the new climate of debate around medicinal marijuana here in New Zealand, this is an important revelation.

Back in January, the National Party's Justice Minister was still speaking against medicinal marijuana by citing the gateway drug argument. She even appeared to claim that legalization of medicinal marijuana would lead to methamphetamine use.

Now, from where I'm sitting, this is manifestly ridiculous. Some cancer-patient using cannabis to ameliorate their suffering is hardly likely to conclude that the next logical step in their treatment is to seek out the local crack-den and load up on crystal. Equally, a child being treated with a cannabis oil extract in order to control debilitating seizures is hardly likely to grow up and conclude that this makes sticking themselves on the end of a chuff-pipe a good idea. In fact, I'd contend that psychostimulants we ALREADY treat our young people with including ritalin and dexamphetamine (which, let's remember, is only a single chain of atoms away from methamphetamine anyway) are FAR more likely to lead onto subsequent stronger stimulant abuse in adulthood. And yet nowhere do I see Ministers making the same vitriolic claims about "gateway drug" potential for these medicines as they do for cannabis.

Having said that, I'm sure that some people DO start their drug-journey with marijuana and wind up on meth. But then, I'm also quite definitely sure that others started with alcohol - or even prescription medications - and wound up in exactly the same place. I've met them.

There is some currency to the idea that people who take mind altering substances may eventually take other mind altering substances. But that isn't necessarily to say it's a direct result of the nature of the substances themselves - which often seems to be the nature of what Gateway Drug crusaders are claiming.

What actually seems to happen is something I call "Gateway Context"; wherein people in the market for one drug (such as cannabis) wind up in contact with other drugs (such as ecstasy, mushrooms, or even the dreaded methamphetamine) thanks to the nature of the black market. People don't tend to make sudden leaps from purchasing a tinny every now and again to scoring point-bags. You wind up introduced to other substances slowly, and perniciously, over time. Perhaps your dealer's out of whatever it is you're after for a protracted period (such as the recent cannabis drought over summer this year), and he winds up attempting to hawk you something else instead.

However it happens, it's the context in which you're engaging to procure your drugs that leads most people on to harder substances. Not the nature of the drugs themselves.

So a clear solution to this problem would be to remove the alleged and widely consumed "entry-level" drug from the potentially pernicious context it's these days often found in; thus removing the slippery slope before anyone has to risk sliding down it. But that is a conversation and an argument far beyond the scope of a piece in defence of the strictly medicinal provision of cannabis and/or its derivatives.

As an aside, I'm also happy to report that there seems to be a strong and flourishing anti-crackie culture amongst many recreational stoners these days - precisely because they've often seen up close and all too personal what meth can do to people and communities. It therefore additionally occurs that any teleological imperative between meth and marijuana is, if anything, hopefully weakening through the admittedly highly imperfect mechanism of community self-regulation.

In any case, the political tide on medicinal marijuana appears to slowly be shifting. Just last week, for instance, we were treated to the spectacle of that political bell(end)-weather-par-excellence, Peter Dunne, eating his proverbial hat and approving a one-off treatment here in New Zealand using a cannabis-derivative.

Happily, this appears to have had some positive impact for the stricken lad in question.

Now let's be clear about this. In the wrong hands, cannabis can be a damaging and debilitating drug. While the media and Ministers often like to hype these sorts of things up for scare value, it's definitely true to say that some people - their families, lives, and communities - suffer as a result of its abuse and over-indulgence.

But then, it also appears to be the case that marijuana - and drugs which are derived from same - do have legitimate therapeutic and medical uses.

Even without considering the broader societal questions around decriminalization and legalization (and I note we've advanced to a point wherein Winston feels perfectly comfortable talking about same on the campaign trail), the revelation that making medicinal marijuana a reality doesn't increase teenage consumption rates is an important one.

I know I'll never convince certain people that marijuana is anything other than a short and very slippery slope down to meth ... but either way, I'm hopeful that this kernel of evidence will be useful in helping to secure a rational, useful - and above all, helpful - approach to the medicinal use of cannabis by our state.

Because as with the TPPA and PHARMAC - the health of our citizens is far better served by evidence-based policy than it is by right-wing political scaremongering.

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