Predictably, the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill was decisively exterminated before it even reached select committee. No surprises there, but good on Metiria Turei for taking the time to put the bill forward.
Readers of this blog may now be scratching their heads, because they know that the MacDoctor is not in favour of legalising cannabis. However, the MacDoctor acknowledges that there are a number of perfectly legitimate uses for cannabis both as a medicine and as a material. Cannabis is not quite the wonder drug that Peter Cresswell describes over at NotPC and Will De Cleene talks about at Gonzo Freakpower (But their posts are well worth a read anyway!), but the stuff does have a number of perfectly valid uses, particularly in relieving the symptoms of malaise and pain in cancer patients. Of course, there are a number of other drugs that do the same job, but cannabis has a fairly benign side-effect profile although its use in mental health patients is questionable. Danyl at the Dim-post suggests that the bill’s strange insistence on allowing mental health patients to “treat” themselves is what lead to its summary defeat. I have a different take on that, however.
There are two reasons why the medical cannabis bill was defeated so easily. One is political, the other, medical. The political reason is obvious, and here Russell Brown hits the nail on the head:
“It’s hard not to see MPs’ rejection of Metiria Turei’s medical cannabis bill as the result of a desperate desire to avoid talking about the issue, rather than a genuine exercise of conscience.”
Like smacking, euthanasia and abortion, cannabis use is one of those highly polarised subjects that politicians avoid like the plague. There is no gain here for a politician. Legalisation of medical usage of cannabis will be seen as “legalisation of cannabis”. The distinction between recreational use and medical use (a very real one in my mind) will be utterly lost in the rather vocal objections of a significant minority. This loss of distinction will make passage of this bill very unpopular. And the medical and pharmaceutical fraternity will be telling politicians soothingly that there are alternative drugs for each and every use of cannabis; so why open the can of worms? Just shut down the bill as fast as possible.
Which brings me to the medical reason, which is the real reason why the bong will always be wrong.
Cannabis is a herb.
Doctors don’t like herbs. The dosage is always imprecise. They are usually packaged by health food companies with all the attendant trendy baggage of the health food industry. We often don’t know what the active substances are, how they work or even whether they work. Drug companies don’t make them so the quality of the product is highly variable both between brands and even within the same batch. It all smacks of herbalism and possible quackery.
It makes us nervous.
Pharmacists don’t like herbs. The margins on them are lower and there are dozens of brands is each category. Worse, the required herb may be only available mixed with other herbs – and each one of those compounds may be different. There is no consistency in packaging and, worst of all, a herb like marijuana would have to be physically measured out in many instances. Very manpower intensive and error-prone.
Pharmaceutical companies don’t like herbs. And here we come to the underlying reason why something like cannabis would be so hard to medicalise. It is not patentable.
Pharmaceutical companies make their money from patentable drugs, so there is simply no money in herbs. This is precisely why a herb like Saw Palmetto, for which there is some evidence that it is useful in treating enlarged prostates, is simply not pursued. There is no funding to research it. Plenty is known about cannabis, but the bulk of the trials are small and non-standard and easily dismissed by politicians looking for an excuse not to debate the issue.
The drug companies will continue to extract stuff from cannabis, alter the molecule slightly and patent the result. Every now and again this new drug will turn out to be a winner and the drug company will make a large amount of money. It does not matter that the cancer victim could have felt some relief from baking some marijuana muffins or using a cannabis vaporiser, the drug companies will not be interested and will actively discourage interest from other parties. Including the medical bodies and the government.
So when our politicians dispose of Turei’s bill without a backward glance, remember that there is a great deal more going on than a simple political knee-jerk reaction. There is a great deal more weighing in against cannabis than a government.