If one assumes without the need for elaboration that withholding medicine from a sick person is a very cruel thing to do, then it’s incredible that so little attention is being given to the fact that medicinal cannabis is being withheld from sick Kiwis even today. This article tries to estimate how many of us this policy is killing.
One way that National Party cannabis policy is killing New Zealanders is by withholding from them a medical alternative to opioids. A 2015 Boston Herald article describes how doctors in more enlightened jurisdictions use cannabis as an exit drug for people struggling with opioid addiction.
A doctor in the report is quoted as saying “patients have decreased and even eliminated their opioids” when presented with an alternative in the form of cannabis.
A paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that overdose deaths from prescription opioids decreased by 25% in states that legalised medicinal cannabis.
The reason was that patients who had access to medicinal cannabis used it either as a substitute or as a compliment to opioids, which had the effect of sharply reducing their overall opioid intake and thereby fatal outcomes.
According to the New Zealand Drug Foundation, 37 Kiwis die of opioid overdoses every year.
If medicinal cannabis would save a quarter of them, as it does in the USA, then Bill English’s refusal to legalise cannabis is killing about nine Kiwis every year simply on the basis of lost opportunity to prevent opioid deaths.
An article in the American Public Journal of Health found that legalising medicinal cannabis reduced suicide rates by 5%. The reasons for this are really obvious if you are one of the many people who has used cannabis to treat your own depression or suicidal ideation.
As a professional medical researcher would put it: “The negative relationship between legalization and suicides among young men is consistent with the hypothesis that marijuana can be used to cope with stressful life events.”
Most people who use cannabis do so to relax, to chill out – “to cope with stressful life events”. Given that, it’s obvious that withholding from people a medicine that helps them cope with stressful life events is going to kill them.
New Zealand is famous for our youth suicide rates, second highest in the OECD for both males and females.
So given what we know about the ability of cannabis to prevent anxiety and stress-based suicidal actions, it’s safe to say that Bill English is responsible for the deaths of 5% of New Zealand’s suicide toll, which is believed to be around 500 per year.
In other words, the National Party’s refusal to update New Zealand’s cannabis laws is arguably causing the deaths of around 25 Kiwis every year to preventable suicide.
The major way that cannabis prohibition is killing New Zealanders, however, is by withholding from us a recreational alternative to booze. A 2010 Coroner’s report found that alcohol directly killed 1,100 Kiwis in the preceding decade – or 110 a year.
This does not refer to deaths from complications caused by alcoholism or excessive drinking – this figure would be orders of magnitude larger. This figure of 110 is the average number of Kiwis who drink themselves to death in one session every year.
It’s unclear how many of these people would still be alive if they had been allowed an alternative to alcohol. A 2005 study referenced in a landmark MedScape paper suggested “most people use alcohol to achieve certain psychological effects, and that they will choose equally effective substitutes as long as they are available, legal and socially acceptable.”
Perhaps 10% of the 110 Kiwis who drink themselves to death every year would still be with us if they had had cannabis available and/or legal (the fact that it is already socially acceptable in New Zealand is unquestionable).
This gives us a grand total of 45 Kiwis killed every year from the refusal of Bill English and his National Party to update the medicinal cannabis laws (9 from opioid overdose, 25 from suicide and 11 from drinking themselves to death).
That means that the death of one New Zealander every eight days could be prevented at the stroke of a pen by tomorrow lunchtime.
It’s incredible that New Zealanders continue to accept that their ruling class is literally killing them with laws that starkly have no place in a compassionate and humane society.