How legalising cannabis can help society

June 21, 2017
Associate Professor Chris Wilkins is proposing a not-for-profit public health model for the regulation of recreational cannabis.

Leading drug researcher Associate Professor Chris Wilkins from Massey University's SHORE and Whāriki Research Centre is calling for the adoption of a not-for-profit public health model for recreational cannabis. It would allow regulated cannabis products to be sold by philanthropic societies, in an approach similar to the Class 4 gambling regime which was introduced in 2003 to regulate "pokie" trusts in New Zealand.

The Class 4 gambling regime has operated in New Zealand for more than 10 years - returning around $260 million to community groups annually, benefiting sports, arts, education and community services.

"Cannabis societies would pay 20 per cent of all cannabis sales revenue to drug treatment, 20 per cent to community groups and 20 per cent as government levies. Drug treatment and community grants would be distributed in the areas where cannabis sales occur, ensuring local people have good access to drug treatment if they need it. And local community groups would benefit from cannabis sales in their area," Dr Wilkins says.

A legal model would result in community groups and drug treatment facilities being better funded, he says. "The pokie trusts gave out $262 million to community groups in 2015, so this model would mean those drug treatment and community groups would be getting extra sources of income. Also, the government would receive revenue to cover the wider health and social costs linked to cannabis use."

But would cannabis use increase? "Inevitably, we have got to accept that if we have a legal cannabis market there's going to be some increased use and that will increase harm. But that's offset by knowing how the legal cannabis market will impact the alcohol market and alcohol related harm, other drug use, and the provision of better access to drug treatment and other health and community services."

What have we learnt?

Dr Wilkins says many important lessons should be drawn from the commercialisation of alcohol and tobacco. "They attract profit driven companies who invest a lot into promotion and marketing  that targets young people and heavy users. They also lobby strongly to reduce regulatory restrictions and lobby for more pro-consumption environments which normalise use."

A successful legal regime would also reduce the scale of the and consequently make the existing level of policing more effective against black market supply and organised criminal gangs involved in cannabis supply, he says. "In our model we propose a minimum price to start off with that would mirror the black market price, and also taxation based on the THC level to make sure that the more potent products had higher levels of tax. It's reasonable to expect the legal cannabis sector and the public in general will engage more with reporting black market activity once legal supply networks are available."

Despite calling for recreational cannabis to be legalised, Dr Wilkins isn't claiming cannabis is harmless. "Cannabis poses a serious health risk to some users with a family history of mental illness and addiction. But the evidence says moderate occasional use by the vast majority of the population causes health risks in the same ball park as alcohol."

Dr Wilkins says legalising cannabis offers a number of benefits which would attract users away from the black market. "You get product innovation, different types of products, accurate labelling, and they will be safely cultivated under agricultural standards in terms of pesticides and fertilisers and other contaminents."

Approved cannabis products have set maximum limits of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol – the principal psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) allowed, and would set minimum levels of CBD (cannabidiol – the non-psychoactive ingredient known for its medicinal benefits) to minimise harmful side effects such as psychosis and dependency.

Dr Wilkins says more detail could be provided about how the regulatory regime would work in practice with some of the finer details set out in a longer academic paper.The aim at this stage is not to provide a blueprint for a Cannabis Act, but rather start a conversation about the key aspects of a public health approach to legal cannabis.

"Inevitably, details will be negotiated by politicians, informed by public submissions from interested parties, and subject to analysis by government agencies. Our primary aim is to set out the key pillars of a public health approach to a legal cannabis market which benefits the local community groups and illustrates how this approach has operated effectively with respect to gambling machines for more than 10 years," he says.

Dr Wilkins, who heads the illegal drug research team at SHORE, holds a doctorate in Economics with research expertise in drug trends, drug markets, drugs and crime, legal highs and drug policy. For the past 10 years, he has conducted many studies of use in New Zealand including methamphetamine, cannabis, legal highs, ecstasy and the non-medical use of pharmaceuticals.

Key points:

  • Cannabis would be sold by "not-for-profit" philanthropic societies
  • Cannabis societies would return 20 per cent of the revenue from cannabis sales to and 20 per cent to community groups such as sports, arts, education and community services
  • A further 20 per cent of cannabis sales revenue would go to the government to cover the wider health and social costs of cannabis use
  • There would be a minimum set price for cannabis, in line with the current black price
  • Taxation would be based on THC levels in products
  • There would be a minimum level of CBD in products
  • Smoking products would be taxed at a higher rate than lower health risk options such as edibles and vaping
  • Advertising would be restricted to the physical premises only
  • No internet sales
  • Local government authorities would have the power to determine the number of retail outlets in their areas

Explore further: Risk of psychosis from cannabis use lower than originally thought, say scientists

Related Stories

Risk of psychosis from cannabis use lower than originally thought, say scientists

April 20, 2017
The research, published in the journal, Addiction, also showed for the first time that there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that for patients who already have schizophrenia, cannabis makes their symptoms worse.

Cannabis use in people with epilepsy revealed: Australian survey

March 9, 2017
People with epilepsy resort to cannabis products when antiepileptic drug side-effects are intolerable and epilepsy uncontrolled.

Study finds link between teen cannabis use and illicit drug use in early adulthood

June 7, 2017
One in five adolescents at risk of tobacco dependency, harmful alcohol consumption and illicit drug use:

Why the marijuana and tobacco policy camps are on very different paths

June 8, 2017
The regulatory approaches to marijuana and tobacco in the United States are on decidedly different paths and, according to researchers from the U.S. and Australia, neither side appears interested in learning from the other.

Cannabis harm prevention message a must, says study

May 26, 2017
Government, police and health agencies need clear guidelines for public campaigns on preventing harm from cannabis use, according to new research from Massey University.

Study adds to evidence that high strength cannabis is associated with an increased risk of becoming dependent

October 22, 2016
New data presented at this year's International Early Psychosis Association (IEPA) meeting in Milan, Italy (20-22 October) adds to accumulating evidence that high-potency cannabis in associated with an increased risk of users ...

Recommended for you

Hormone therapy in the menopause transition did not increase stroke risk

November 24, 2017
Postmenopausal hormone therapy is not associated with increased risk of stroke, provided that it is started early, according to a report from Karolinska Institutet published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

When traveling on public transport, you may want to cover your ears

November 22, 2017
The noise levels commuters are exposed to while using public transport or while biking, could induce hearing loss if experienced repeatedly and over long periods of time, according to a study published in the open access ...

Different types of alcohol elicit different emotional responses

November 22, 2017
Different types of alcohol elicit different emotional responses, but spirits are most frequently associated with feelings of aggression, suggests research published in the online journal BMJ Open.

Air pollution linked to poorer quality sperm

November 22, 2017
Air pollution, particularly levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), is associated with poorer quality sperm, suggests research published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Sunrise and sunset guide daily activities of city-dwellers

November 21, 2017
Despite artificial lightning and social conventions, the dynamics of daylight still influence the daily activities of people living in modern, urban environments, according to new research published in PLOS Computational ...

Older men need more protein to maintain muscles

November 21, 2017
The amount of protein recommended by international guidelines is not sufficient to maintain muscle size and strength in older men, according to a new study.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.