Alcohol companies are part owners of cannabis production overseas already, and they have the resources to influence policy development. from www.shutterstock.com

Sally Casswell, Professor of public health policy, Massey University     

Earlier this month, the New Zealand government released draft legislation for how cannabis could be bought, grown and sold. It is a first glimpse at what New Zealanders will be voting on in next year’s cannabis referendum.

Justice minister Andrew Little said the primary objective of the draft bill was to reduce overall use and protect young people from access.

The bill proposes a minimum purchase and use age of 20 and restrictions on marketing and advertising of cannabis products. It says harm minimisation messages are to be included, consumption prohibited in public places and sales limited to specifically licensed physical stores. The cultivation and supply chain would be licensed and controlled by the government.

A clear public health orientation is to be applauded but once cannabis is made legal, I suggest the chances of increased use are high. This is not necessarily an argument against legalisation but we need much clearer thinking about the parameters of the legal cannabis market than is obvious in the current debate.

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Preventing industry influence on policy

Despite some voluntary restrictions on social media platforms, cannabis is being marketed with the help of influencers.

Cannabis corporates will work to weaken restrictions on marketing. Already in New Zealand, in response to the current proposals, Paul Manning, the chief executive of New Zealand cannabis producer Helius commented:

You could argue the ban on advertising is a bit tough given alcohol corporations are still allowed to advertise … .

We should expect a push from corporates around the world to bring cannabis regulation (in all its aspects) into line with very weak controls on alcohol. Countries around the world are looking at cannabis regulation and will learn from each other as the research on the impact of legalisation mounts. But the global corporations are already active and have resources to influence the policy processes.

Tobacco control has benefited greatly from an international and legally binding treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. This specifically excludes corporate influence from the policy process. As a signatory to this treaty, New Zealand agreed to prevent tobacco industry influence on policy. There is no recognition of a similar intention in the draft cannabis bill (or in alcohol legislation).

Alcohol is the only drug not subject to an international health treaty and this is urgently needed.

The UN conventions on illicit drugs are not relevant when cannabis is legalised.

It is time to complement national policy on both alcohol and cannabis with a global framework that prevents industry influence on policy. This would help reduce harm by recognising the conflict of interest in maximising profits from selling addictive and intoxicating products.

 

 

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