June 2008

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Cannabis high on health harm

Cannabis causes more health related harms in terms of admissions to publicly funded hospitals than all other illicit drugs combined.

This includes hospital admissions for opiates, amphetamines and cocaine according to a recently-completed National Drug Intelligence Bureau (NDIB) strategic assessment on the drug.

NDIB Strategic Drug Analyst, Les Maxwell, recently completed the assessment titled New Cannabis: The Cornerstone of Illicit Drug Harm in New Zealand.

“The title reflects the technological advances made in cannabis cultivation in recent years and emphasises the harmful effects of cannabis on New Zealanders, particularly young people - an issue all parents should be concerned about,” says Les.

“Cannabis could easily be termed the forgotten illicit drug, given the emergence of and rightful focus on methamphetamine and other synthetic drugs in recent years.

“But cannabis remains the most commonly-used illicit drug in New Zealand.”

He notes some overseas jurisdictions with low or decreasing use of cannabis elect to target cannabis use as the first step in the chain toward drug abuse.

Les says a surprising finding was the number of hospital admissions, given the general public perception that cannabis is a harmless drug.

Within this group, young males and Māori are significantly over-represented in cannabis-related hospital admissions.


Other key cannabis assessment findings include:

  • The identification of six provincial Police districts in which cannabis was assessed as a more significant issue.
  • The National Cannabis and Crime Operation is the most effective supply reduction technique used by Police.
  • The age at which cannabis is first used is decreasing (based on New Zealand Drug Use Surveys 1998-2006 and corroborated by both NZ-ADAM and IDMS data).
  • Cannabis potency is likely increasing in line with international trends.
  • The total wholesale value of the cannabis market in New Zealand is estimated at $727 million.
  • Youth gangs are likely to become increasingly dominant, and Asian crime groups are likely to target the cannabis market in the future, replicating international trends.
  • Cannabis cultivation and distribution is strongly linked to organised crime, particularly ethnic gangs such as the Mongrel Mob and Black Power.

Outdoor cultivation remains the most popular form of growing cannabis, however indoor cultivation is likely to gain increased prominence particularly in, or close to, metropolitan areas.

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