NCPIC, hypocrites and dangerous drugs policy

At the launch of The National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC) in 2008, director, Jan Copeland declared that the burden of disease due to cannabis use was estimated to be greater than that of HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C combined.

It was an incredible piece of hyperbole, which she tried to justify even though cannabis has not directly caused any deaths, unlike the thousands killed by these blood-borne diseases. The extent of cannabis use in Australia, she explained, meant that the total burden of disease it caused was greater. She suggested there was a growing body of evidence concerning the impact of cannabis use on mental health, and while little was known about the respiratory effects of cannabis, she had concerns there too.

More research had to be done!

Four years have passed, and tens of millions of dollars have flowed to NCPIC and other similarly obscure acronyms like NDARC, QADREC, etc, etc. After all these years and millions of dollars, what have NCPIC found? Where is the proof that cannabis use is more dangerous than HIV, Hep C and Hep B combined??

Since NCPIC were holding their second conference on cannabis in Brisbane, it seemed like an excellent opportunity to investigate. I contacted the Nimbin Good Times to see if they were interested in a report on the conference. They were. I contacted NCPIC but was informed by their media coordinator Paul Dillon that they would not give me a media pass. He offered me media releases instead and said he might allow me to interview their major speakers, if they were agreeable. Not unexpectedly, these interviews never eventuated.

But the public have a right to know! So ignoring the gate-keeping Mr Dillon, I boldly walked into the NCPIC conference, not even bothering to dress in a suit, with my hippy hair, a shirt red as the people’s flag (in memory of Arthur Pike) and with my Cane Toad Times badge as my media pass, and sat there, a conspicuous hippy among the suits at the NCPIC conference.

Surprisingly, Jan Copeland seems to be moderating her message (or does she save the extremism for her media releases?). I was astonished at one stage to hear her refer to CBD as ‘the good cannabis’! Good cannabis?! Good grief! In John Howard’s day, she would have been condemned for sending the wrong message!

Some of the display boards of their research were interesting too. I learned about the ‘Mull hypothesis’. From research on users on the NSW North Coast, NCPIC discovered many cannabis users were using tobacco as spin. The ‘Mull hypothesis’ suggests cannabis may act as a reverse-gateway drug, leading to tobacco use!

The most interesting display board contrasted the incidence of diseases in cannabis-only users, tobacco-and-cannabis users, tobacco-only users, and those who used neither. Not unexpectedly, cannabis-only users do worse than people who use neither cannabis nor tobacco in incidence of emphysema and bronchitis. It is the delivery system (smoking), rather than the drug that causes harm. But cannabis-only users have significantly lower levels of cancer and liver and kidney diseases than the other groups. This is not the sort of information that NCPIC send out media releases on. Maybe the Hemp Embassy should warn those considering giving up cannabis that they are significantly increasing their risk of cancer and liver and kidney disease?

HEMP had organised a picket – the NCPICket – outside the conference on Thursday night and some supporters from Students for Sensible Drugs Policy turned up. Their placards read: #1 Cannabis Problem: It’s illegal; Cannabis: Use Abuse; Cannabis Has Benefits Too; NCPIC supporting black market profits; and NCPIC hypocrites.

The picket was organised for 5.30pm because the bar was due to open at 6.30pm, so some of the conference-goers filled in their time as they waited for the bar to open by talking with the protestors. It was a small sample, about ten or so, but they all agreed when challenged that the main problem with cannabis was the illegality. Asked why they weren’t discussing this at their conference, their defence was that governments wouldn’t listen. One attendee said the picket should be directed at a criminal justice conference, rather than them!

The week before, the national president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Kos Sclavos, had suggested at the Pharmacy Business Network conference in Canberra that pharmacists had the experience to dispense legal marijuana. Mr Sclavos said debate over decriminalising illicit drugs was the number one issue on the health side of politics. He told delegates that while in the capital, he had met with politicians who were looking for a solution as to how drugs such as marijuana could be distributed if they were legalised.

Change is in the air. Hopefully the day is not far off when groups like NCPIC will exhibit the same courage to talk truth to the politicians as the Pharmacy Guild.

John Jiggens.

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