By AZARIA HOWELL
Last year, two private members bills, (which are bills drafted by MPs) were pulled out of the biscuit tin to be debated in 2018. One of those bills was the Green Party’s medicinal cannabis bill, which is shaping up to be a major political issue.
The Green Party has argued for many years that cannabis should be easier to access for the terminally ill and those suffering chronic pain.
Originally drafted by Julie Anne Genter, the bill was passed down to the youngest current MP, Chloe Swarbrick. This is because ministers cannot have private members bills in the biscuit tin, and Genter is the current minister for women. And if you’re wondering, yes, they do actually pull the numbers of the corresponding bills out of a biscuit tin! That’s just one of the many quirky things that happen in New Zealand politics.
Chloe Swarbrick’s medicinal cannabis members bill is to allow terminally ill people to grow their own cannabis if a doctor agrees. The cannabis to grow would have to be prescribed by a doctor and would only be for the patient’s personal use. The bill amends the Misuse of Drugs Act to create pathways for people deemed terminally ill and appropriate to grow their own cannabis.
The bill needs 61 or more votes to pass out of the 120 MPs in Parliament, and considering there are only 8 Green MPs, it might be tough to get over the line. In saying that, former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark has thrown her support behind Swarbrick’s bill, which may convince Labour Party members to vote in favour of the bill. In addition, Helen Clark has also shared posts supporting the legalisation of medicinal cannabis.
The medicinal cannabis bill goes further than a Labour Party bill to defend people using medicinal cannabis if they are within the last suspected year of their life. If Chloe Swarbrick’s bill doesn’t become law, then the current Labour government’s bill might pass as it is a less “extreme” position on medicinal cannabis. The Labour Party’s medicinal cannabis bill is not a conscience vote, meaning for the Labour bill, MPs will need to vote with their party as opposed to their own personal belief.
Although they tend to disagree on almost everything, National leader Bill English announced on Tuesday morning that the National Party would vote in favour of the Labour Party’s medicinal cannabis bill.
English said that members of the party would oppose the Green Party bill as it “goes too far.” If Swarbrick’s medicinal cannabis bill does pass, it may barely scrape through. She still has the confidence in the bill, saying that it has the numbers.
Most conscience vote bills, such as Chloe Swarbrick’s medicinal cannabis bill, are supported in their first reading to go through to select committee. Swarbrick has encouraged MPs to vote in favour on the bill’s first reading so that it can go to this stage and MPs can hear from medical professionals before a heated debate. During the committee process the public can make submissions and hear different viewpoints on the topic. If the bill passes its first reading, it isn’t a clear indication that it’ll pass further readings. Bills have to go through three readings before they officially get signed off as law.
Labour’s bill has the numbers to pass, but will Chloe’s “grow your own” bill be taken up high, or will it just go down in smoke? We’ll have to wait and see.
We’ll keep you updated on the groundbreaking political moments in 2018. Keep checking TEARAWAY for more.
AZARIA HOWELL is a huge politics nerd living in Christchurch. Expect lots of new political articles from her! She also loves snowboarding, Beagles, and wearing clunky boots. See what she gets up to on Instagram: @makeazariagreatagain
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