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Helen Clark criticises Medical Association after 'very late' clarification on cannabis stance

The New Zealand Medical Association chair, who was forced to apologise and clarify the union’s stance on the cannabis referendum, has been criticised by former Prime Minister Helen Clark, who said it previously "gave a false impression to voters of what doctors think".

Helen Clark - file. Source: Getty

Clark, who has put her support behind the 'yes' vote in the cannabis referendum, said it was "disturbing when organisations make claims to speak for their entire membership when clearly they do not".

NZMA had previously stated it was against the legalisation of cannabis, and on Thursday it was forced to send a clarification letter to its members after RNZ reported doctors had not been consulted on the referendum question stance.

"The NZMA will have no position regarding the cannabis referendum itself," read the letter, signed by chair Dr Kate Baddock and the NZMA board.  

"We are truly sorry if anybody feels that the NZMA has not given them the chance to speak their mind," it states.

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The group now says it has no position on the proposed legalisation, after previously opposing it. Source: 1 NEWS

Clark said Baddock "has left it very late to withdraw her claims of what her membership supported, especially given that advance voting has been going on for over a week".

"The misinformation she spread gave a false impression to voters of what doctors think."

In response to this, NZMA told 1 NEWS the letter "was written for NZMA members and is now in the public domain – it was primarily intended to clarify matters for members after concerns were raised regarding consultation with our membership". 

"Our position has not changed in that we continue to be concerned about the harms of cannabis use, but we are not telling people how to vote."

On its website under, ‘New Zealand Medical Association And Cannabis 2020 Referendum’, it stated on May 6 that "NZMA does not condone the use of cannabis for recreational purpose and opposes legalisation".  

"This position has not changed with the Government’s announcement yesterday (Tuesday 7 May) of a 2020 cannabis legalisation  referendum."

NZMA today said the reason it did not go to its members on the cannabis referendum question - instead using a stance created in 2012 - was it "endeavoured to put forward the health concerns as described in our position statement". 

"With the End of Life Choice Act enactment referendum - our engagement with members occurred during the legislative process and therefore before the referendum was announced."

On if it was irresponsible to come out as an ‘against’ voice repeatedly and only clarifying its position less than two weeks before election day, NZMA said it is often "invited by the media to discuss any number of health issues".

"The letter to members was addressing concerns by some members and overall we have had positive feedback on this; nevertheless there are also some members who have raised concerns. 

"After all this is a complex issue, and as with the public, doctors and members will hold different views."

The letter begins by saying that due to "concerns expressed by some members and some misleading information in the media", it would explain the difference between the End of Life Choice and Cannabis Legalisation and Control referendums.

Asked what she meant by ‘misleading information in the media’, Dr Baddock said it was "disappointing that key parts of our commentary and position have been at times overlooked or not reported". 

"We have looked primarily at the harms associated with cannabis, but we have recognised that issues to do with cannabis use need to be decriminalised and diverted from the courts and dealt with as health issues."

NZMA’s position on cannabis harm has been reported by 1 NEWS and Newshub, its decriminalisation stance has been reported by Stuff and its stance on diverting penalties from the courts has been reported by the New Zealand Herald.