Kim Fulton is a NZME. News Service regional reporter

Patients call for cannabis

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Sushila Butt, with daughter Alisha and her support worker Georgia Tait, give Green MP David Clendon a petition calling for medical cannabis to be funded for other epilepsy patients.
Sushila Butt, with daughter Alisha and her support worker Georgia Tait, give Green MP David Clendon a petition calling for medical cannabis to be funded for other epilepsy patients.

A Northland family believe a lack of funding for medicinal marijuana is preventing people from applying for permission to use the drug.

The Ministry of Health has received just eight applications to use medicinal cannabis in Northland over the past three years - and authorised seven of them.

All applications were for the pharmaceutical grade product Sativex.

Kaitaia woman Alisha Butt has been using Sativex since September to control severe epilepsy and recently became the first person in the country to receive publicly funded medical cannabis. Her parents, Sushila and Royd Butt, believed a lack of funding for the drug was preventing people applying for it. Ms Butt said it cost more than $1000 for a month's supply.

Northland District Health Board (DHB) is funding the medication for Alisha for as long as it is needed and it remains effective. The family had sought funding from the Government's drug-buying agency, Pharmac, but were refused on the grounds there was not enough evidence it was effective for epilepsy.

Ms Butt said it should be Pharmac's responsibility to fund the drug rather than the DHB. The Butts wanted it funded for everyone who needed it and had organised a petition urging the Government to do so. It gathered 6125 signatures, mainly from the Far North.

Mr Butt said the Government was persecuting the vulnerable by failing to fund Sativex. He said Alisha celebrated her 21st birthday this week, an event which wouldn't have been possible without Sativex. He believed the drug had saved Alisha's life.

Ms Butt said Alisha could now sleep for up to six or seven hours a night, whereas she used to wake every five or 10 minutes.

Alisha's teacher found she was more co-operative and could cope better in school. Alisha was in her final year at Kaitia College, attending special classes.

Nationwide, over the past three years, the Ministry of Health has received 76 applications for pharmaceutical grade cannabis products.

Sativex is approved for treating symptoms of multiple sclerosis but any other use of Sativex is an "unapproved" use, according to Medsafe.

The ministry approved 73 of the applications, including 16 applications for renewal of previously granted approvals.

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