'Loser stoners' hit back against conservative cannabis lobby group

By Phil Vine

Cannabis reform group hits back at claims that 'loser stoner' image is getting in the way of marijuana for medical use.

Cannabis reform group Normlhas hit back at claims that it's getting in the way of marijuana for medical use.

A new conservative faction of the movement - Medical Cannabis Awareness NZ - has emerged over the weekend with plans to push for cut-price pharmaceutical grade cannabis.

The Herald has learned that MCANZ is about to lodge applications with Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne for two cheaper cannabis products from Canada.

The charity also criticised established groups such asNormlfor using the cause of medical cannabis to push for universal legalisation - giving patients a bad name.

It follows nationwide protests where demonstrators openly smoked marijuana outside police stations.

"There are a whole lot of people who have played up to the worst possible images as far as conservative New Zealand is concerned," says spokesman Shane Le Brun, a former soldier from Nelson.

Some patients from MCANZ believe the Government is being painted into a corner by the more radical parts of the movement.

Shane Le Brun from Medical Cannabis Awareness NZ and his wife Kat who suffers chronic pain. Photo / Mike Scott.
Shane Le Brun from Medical Cannabis Awareness NZ and his wife Kat who suffers chronic pain. Photo / Mike Scott.

"It makes me mad," says Kat Le Brun, Shane's wife. "They are getting in the way and holding back progress for those who need it for medical reasons."

But Chris Fowlie, spokesman for Norml,says he's bemused and confused by the attack from the conservative pressure group.

"We believe in cannabis law reform for adult use as well as medicinal cannabis. You need to do both ... One won't work without the other. You will get people abusing the medical scheme for recreational use."

At present only one pharmaceutical marijuana product is available.

Campaigners say Sativex, made by British company GW Pharmaceuticals, is far too expensive and difficult to obtain.

The mouth spray costs about$1200 a month.

Patients must get recommendations from a GP and a specialist, then approval from the Ministry of Health. About 130 people in total have had prescriptions approved.

As countries such as Australia and the United States move to legalise medical marijuana, New Zealand seems to have been caught in an intractable debate between reformers and the establishment.

Some commentators believe the emergence of a respectable patients' group could be a potential game changer.

Opinion polls this year have consistently shown three-quarters of the population are in favour of giving patients legal access to medical marijuana.

While Labour has promised legalisation, National has given no indication of softening on the subject.

MCANZ patients are described as law abiding Kiwis dedicated to working within the rules. The charity has 1600 people on its social database.

"I've come from a fairly blue background, being in the army. I've never been in a rally or waved a placard in my life," says Shane Le Brun.

Shane Le Brun from Medical Cannabis Awareness NZ. Photo / Mike Scott.
Shane Le Brun from Medical Cannabis Awareness NZ. Photo / Mike Scott.

"There are clear legal avenues that we can pursue without protesting or picketing."

Kat Le Brun, a student teacher, slipped on ice and badly damaged her back.

After surgery she started suffering extreme chronic pain. Put on some heavy-duty opiates, at one point she overdosed and had to be brought back to life by medics.

"Marijuana offers me a natural solution without all these side effects making me massively sick. It means relief, pain relief which doesn't affect me in bad ways," she says. Le Brun, a church-going Christian, doesn't want to use cannabis unless she can get it legally. She doesn't believe it should be legal for those without medical conditions.

Nichola Smith, a nurse and chronic pain sufferer from Inglewood, agrees. "Marijuana is a medicine, it needs to be regulated."

When you look at the number of people supporting medicinal cannabis, says Fowlie from Norml,there are bound to be a wide range of viewpoints.

"It's good that someone is representing the National voting church-going types. But it's also good to realise that not everyone's like that.

"Some people with chronic illnesses find it hard to hold down jobs. People affected by this law are ostracised and arrested. They get poorer and marginalised and they look different. It is superficial not to listen to people because of their clothes."

Nichola Smith suffers from chronic pain and would use cannabis for pain relief if it was legal. Photo / Mike Scott.
Nichola Smith suffers from chronic pain and would use cannabis for pain relief if it was legal. Photo / Mike Scott.

Ross Bell from the Drug Foundation advised protestersto get a suit so they didn't look like "loser stoners".

But Fowlie says policy makers should look past appearances.

Jokingly, he suggested a kick-start campaign.

"If we get $5we'll get a suit from an op shop. If we get $500we'll get one from Hallensteins. Ten thousand and we can get an Armani suit. Then they will believe everything we say."

Fowlie says Normlhas been campaigning for medicinal cannabis since 1980.

"In the last year and a half we have taken a back seat orhave been working in the background supporting patient groups."

He says they even have a donation jar on the counter for MCANZ.

Chris Fowlie.
Chris Fowlie.

Normlis pleased there are a wide range of groups campaigning for medicinal cannabis and Fowlie says this new group is "a sign of growing maturity and legitimacy".

Le Brun from MCANZ says what they care about is "getting medicine into patients' hands and getting rid of the background noise".

The new cannabis products for must go first to the Ministry of Health for recommendations, with Dunne deciding on final approval.

The paperwork from MCANZ is expected to land on his desk in the coming month.

It's not known exactly how much the new products from Canadian company Tilray will cost, but Shane Le Brun says they will be "significantly cheaper" than the existing product Sativex.

- NZ Herald

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