NORML set to rally to legalise medicinal cannabis on Queen St

By Sarah Harris

A medicinal cannabis rally on Saturday aims to pressure the Government "to do the right thing" and loosen laws enabling more access to the drug.

The war on drugs has "never ever" worked and the current restrictions on cannabis just "punish" sick people, National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws president Chris Fowlie said.

"Every investigation that has ever looked into the war on drugs has showed it has failed and recommends change. But actually nothing has changed."

One out of 11 adults had used cannabis in the last 12 months, revealed a 2015 Ministry of Health survey. Medicinal use was cited by 42 per cent of users, with higher rates for those aged over 55.

Medicinal cannabis is used to treat conditions such as chronic pain, terminal cancer, Tourette's and child epilepsy.

NORML president Chris Fowlie is organising the march in conjunction with the Auckland Patients Group. Photo / Greg Bowker
NORML president Chris Fowlie is organising the march in conjunction with the Auckland Patients Group. Photo / Greg Bowker

Fowlie said it's time the government followed the rest of the world.

"Patients shouldn't be suffering when cannabis is an effective medicine. The Government could change this all with a stroke of the pen. They could do it immediately.

"It would help people rather than punish them."

A Government spokesperson said that cannabis should be subject to the same testing processes as any other drug.

"The cannabis-based pharmaceutical Sativex is available in NZ by specialist prescription, or by GP with the recommendation of an appropriate specialist. Additionally, a process exists for non-pharmaceutical grade cannabis-based products (eg cannabis oil) to be approved for patient use.

"The Government has no plans to change the legal status of cannabis."

Prime Minister Bill English was asked about his views towards medicinal cannabis on NewsHub in early April. He stated that he was happy with how things were.

"We don't want an official marijuana industry, we're not going to be legalising it," English told NewsHub.

"We just think the long-term damage of large-scale use of marijuana is pretty bad."

A spokesperson for English said he still stood by those views.

It was in response to those comments they decided to march, Fowlie said.

"Bill English made it very clear this is not their policy and not the direction they're going in under this government."

A NZ Drug Foundation poll found 64 per cent of respondents thought possessing a small amount of cannabis for personal use should be either legal (33 per cent) or decriminalised (31 per cent).

The Medical Cannabis March is Saturday April 22, starting in Aotea Square at 1pm and going down Queen Street.

One out of 11 people aged over 15 had used cannabis in the last 12 months, says the Ministry of Health. Photo / File
One out of 11 people aged over 15 had used cannabis in the last 12 months, says the Ministry of Health. Photo / File

What is cannabis?
Cannabis contains two key compounds: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Medical cannabis contains mainly CBD, leaving out THC the psychoactive compound that makes people high.

NORML president Chris Fowlie said people that consume cannabis products with CBD and low THC will feel very little or no high at all.

Otherwise symptoms of a cannabinoid high can include euphoria, anxiety, relaxation, introspection, humour and paranoia.

Sativex, which is not funded by the drug buying agency Pharmac, has been available in New Zealand since 2008. It is a mouth spray containing half THC and half CBD.

A prescription through a district health board costs patients about $1200 a month, or $1500 if it is ordered with a chemist.

What are the laws around cannabis at the moment?
The Ministry of Health considers CBD and THC to be class B1 controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. CBD is also a prescription medicine under the Medicines Act 1981.

MOH is not aware of any synthetic CBD products currently available and all naturally-derived CBD products are likely to contain small amounts of THC.

In February the Government changed the authority to sign off on non-pharmaceutical grade medicinal cannabis products moved from the Minister of Health to the Ministry of Health.

The Ministry of Health already had the power to sign-off on a specialist's application to prescribe pharmaceutical-grade drug Sativex, and in December last year, that need for approval was removed for clinicians wanting to prescribe the drug to people suffering multiple sclerosis.

Helen Kelly, former President of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, battled to legalise medicinal cannabis before her death in 2016. Photo / Brett Phibbs.
Helen Kelly, former President of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, battled to legalise medicinal cannabis before her death in 2016. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

How many Kiwis get it?
Since 2008 the Ministry has approved 181 applications for Sativex.

This number excludes anyone with Multiple Sclerosis as GPs can prescribe Sativex to them directly.

Seven applications for Sativex have been declined and another seven have been withdrawn

Since 2015, seven non-pharmaceutical grade cannabis-based product applications have been approved.

Who agrees?
Green Party health spokesperson Julie Anne Genter believed an urgent change was needed so the many sick Kiwis can legally and affordably access the pain relief they need.

The Maori Party supports the decriminalisation of the medicinal use of marijuana. They believe health professionals should make these decisions.

Labour leader Andrew Little signalled that they'd look to act in favour of legalisation very quickly under a Labour-led Government after the election.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters believed that under strict rules there is a benefit to legalising medicinal cannabis and New Zealand First would be interested in supporting that.

A National Party spokeswoman said they have not announced their policy around medicinal cannabis, although Prime Minister Bill English has been quoted numerous times saying the party has no interest in legalisation.

Who's used it?
Former union boss Helen Kelly campaigned to legalise medicinal cannabis before her death last year. She admitted to taking it illegally as it helped control her pain after aggressive tumours broke her back and ravaged her body.

Nelson teenager Alex Renton was the first New Zealander to be treated with imported medicinal cannabis. He died in July last year. His mum Rose Renton delivered a petition to parliament to with 17,000 signatures to legalise cannabis in 2016.

Rose Renton (right) with Labour Party MP Damien O'Connor after presenting her petition at Parliament, Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Rose Renton (right) with Labour Party MP Damien O'Connor after presenting her petition at Parliament, Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Tetraplegic man Ben Clifford used cannabis to ease his pain until his supply was confiscated by Police earlier this year. Clifford broke his neck diving into a friend's swimming pool in 2015.

Multiple sclerosis sufferer Dr Huhana Hickey spoke out in support of a new cheaper cannabis product called Tilray after Sativex cost her $9000 over eight months.

In an election debate at Auckland University five out of the seven attending politicians admitted to smoking the drug including James Shaw, Marama Fox, David Seymour, Hone Harawira and Chris Hipkins. However, it was not clear if this had been for medicinal purposes.

- NZ Herald

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