New Zealand's first medical cannabis charity has been launched.
Medical Cannabis Awareness New Zealand (MCANZ) launched today, and will raise funds and advocate for access to medical cannabis products for patients who may benefit from it.
Around 70 New Zealanders have been granted approval to use medical cannabis spray Sativex but most patients must fund the $1000-a-month prescription cost themselves.
MCANZ said the cost is "a huge barrier" and many more could benefit from the product if it was more affordable.
The registered charity cannot advocate for any specific law changes but said it will work on behalf of patients to raise money and awareness about the benefits of medical cannabis. It will initially raise funds for 10 patients.
MCANZ said it is devoted to "putting patients before politics", and hoped to become a recognised centre of knowledge on the topic within New Zealand.
A number of high profile cases around the use of medical cannabis prompted Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne to recently announced a review of guidelines for medical cannabis use.
Northland woman Alisha Butt recently became the first person in the country to receive publicly-funded Sativex to help her severe epilepsy.
Former Council and Trade Unions president Helen Kelly, who has terminal lung cancer, had her application for medical cannabis turned down earlier this year by the Ministry of Health. She continues to use cannabis products, and said it's the only product she takes that allows her to sleep at night.
It was also revealed broadcaster Paul Holmes and cricketer Martin Crowe both used cannabis products to ease pain before their deaths.
Victoria became the first Australian state to legalise medical cannabis this week with legislation passing in parliament allowing children with severe cases of epilepsy to be given access to products.
Medical cannabis is legal is 23 states in the US while medical cannabis has been available for patients in Canada since 2001.
Sativex is a pharmaceutical product containing a standardised dose of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
It was approved in the UK in 2010.