So what's the big deal about Green MP Chloe Swarbrick's medicinal cannabis bill getting voted down while the Government one is going through to select committee?

This a huge missed opportunity to take the broader ideas present in Swarbrick's bill and examine them, alongside the more restrictive proposal. All National and NZ First MPs voted against it.

As Swarbrick said on Twitter: "I'm gutted that cynical politics won tonight, not the voices of the vulnerable and the sick who are presently being criminalised because of archaic law demonstrably unfit for purpose."

That's the problem here – our current law prevents access to cannabis for those who are suffering. Overseas, people are getting regulated, legal and affordable access to cannabis to treat their symptoms.


And let's not pretend this is about access. As @steffenrusten said: "Can we reframe the #cannabis debate? Right now we're asking whether it should be legal. This implies that we're debating whether people should use or not. That ship has sailed. Instead, ask: who should earn money from drugs: gangs, or society?"

Swarbrick's speech in the house is available on YouTube. She is a brilliant, eloquent and intelligent young woman. She highlighted that this issue is about how we treat our sick.

"It could be any of us… affordable access is essential… Good, kind, otherwise law-abiding people are risking jail to help their neighbours… to prevent unnecessary suffering."
The problem is that the scope of the Government's bill is too narrow.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark tweeted: "Disappointing to see the Bill not given the chance to progress to a select committee for further consideration. There are people with debilitating pain who are not terminally ill who can benefit from #medicinalcannabis."

And from one of the people suffering: "The 'oh well, it will happen eventually' comments on medical cannabis are fine, if you're not constantly in pain & pharmaceuticals aren't working, or have awful side effects. Me? I just feel like crying."

This is not just about access for those who are terminally ill, although of course that is an area where relief from symptoms must be an across-the-board consideration.

Our law made the late Helen Kelly, Sir Paul Holmes and Martin Crowe potential criminals as they found pain relief that worked for them through cannabis.

The question of whether our health professionals have the ability to manage access to cannabis-based pain relief puzzles me. They have to manage access to opiod-based and highly addictive medicines already. Plus we know other countries and states are managing access to cannabis. Swarbrick's bill would have given us the chance to see the evidence from overseas.


However, all is not lost. We can bring these views into the select committee consideration of the Government's bill. We can demand more practical and open access to medicinal cannabis – to help those with seizures and undergoing chemotherapy who are not terminally ill. We can create a commercial market that delivers tax dollars and above the table jobs to people with green thumbs.

If the surveys are correct, and my experience from last year's election campaign reinforces this, there is a significant majority of New Zealanders who are ready for change (78%) and can see the value in a carefully regulated cannabis market. Even Grey Power is calling for access.

I'll leave the last word to mental health advocate and psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald: "So for those who argue that cannabis is a gateway drug, they're right. It's a gateway to finally treating people who use and misuse ALL drugs that are currently illegal with compassion."

Nicola Patrick is a councillor at Horizons Regional Council, works for Te Kaahui o Rauru and is part of a new social enterprise hub, Thrive. A mum of two boys, she has a science degree and is a Green Party member.