4 Mar 2016

Nelson medical cannabis case

From Nine To Noon, 9:20 am on 4 March 2016

A Nelson woman has avoided a lengthy jail term for importing cannabis products after a judge discharged her without conviction.

Cannabis plants in Uruguay on 15 December 2014.

Cannabis plants in Uruguay on 15 December 2014. Photo: AFP

Rebecca Reider, who has complex chronic pain syndrome, was facing five charges of possession of cannabis oil and other products.

She was also charged with importing cannabis products, including medicated chocolate, a conviction for which could have resulted in an eight-year jail term.

However, her lawyer Sue Grey was able to use a clause in the Misuse of Drugs Act to argue the law allows exemptions, when the drug is prescribed overseas, for up to one month's supply

Ms Reider, who is from California, had obtained a medical prescription for the cannabis product when she was visiting family. She later posted herself the cannabis chocolate to her Nelson address.

A judge in Nelson this week discharged Ms Reider without conviction on all charges.

Sue Grey told Nine to Noon if her client had had the medicated chocolate with her when she came back to New Zealand it would not have been an issue under the legal exemption. It was only because she posted it and it was intercepted that she was charged.

Ms Grey quoted the section of the Misuse of Drugs Act that she argued on behalf of her client:

"A person, may, while entering or leaving New Zealand, possess a controlled drug that's required for treating a medical condition, of the person - or of a person in their care or control - if the quantity of the drug is no more than one month of supply and it's lawfully supplied to the person overseas and supplied for the purpose of treating a medical condition."

She said her clients' cannabis was legally prescribed overseas by a doctor, it was a proper medicated product and, if brought back to New Zealand by Miss Reider, it seems it would have fallen within the law's one month exemption.

Rebecca Reider

Rebecca Reider Photo: TWITTER @redwoodreider

However, the judge accepted the consequences of Ms Reider's offending (in receiving it in the post) were the same, and ruled that she be discharged without conviction.

Ms Grey said it was sad people had to be wealthy enough to travel overseas to access medical cannabis products.

"It seems to me that we urgently need a law change so that we can make it the same for everybody. If you've got a treatment that works - why can't you use it?"

Ms Grey said the whole purpose of the Misuse of Drugs Act was to protect people against dangerous things, but the medical issue was completely different, with different considerations.

"The way I read it, it's quite a simple job for parliament, or the minister, to reschedule medicinal drugs and make it so much easier for people to access them when they need them."

The government is reviewing the guidelines for considering applications for medical cannabis. The guidelines were introduced in response to the case of critically ill Nelson teenager, Alex Renton, who died in in July following a prolonged epileptic seizure. He is so far the only person to have received ministerial approval for medical cannabis.

In a statement, Ms Reider said while the ruling was a significant win for the right to medicinal cannabis, she still felt like she had lost.

"The police entered my home with no warning, violated my privacy and took away an essential pain medication that was helping me deal with a very challenging health condition."

She said cannabis had been instrumental in relieving her muscle spasms, and while Australia and the US had moved forward on the medical cannabis issue, New Zealand remained "in the dark ages".