21 Dec 2017

Medicinal cannabis bill will send 'clear signal' to police

9:40 am on 21 December 2017

Some medicinal cannabis users say they can see hope but no material changes for them in the government's proposed legislation.

The Misuse of Drugs amendment Bill tabled yesterday sets up a regulated domestic cannabis industry, makes it easier to access medical marijuana products and lets the terminally ill use illicit cannabis.

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Photo: 123RF

But those who still have to live in pain say it's a disappointment.

Pearl Schomburg has been using cannabis to manage her pain for the past two years.

She suffers from inflammatory pain, PTSD and nausea, but access to her chosen medicine won't be any easier under the planned law change.

"There's nothing in it for me today except hope that this is just the beginning.

"There's a lot of disappointed people in the community, some of them are quite angry as well because they feel like they've been quite let down by Jacinda [Ardern].

"I'm a glass half full person and I see this as the first step in the real fight."

Under the new legislation it will still be against the law to supply cannabis to terminally ill people without a valid prescription from a doctor.

An advisory committee will be established to review the rules for prescribing medicinal cannabis and to set minimum product quality standards.

Ms Schomburg said she and many others were not able to grow their own products because they were too sick, and their suppliers were being busted for "a crime with no victims".

Watch Health Minister David Clark:

Health Minister David Clark said while the law did not allow people to grow cannabis, police were using a "huge amount of discretion" and the government's legislation sent a strong message that was the right thing to do.

"The police are using discretion currently for personal use, and I expect this will send a clear signal that for the terminally ill it would be completely pointless to be prosecuting them for using it."

Access to pharmaceutical-grade medicinal cannabis products was "problematic" and in time the legislation would result in greater supply of quality medicinal cannabis, including products made in New Zealand.

"We want to make available products that have good evidence behind them, that doctors feel safe prescribing.

"In the mean time ... this makes it clear that there's a legal defence for people in the final years of their life."

"It is real progress, it is a big step forward," he said.

When the new scheme is operational, patients with a prescription will be able to access medicinal cannabis at a pharmacy.

But Auckland woman Joan Cowie, who has stage four lung cancer, doesn't have time to wait for that to come into effect.

"They're saying on the news you can go to the pharmacy and get your products there.

"Well that's a good two years away. I probably won't be here in two years."

Ms Cowie said the bill didn't help people who weren't interested in pharmaceutical cannabis, including herself.

She said she preferred the organic product and couldn't afford to buy pharmaceutical cannabis.

Ms Schomburg said many users felt politicians were not taking their pain seriously.

"I and many other people cannot afford pharmaceuticals so shall we just sit here and wait for five years until the prices drop, and then are we allowed compassion?

"That just seems ludicrous to me."

She said future legislation should focus on patients, not pharmaceuticals, and provide immediate, affordable access to high quality organic cannabis.

NZ firm prepares for manufacture

Ruatoria-based company Hikurangi Hemp is growing cannabis as part of a medical research project.

Company director Manu Caddie told Morning Report the law change would allow it to commercialise the crop, and the product it got onto the market would cost a quarter of the imported version.

Mr Caddie said plants being harvested early next year would be used in products that will go to a clinical trial to test and efficiency.

As soon as the products were deemed safe they would be available as an unapproved medicine, so they could not be advertised but doctors would be able to prescribe them.

He was optimistic the first product - a spray for under the tongue in 100ml doses - would be available by the end of next year.

Mr Caddie said the company was seeking crowdfunding for setting up manufacturing facilities.

Mr Clark said he would support Green MP Chloe Swarbrick's bill allowing people to grow cannabis for medicinal purposes at its first reading so it can go to a select committee and be tested, reviewed and receive submissions from medical experts.

But the government was not adopting the bill. "I'm the Minister of Health ... I have to take responsibility for ensuring that products are getting to market have evidence around them," he said.

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