17 Oct 2015

'People are calling out for medicinal cannabis'

9:18 am on 17 October 2015

The Australian Government has announced it will legalise the growing of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

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Health Minister Sussan Ley said the Government wanted to give people suffering from debilitating illnesses access to the most effective medical treatments.

She said she had been moved by stories of people who got some relief from medicinal cannabis, sometimes legally imported but not always.

"I have heard stories of patients who have resorted to illegal methods of obtaining cannabis and I have felt for them, because with a terminal condition, the most important thing is quality of life and relief of pain," she said.

"And we know that many people are calling out for medicinal cannabis."

Helen Kelly, who stepped down from her role as New Zealand's Council of Trade Unions president this week, said she had used cannabis to help cope with the side effects of lung cancer.

She told TV3 programme The Nation that she had used the drug to help with pain relief, but that she didn't like having to access it illegally.

Ms Kelly had called on Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne for permission to use cannabis legally, but Mr Dunne said the provisions in place for medicinal cannabis were not likely to change.

People whose doctors felt it would be beneficial for them could already go through a process to access Sativex, the only legal cannabis-based medicine approved in New Zealand, he said.

The Australian Government intended to amend its Narcotic Drugs Act to allow cannabis to be grown for medicine or science and ensure that Australia was not in breach of international drug treaties.

Ms Ley said it would allow cultivation similar to the way Tasmania has grown opium poppies for the world's morphine market.

She said it was possible a medicinal cannabis industry could flourish.

"You can import the product from overseas, but it is almost impossible because the demand in, for example Europe, is very high and the cost is very high too.

"So I don't want to place these difficulties in the way of patients who are terminally ill who may be able to get relief from medicinal cannabis."

Ms Ley said the legalisation was only about medicinal cannabis not recreational use.

"This is not a debate about legalisation of cannabis. This is not about drugs. This is not a product you smoke. This has nothing to do with that," she said.

"Most commonly the product is an oil or a tincture that you put on your skin."

While the Government would leave it up to the states to decide if they wanted to allow the drug to be grown, Australia's shadow assistant Health Minister Stephen Jones said Labor would have a nationally consistent scheme.

Several states have already announced clinical trials for medicinal cannabis, but until the change is made they have not been able to legally grow the crop.

-ABC/ Radio New Zealand

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