Medicinal Cannabis Reform – is it happening fast enough?

Laura McQuillan writes at Stuff

If obeying the law cost you thousands of dollars, but you could circumvent it for just $100 or so, what would you choose?

This is the decision confronting terminally ill Kiwis when it comes to using cannabis.

The only way to legally obtain the drug in New Zealand is to have a “severe or life-threatening illness”, and thousands of dollars to pay for a government-approved cannabis-based product – although the process for getting them is about to become easier.

Labour and National are both staunchly against freeing up access to Marijuana.  

Since 2008, chronically and terminally ill patients have been able to apply to the government to use an approved product made from cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical compound of cannabis.

Currently, patients need Ministry of Health approval to access the products (until February, that approval had to come from Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne himself).

But under a change announced on Friday, a decision on prescribing the drug will be left to doctors – just like any other prescription medicine.

Ministry of Health officials are working on a new regulation – a process that will take about two months – before the change comes into effect.

While the move’s been welcomed by medicinal cannabis advocates, there’s still a major issue for patients: the enormous cost.

The local gangs have been delivering it to your neighbourhood for a fraction of the cost that the government can…

This year’s Global Drug Survey revealed most Kiwis who say they use cannabis to treat medical conditions are doing so illegally: three per cent said they use cannabis solely for medical reasons, and nine per cent use it “mostly” for medical reasons.

However, most Kiwi respondents (61 per cent) use it only recreationally, while 27 per cent said they use it mostly recreationally and sometimes for medical reasons.

“People don’t want to have to go through the process and pay $1200 for Sativex when they can make their own products,” says Renton, who is also on the board of cannabis reform lobby Norml.

Dunne doesn’t want to see terminally ill users prosecuted for using illegal cannabis, and believes the law “works in the main”.

Police, he says, “effectively turn a blind eye” to low levels of cannabis possession.

“The problem is, every now and then you get a cop out in the regions who decides ‘I’m going to enforce the law as it stands’.”

We always ask cops to enforce the law as it stands.  And if that is not good, we ask for the law to be changed.   To ask cops to look the other way while keeping the law on the books and then also getting tetchy when a cop doesn’t ignore the law is just absurd.

Six years ago, the Law Commission recommended carrying out clinical trials in New Zealand, using locally grown cannabis.

Dunne says he’s “quite keen” on the idea, “but no one’s come forward offering to do clinical trials”.

“Whether it happens or not is not in my hands. It’s not the government’s role to go out there and say ‘we’re setting up trials’.”

The lack of interest from researchers is largely economic: trials would cost millions of dollars, just to sell to a rather small market – the same reason why synthetic cannabis manufacturers haven’t bothered testing their products to meet new requirements under the Psychoactive Substances Act.

Otago University’s Dr Giles Newton-Howes, an expert in substance abuse psychiatry, suggests Dunne should fund the trials himself.

“The only way we’re going to get some local information about the dope that we grow and smoke here is going to be if there’s some commercial end to that.”

Cannabis is one of the most studied substances in the world.  There is absolutely no need to create a hugely expensive and long local trial.



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