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Labour's medicinal cannabis bill a step forward


Labour's medicinal cannabis bill a step forward - but patients want herbal access too.

Medicinal cannabis advocates have welcomed news the Labour-led Government will introduce legislation next week to legalise medicinal cannabis, but say it should allow botanical cannabis, have immediate effect, and let patients and doctors choose self provision of herbal cannabis rather than limiting them to expensive imported pharmaceuticals.

Labour pledged to introduce legislation to "legalise medicinal cannabis" within 100 days of taking office. Labour says it will introduce it's own legislation next week, rather than support the existing Bill tabled by Green MP Julie Anne Genter.

Reports indicate the Government is considering allowing access to botanical cannabis products (for vaporising); licensing domestic production; conceding CBD (a non-psychoactive cannabinoid) is not actually a controlled drug and making it over the counter, and streamlining the process for doctors to prescribe cannabis-based products.

"These are all very welcome moves in the right direction - but like previous tinkering by Peter Dunne and the National Party, the proposed changes do not go far enough, and will leave patients disappointed," said Chris Fowlie, spokesperson for NORML NZ Inc.

"Patients tell us they find the pharmaceutical cannabis options like Sativex to be expensive, difficult to obtain and much less effective than herbal use."

"During the election, Labour used an image of herbal (botanical) cannabis to illustrate their promise, and we think this is what New Zealanders are expecting," said Mr Fowlie.

"It appears no patients or advocacy groups have had any input into the new legislation. Good policy making would put patients at the centre of the process."

"Not allowing herbal use will leave thousands of medicinal cannabis users in the same position they are currently in - criminals for just trying to manage their illness. We should not put administrative ease ahead of patient-focused care."

“Patients have told us the test of any proposed law change should be to ask: What would Helen Kelly do?", said Mr Fowlie. "Helen Kelly didn't campaign for pharmaceutical-only access. Helen wanted patients and caregivers to be able to grow their own, like a herbal remedy.”

Helen Kelly said:

• “It’s a mild, cheap and low-key medicine being denied,”

• “We need a legal supply”

• “The system doesn’t work and fiddling won’t fix it”

• “We need a good law. A better law.”

According to UMR polling NORML conducted with Helen Kelly in 2016, 76 per cent agreed when asked “Should Parliament change the laws of New Zealand so that patients have safe legal access to affordable medicinal cannabis and cannabis products when prescribed by a licensed doctor?”

Support does not drop significantly for a herbal approach. Almost 4 out of 5 supporters of a strict approach that requires a doctor’s prescription would also support having medicinal cannabis provided as a herbal remedy.

However media reports indicate NZ First leader Winston Peters has vetoed a proposal to allow self-provision (home growing), and has also blocked creating a patient register or legal defence of medical necessity.

"This is particularly disappointing for patients and advocates," said Mr Fowlie. "Deputy leader Tracey Martin told our rally, held on Saturday 2 September 2017 in Auckland, that NZ First was committed to medicinal cannabis law reform. Her exact words were: 'Mark my words, New Zealand First will legalise medicinal cannabis!'"

"There needs to be an allowance that if someone is using herbal cannabis medicinally, they will not be criminalised."

Advocates note the medicinal use of cannabis (and opium and other natural products) is permitted by every international agreement New Zealand has signed up to.

"We should take full advantage of this freedom we have to utilise any of these products; especially as their unsupervised medicinal use is already widespread," said Mr Fowlie.


What Would Helen Kelly Do?

NORML's 4-Point Model for Medicinal Cannabis Law Reform

1. Patient focused: safe affordable access to botanical cannabis;
3. Immediate effect (not just a long-term development pathway);
5. Domestic production: via licensed providers, including small scale providers (families & individuals);
7. Self provision: choice to grow your own as a herbal remedy.

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