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NZers want medicinal cannabis bill to go further

A new survey of more than 2,000 Kiwi adults finds they overwhelmingly want doctors and nurse practitioners to be able to prescribe medicinal cannabis as they see fit, on a patient by patient basis, and for it to be treated like any other medicine in New Zealand.

However, Parliament could pass a law as early as this Tuesday (December 11th) which is far less specific.

Paul Manning, Executive Director of Helius Therapeutics, which is making a major investment to research and develop medicinal cannabis products in New Zealand, says it’s not yet clear if there is the time for a majority of MPs, from all or some parties, to implement a more specific regime, rather than leave it to officials to develop the rules.

Nearly a million New Zealanders – about a third of the adult population – say they expect to use medicinal cannabis if their doctor or health practitioner prescribes it. Medicinal products allowed for in the Government’s proposal would be produced to consistent, medical-grade standards and will provide accurate dosing through familiar formats such as capsules and oils. Most medicinal cannabis products will not give a psychoactive ‘high’ effect when used.

“It’s clear that New Zealanders want a more comprehensive law than the one we are likely to get next week,” Mr Manning says. “We urge MPs to listen to what the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders are telling them; they want broad access to affordable medicinal cannabis products. There is an opportunity for our politicians to make further amendments now, to ensure medicinal cannabis products are readily available to all patients who stand to benefit”.

Survey results show that some significant law changes, similar to those proposed by medical doctor and Whangarei MP,
Dr Shane Reti, have overwhelming majority support among voters for the ACT, Green, Labour, National and New Zealand First parties.

Dr Reti, says “This survey shows the urgency New Zealanders have for a proper medicinal cannabis scheme and we remain ready to collaborate, right now. We are ready to share what we have to develop a medicinal cannabis scheme that will ease the suffering of New Zealanders.

“We did the work and offered to collaborate with all political parties but egos and politics got in the road, and instead an empty scheme with no details will be developed by unnamed officials along a timeframe that is already delayed”. As the final reading of the bill looms, Dr Reti adds, “We call on other political parties to ‘pick up the phone’ and speak with us”.

New Zealanders also strongly support the idea of a ‘medicinal cannabis card’ so patients or their carers can access regulated products from a pharmacist without having to renew regular prescriptions.

“This survey shows a majority of people in favour of a medicinal cannabis card and we developed a workflow for a medicinal cannabis card that will suit doctors, suit patients and suit the Police”.

“Every day we wait, exporters lose market share to Australia and New Zealanders are deprived of another tool in a doctor’s toolbox to ease the suffering of New Zealanders”. says Dr Reti.

The vast majority of New Zealanders think medicinal cannabis should be allowed for any condition a doctor prescribes, with the most popular application being chronic pain, followed by sleep disorders, cancer and epilepsy.

“We already know that more than 80% of New Zealanders support medicinal cannabis and this research shows us there is already strong demand for cannabis-based therapeutics”, says Mr Manning. “Medicinal cannabis is a mainstream product, for mainstream people”.

If the medicinal cannabis bill passes its third and final reading unchanged, regulatory conditions will become the responsibility of the Ministry of Health. Further public consultation on the regulations is expected in 2019.

The survey, commissioned by Helius and conducted independently by Horizon Research between November 27th and December 6th 2018, finds the following:

Doctors should decide access, not officials

• 72% of adults agree with the view that doctors should decide, on a patient by patient basis, who should access medicinal cannabis products.
• 10% disagree with this view.
• 14% are neutral.

This equates to around 2,319,200 adults agreeing, 447,900 disagreeing.

Levels of agreement/ disagreement are:
• ACT 55% agree / 24% disagree
• Green 67% / 19%
• Labour 72% / 11%
• National 82% / 7%
• New Zealand First 65%/ 13%.

Treat cannabis the same as any other medicine

• 73% of adults agree with the view that medicinal cannabis should be treated the same as any other medicine.
• 11% disagree.

This equates to around 2,329,700 adults agreeing, 431,500 disagreeing.

A large majority of voters for parties now in the Parliament agree.
• ACT 54% agree / 30% disagree
• Green 76% / 12%
• Labour 75% / 11%
• National 73% / 13%
• New Zealand First 69% / 19%.

Accessing through a medicinal cannabis card

• 59% agree with a provision of Dr Reti’s bill which would allow prescribing health professionals, like doctors and nurse practitioners, to issue a ‘medicinal cannabis card’ so patients or their carers can access licensed medicinal cannabis products from a pharmacist, without having to renew regular prescriptions.
• 18% disagree.

This equates to around 1,881,000 New Zealand adults agreeing, 550,200 disagreeing while 617,400 are neutral and 150,400 don’t know.

Among voters for the parties now in Parliament
• ACT 61% agree/ 29% disagree
• Green 60% / 11%
• Labour 59% / 16%
• National 57% / 21%
• NZ First 57% / 38%

All conditions should be treated, especially chronic pain, sleep and cancer

While the current bill before Parliament allows for officials to determine who should have access in a future scheme,
New Zealanders think medicinal cannabis should be allowed for anyone who had a doctor’s approval. Of the many clinical conditions potentially treated by cannabis medicines, New Zealanders prioritise chronic pain as the most important.

Among those attracting highest agreement for us are:
• Chronic pain 68%
• Sleep disorders 65%
• Cancer 58%
• Epilepsy 52%
• Multiple sclerosis 50%
• Anxiety 49%
• Arthritis 48%.

Substantial demand exists for medicinal cannabis in New Zealand

Respondents were also asked, if medicinal cannabis were made available tomorrow, which conditions they would use
it for if the need arose. The survey found 38%, or around 1,218,800 adult New Zealanders, would use it for chronic pain and 726,200 for sleep disorders.

The nationwide online survey of 2,105 adults representing the 18+ population at the 2013 census, was conducted between November 27 and December 6, 2018. Respondents were members of Horizon’s nationwide research panels and an external research panel for source diversity.

Results are weighted by age, gender, education level, region and party voted for at the 2017 general election to provide a presentative population sample. At a 95% confidence level, the maximum margin of error is ±2.1%

This survey was commissioned by Helius Therapeutics and carried out independently by Horizon Research.

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