Peter Dunne dismisses 'emotional nonsense' in medicinal cannabis debate
The Government will not be swayed by "emotional nonsense" colouring calls for wider access to medicinal cannabis, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne says.
The issue has hit the spotlight after outgoing Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly, who has terminal lung cancer, pleaded for the Government to improve access to medicinal cannabis.
Dunne told Radio NZ there was "a lot of very loose and uninformed talk" about current access to medical cannabis, which ignored the current procedures in place for those who wanted to use the drug for health reasons.
"People are out there campaigning for all sort of things and ignoring the fact there's currently a procedure in place which would enable them to get access to the medicines that their doctor thinks they deserve."
Dunne said there had only ever been one application for a dispensation to use cannabis products not registered in New Zealand - for Nelson teenager Alex Renton - which he had approved, while there were only a small number of pharmaceutical cannabis products which were at various stages of clinical trials.
The public clamour [that] these products are widely available, widely proven, is simply not borne out by the facts," he said.
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Dunne said he relied on clinical advice when deciding whether to grant an exemption, with the Ministry of Health providing a recommendation for each case.
Pharmac was considering whether to subsidise Sativex, a medicinal cannabis mouth spray which costs about $1300 a month, but had not yet made a call.
Dunne rejected calls to allow the use of raw cannabis for medical reasons, saying the Government's policy was "not to decriminalise the cannabis leaf" while there was not sufficient evidence for its medical value in an unprocessed form.
"[To say] that people puff the weed the way they like and all will be bliss - that is nonsense.
"We're talking here about medicinal products that have to be properly tested, properly regulated, the dosage assured so that people aren't being exposed to risk."
Dunne said the Government's focus would remain on clinically tested and approved medicines that were safe for use, while continuing to allow applications for exemptions.
"That is really where the argument begins and ends - all the other stuff is extraneous, emotional nonsense."