Great-grandmother battles Ministry of Health over medicinal cannabis products

Schomburg suffers from chronic pain brought on by RSI and rheumatoid arthritis
DAVID WHITE/FAIRFAX NZ

Schomburg suffers from chronic pain brought on by RSI and rheumatoid arthritis

An Auckland great-grandmother hopes an upcoming legal challenge will clear her and other medicinal cannabis users from being described as criminals.

Pearl Schomburg is one of many Kiwis who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law as the Ministry of Health argues with its own experts over how to classify cannabis extracts.

"It's dreadful," she said.

Pearl Schomburg is a medicinal cannabis user.
DAVID WHITE/FAIRFAX NZ

Pearl Schomburg is a medicinal cannabis user.

"I'm aware of the law, but I cannot support a bad law that makes criminals out of sick and dying people, because it's unjust and morally unsound."

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Schomburg suffers from chronic pain brought on by RSI and rheumatoid arthritis, which at times has left her crippled and relying on a wheelchair or walking frame.

Pearl Schomburg is a medicinal cannabis user who lives in Auckland.
CRAIG HOYLE/FAIRFAX NZ

Pearl Schomburg is a medicinal cannabis user who lives in Auckland.

She previously took a cocktail of drugs including morphine and codeine, which led to extra drugs to help with the side-effects from the original medications.

Her health only improved once she started using CBD products.

CBD is one of the cannabinoids found within cannabis; it is different to THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid which makes people high.

Pearl Schomburg is a medicinal cannabis user who lives in Auckland.
CRAIG HOYLE/FAIRFAX NZ

Pearl Schomburg is a medicinal cannabis user who lives in Auckland.

"I had a person offer it to me to try, and I was really surprised at how it made my body feel," Schomburg said.

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"I slept well, my level of pain was reduced, and I wasn't stoned."

CBD is currently a Class B1 controlled drug, meaning it cannot be prescribed, supplied or administered without ministerial approval.

The Customs Service is under instructions to enforce this policy at the border under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

That's despite advice from scientists at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR), who recommended CBD be reclassified as a standard prescription-only medicine.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health acknowledged that ESR's advice had not been adopted.

"ESR provided the Ministry with their professional scientific opinion on the classification of CBD," they said.

"We respect that ESR has formed a scientific opinion that differs from our opinion."

That's not good enough for Nelson lawyer Sue Grey, who is now gathering affidavits for a legal challenge.

"I think the MInistry of Health is acting illegally, and they've instructed Customs to do something illegal, so we're putting them on notice," she said.

Justin Sinclair, a pharmacognosist based in Sydney, said CBD was an incredibly promising agent which seemed to be effective in the treatment of conditions such as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and chronic pain.

Pharmacognosy is the science which examines drugs obtained from plants and other natural sources.

"I don't think that CBD alone needs to be a controlled substance, whatsoever," said Sinclair.

"I think New Zealand would probably do well to look at the way it was reclassified in Australia last year."

The Ministry of Health is now reviewing the legal status of CBD in response to a referral from the Medicines Classification Committee, which was asked to examine CBD following the Australian decision.

It has now been referred to the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs, which is in the final stages of preparing advice to Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne.

Grey hopes the Ministry will see sense before her challenge ends up in court.

Until then, Schomburg is determined to carry on using CBD products, whether or not they are legal.

"I believe that what I am doing is right and correct," she said.

"If we have to go to prison for it, god forbid, then so be it.

"The law is an ass, in my opinion."

 - Sunday Star Times

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