Loosening of cannabis-based products not good enough, campaigners say
The Government's loosening of the tight restrictions around cannabis-based products does not go far enough, medical marijuana campaigners say.
Nelson lawyer Sue Grey said it was "definitely a big step forward", but it was disappointing patients still needed a bureaucrat to "second-guess" what a doctor and their patient might believe is the best medicine for them.
"It's certainly opening up a path for patients to get better access," she said.
"But nothing has really changed; it's still the same policy except Dunne doesn't need to be involved now, although he is encouraging doctors to have an open mind to cannabis, so that's great."
Grey said she wanted to know what the Government would do to educate doctors about cannabis.
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She also intends to challenge the Government in the High Court if it doesn't change its legal classification of cannabidiol, or CBD, although she said she was confident it could be resolved out of court.
Seriously ill patients seeking cannabis-based products for their condition will no longer need ministerial approval, but access to the drugs will remain tightly controlled.
Authority to approve applications for non-pharmaceutical grade medicinal cannabis products no longer resides with Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne.
Dunne announced on Wednesday the Ministry of Health now had ultimate sign-off for all applications. He urged medical professionals to consider prescribing cannabis-based products "with an open mind."
He said certain guidelines had been developed, consulted on and simplified to allow specialists who were interested in accessing such products for their patients a clear, straight-forward and unobstructed pathway to acquiring the appropriate products.
"I am satisfied that with the development of these guidelines, and with a number of successful applications having been subsequently completed, any risk associated with the early processes has largely abated and I have confidence in the Ministry of Health to handle the process in its entirety from now on," he said.
Rose Renton, medicinal cannabis campaigner and mother of Nelson teenager Alex Renton, said she took any move forward as a positive sign.
However, the amount of time sick and terminally ill patients spent waiting for cannabis-based products and the high cost involved obtaining them was unacceptable, she said.
Alex Renton died in July 2015 after being hospitalised in "status epilepticus", a kind of prolonged seizure.
"Terminally ill or retired people keep coming to me and they are just so frustrated," she said. "It's okay if you can afford it and you have the time to wait – but many can't. What we need is to educate the Government that it's the whole plant that will give us the most benefits, and numerous studies support this."
She said the right strain of low psychoactive cannabis plant was very effective in conjunction with painkillers to treat a variety of conditions.
"The plant can do so much, and if we continue to restrict it we won't get the benefits. I make medicinal cannabis tinctures, balms and cannabis infused oils and butters which work wonders on people," she said.
"I can't keep up with the demand. If people could easily make their own medicine, it would take all that financial pain and all the waiting away. There's a lot of fear, but you cannot kill yourself on cannabis."
The Grey Power Federation has commended the Government for finally easing access to medical cannabis.
Grey Power Federation president Tom O'Connor said there had been a long campaign by several groups and individuals seeking a relaxation of the law around cannabis use.
"Unfortunately, the genuine needs of seriously ill people were clouded by a noisy group seeking the right to grow their own cannabis for recreational use and so called self-medication," he said.
"We had a bit of a stoush with them a few months ago when they jumped on the bandwagon but we tossed them off again."
O'Connor said there was "a world of difference" between cannabis-based pharmaceuticals, fully tested or otherwise, and home grown cannabis for self-medication, which the federation did not support.
"There is still some way to go in terms of making a greater range of products available and funded by Pharmac but this is a very good start which probably could have been made earlier if the recreational use lobby had not slowed the process," he said.