Dismay at Govt's medicinal cannabis ruling

DANYA LEVY
Last updated 14:37 09/09/2011

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The Drug Foundation is disappointed the Government has rejected calls to carry out medicinal cannabis trials but says the door remains open for pharmaceutical companies to run their own tests.

The Government yesterday released its response to the Law Commission's May report on drug laws which contained 144 recommendations.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said the Government agreed the 1975 Misuse of Drugs Act needed to be rewritten and that task would be undertaken by the incoming government because it was important the issues were not rushed.

The Government would not be adopting the recommendation it conduct clinical trials into the medical use of leaf cannabis.

Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said science supported medicinal cannabis for some illnesses including multiple sclerosis, chronic pain where other medications were ineffective and as an appetite booster for HIV/Aids and cancer patients.

"A lot of people think that medicinal cannabis is a backdoor way into trying to legalise cannabis. We absolutely don't agree with that."

However, New Zealand needed to ensure it didn't to allow "back door legalisation" like California had, he said.

"Smoking a few joints and saying it's your medicine isn't accepted by too many people."

The Government had not ruled out pharmaceutical companies applying to run trials and had recently approved a medicinal cannabis inhaler product called Sativex.

"Clearly the main debate isn't the science and whether it works, it's how you deliver the medicine."

There were still barriers to medicinal cannabis trials such as where pharmaceutical companies sourced their product from because they could not import raw material.

Bell agreed "slow and steady" was the best approach to drug law reform because the Government shouldn't make major policy decisions so close to an election.

In the past governments had rejected any call to overhaul the nearly 40-year-old drug laws and the country would have been outraged if all the Commission's recommendations were rejected, he said.

Labour's associate health spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway said the Government must ensure a rewrite of the drug laws was not a lost opportunity.

"Replacing the Act with anything other than a significant new policy that addresses and deals with and harm reduction and prevention would be totally pointless."

The Commission's recommendations were based on expert and evidence-based advice.

"Yet the Minister is still being coy about some of the other, more controversial recommendations, including penalties for supply and possession, a review of the classification system, and more treatment opportunities."

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Justice Minister Simon Power is handling the Commission's call for a specialist drug court.

His spokeswoman said the Justice Ministry was working with other agencies to analysis the cost of a potential drug court pilot and the minister intended to make an announcement before the election.

- Stuff

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