Helen Kelly wants referendum on legalising cannabis at the next election

Former president of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions Helen Kelly says her battle for access to medical cannabis ...
MAARTEN HOLL/FAIRFAX NZ

Former president of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions Helen Kelly says her battle for access to medical cannabis is taking an emotional toll.

Terminally ill former trade unions boss Helen Kelly wants a referendum on whether cannabis should be legalised, and says she is talking to MPs about making it happen.

Kelly, who has lung cancer, has been taking cannabis oil sourced from the black market to relieve her pain and believes it is "absolutely ludicrous" New Zealand's laws have forced her to do so.

"If we can have a referendum on the New Zealand flag, then we can have a referendum on this issue," she said on Saturday.

Is it time for the New Zealand public to have its say on whether medicinal cannabis should be legal?
REUTERS

Is it time for the New Zealand public to have its say on whether medicinal cannabis should be legal?

Kelly only uses cannabis oil at night to relieve her pain and help her sleep, saying it has been "wonderful" and does not make her sick like morphine does.

She was diagnosed with cancer in February 2015 and went public with her cannabis oil use later that year.

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Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has backed the idea of clinical trials for medicinal cannabis in the past.
CHRIS SKELTON/FAIRFAX NZ

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has backed the idea of clinical trials for medicinal cannabis in the past.

She has also been trying to get permission from the Ministry of Health to legally access medicinal cannabis for her pain relief, but says the hoops she needs to jump through are both "absurd" and taking their toll emotionally.

Kelly would prefer the Government simply step in and fix the law to improve access to medicinal cannabis for Kiwis, which she says would put the country on par with Australia and the United States.

But given the sensitivity around the issue, it might be worthwhile to see how the public feels about medicinal cannabis once and for all by having a referendum at the next general election in 2017, she said.

"If they [the Government] are worried about public opinion then let's have one."

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Kelly said she had talked with some MPs about getting something on the ballot in 2017, and they were on board with the idea.

The issue of whether or not cannabis should be decriminalised could also be addressed, she said.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said it would be inappropriate for him to comment given an application from Kelly would likely end up on his desk at some stage.

But he pointed out there was a procedure in place for access to medical cannabis in this country, which had only been used once, but that application was successful.

In June, Dunne approved the one-off use of a cannabidiol product to treat Nelson teenager Alex Renton for his "status epilepticus", a kind of prolonged seizure. He later died from the condition.

Kelly said Dunne had spent a lot of time and effort recently trying to regulate synthetic cannabis, and it was time the same level of effort was applied to improving our medicinal cannabis laws.

Since speaking out about her cannabis use, Kelly said she had been contacted many Kiwis wanting access to medicinal cannabis, including parents of children with brain tumours, people "zonked out" on morphine who want something less "brain-numbing", and elderly people suffering from arthritis who cannot cope with opiates and are in pain "constantly".

"Some of their stories are absolutely heartbreaking, especially from people with [sick] kids who are desperate," she said.

"It's quite stressful because there are a lot of families out there who are hoping I get a breakthrough."

In a recent blog post, Kelly criticised the current criteria for getting access to medicinal cannabis here, which include having to get doctors to support a treatment they are unlikely to know much about, and having to be hospitalised while the treatment is administered.

Kelly said that while she was in some pain, there was still plenty of fight left in her and she would keep pushing for change on this issue.

"It is my view that a good cannabis product will help me live the rest of my life in a better situation than I will without it. The fact I can't do that shows the absurdity of the whole regime."

* Comments on this article have now closed.

 - Stuff

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