Massive support for medicinal cannabis
An overwhelming majority of Nelson Mail readers think sick people should be allowed to use cannabis, a week-long opinion poll on the website nelsonmail.co.nz shows.
Of 1223 respondents, close to 83 per cent (1011 people) supported the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal purposes. Just 212 people were against, as of 8am today.
The poll was sparked by an April 14 feature story on Golden Bay couple Victoria and John "Buzz" Davis. Late last month Mrs Davis, 62, admitted charges of cultivating and possessing cannabis, which she used to treat her 64-year-old husband's phantom pains, suffered since both his legs were amputated below the knee several years ago. Judge Tony Zohrab discharged Mrs Davis without conviction.The story drew 36 comments online, with some saying they had tried using the drug to treat conditions. The pair's friends and acquaintances also commented.
Terry Herndon said: "If pot can help him and others like him then I am all for it. If it makes Buzz feel better and not depressed, then maybe he can help others that are new to his pain and give them a little hope and inspiration."
Ellie Herr knew the Davises when they lived in Maui, and said Mr Davis was "no longer the same person".
"He should be able to have his personal stash for consumption [...] Buzz is in his 60s already why not let him have his comfort? He was the funniest, upbeat guy at one time, let him be."
Mrs Davis said she was not surprised at the poll results.
"I think it's indicative of the attitude of the people of this country," she said. "I think the politicians have all been too frightened [to legalise it medicinally]; hopefully they will take it up now they see it's a popular issue."
The couple were still receiving supportive calls and emails, she said.
"I think it's the absurdity that people are fed up with, that it costs so much money to keep it prohibited."
Mr Davis said he was glad that so many people "saw the light".
"I'm just hoping that something political will come of it where they finally start letting it be used medicinally."
New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said research showed most New Zealanders saw drug use as a health issue rather than a legal issue, and the Davis decision was a case where the court could show some compassion.
"Fundamentally, New Zealanders think courts should show compassion where someone's unwell and needs help," Mr Bell said.
In 2010, the Law Commission, in a review of the 37-year-old Misuse of Drugs Act, recommended starting medicinal trials of cannabis in New Zealand, removing the criminal element to medicinal use, and implementing lighter penalties for recreational use, which the Government rejected.
In New Zealand, cannabis is a Class C controlled drug and cannabis preparations are a Class B controlled drug. Health Ministry compliance management manager Derek Fitzgerald said there was provision under the Misuse of Drugs Act for the Minister of Health to approve the cultivation, supply and administration of controlled drugs, including cannabis, for medical purposes. Mr Fitzgerald said the ministry was not aware of any applications.
"The Health Ministry would not support the use of unprocessed leaf cannabis for medicinal purposes because of the lack of control over titration [concentration], dose and potency, as well as the risks of smoking and contaminants," he said.
"There are also risks of diversion to a recreational market."
Sativex, a mouth spray containing ingredients from cannabis, is an approved treatment in New Zealand for muscle spasticity in multiple sclerosis patients, and was also available to alleviate the symptoms of other serious medical conditions, such as the wasting associated with Aids when other treatments had been trialled and had failed.
However the drug as not funded by Pharmac, and came with a price tag of about $1000.
Nelson Addiction Service addiction medicine specialist Lee Nixon said cannabis had a role in pain, but he said there was not a lot of evidence to show it was better than alternatives, and it was often difficult to distinguish real pain from addiction.
"The concern about medicinal use of cannabis is that use by smoking has very significant health risks," he said.
"The other real concern from our perspective is that the Law Commission recommend that doctors should be the gateway towards legitimising its use for pain."
He said that legalising cannabis medicinally meant there was a danger that some GPs could become known as "soft touches" for prescribing cannabis, or addiction medication specialists would become overloaded.
The Nelson Mail