Prospects for cannabis law reform are better under Jacinda Ardern, say organisers of a rally in support of medical cannabis.

This Saturday NORML and Auckland Patients Group will rally to support safe legal access to medical cannabis – and against synthetics.

National leader Bill English has again ruled out cannabis law reform, even in the face of a spate of deaths from synthetic drugs, however Jacinda Ardern, the new leader of the Labour Party, wrote in May 2016 that allowing medical cannabis “is a matter of personal freedom and compassion… Eventually, it’s impossible to avoid the wider question of whether cannabis prohibition has been effective, whatever your personal view.”

I don’t want to trivialise the issues that I know Peter Dunne will be grappling with as the minister in charge of this one. As a rule, of course we want to make sure pharmaceutical products that can be prescribed in New Zealand have an evidence base behind them, and that they work. But medicinal marijuana is hardly going to be a priority in a pharmaceutical environment driven by a philosophy along the lines of “research only what you can patent and make the big bucks from”.

If we want that evidence base to meet our current high standard, we will be waiting a long time for the commercial sector to produce it. Dunne himself has conceded that point, saying there was not a lot of product available “that’s reputable”. But while we wait for this gap to potentially be filled by a less commercially driven body, do we simply ignore the plight of terminally ill patients?

The second issue is, of course, that while we do have some products that can be prescribed now, you have to have the Associate Minister of Health individually approve your case. We can and should do something about that. My colleague Damien O’Connor is suggesting a simple change via his private member’s bill – the outcome would be that if a medical practitioner considers that you meet the criteria to access approved medicinal cannabis products, then you will be approved. No ifs, no buts.

JACINDA ARDERN, Jacinda v David: ‘The pain behind the medical marijuana debate’, May 8 2016

“It’s Jacinda over Bill. The Government’s piecemeal changes do not change much for patients, who are still needlessly suffering,” said Chris Fowlie, spokesperson for NORML and co-organiser of the rally. “We are calling for patients and their caregivers to be allowed to grow and use cannabis for health purposes.”

“We want the NZ Police to declare a moratorium on arresting or prosecuting anyone for medical use, cultivation or supply while this important debate is occurring,” added co-organiser Pearl Schomburg, of Auckland Patients Group. “We also want cannabis medicines to be more available, and affordable.”

The rally caps another remarkable month for cannabis law reform: