New Zealand patients need safe legal access to affordable, high quality, medicinal cannabis. This is a health issue – it should not be a crime.
The Labour-led Government will introduce a medicinal cannabis Bill soon: reports suggest ‘good news and bad news‘, but what would Helen Kelly do? Check out NORML’s 4-point model for patient-focused policy. What do you think? Email your MP here.
Green MP Julie Anne Genter’s Medicinal cannabis private member’s bill will soon be debated in Parliament, and is now in the name of fellow MP Chlöe Swarbrick.
The purpose of this bill is to make it legal for New Zealanders who are suffering from terminal illness or any debilitating condition to use cannabis or cannabis products with the support of a registered medical practitioner.
- Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis and Other Matters) Amendment Bill
- Green Party cannabis policy
- Read more
Read or download NORML’s medicinal cannabis leaflet:
About medicinal cannabis
Modern research suggests that cannabis is a valuable aid in the treatment of a wide range of clinical applications. These include pain relief — particularly of neuropathic pain (pain from nerve damage) — nausea, spasticity, glaucoma, and movement disorders. Cannabis is also a powerful appetite stimulant, specifically for patients suffering from HIV, the AIDS wasting syndrome, or dementia. Emerging research suggests that cannabinoids found in cannabis may protect the body against some types of malignant tumors and are neuroprotective. Currently, more than 60 international health organizations support granting patients immediate legal access to medicinal cannabis under a doctor’s supervision.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is now available on prescription from your GP
Changes from Sept 2017 mean the non-psychoactive but medically useful cannabinoid, CBD, is now available on prescription with no approval required from the Ministry of Health.
However there are no approved CBD products, therefore your GP would be prescribing an “unapproved product”. The process is fairly simple especially if they have done it before. However many doctors will not consider doing this. The Canadian producer Tilray now has some stock here in New Zealand, however any other products would need to be imported for you by your prescriber or pharmacy. For more information see:
Cannabis extract Sativex is available on prescription
The UK-made cannabis extract Sativex has been made available on prescription from your GP, although funding remains an issue and Ministerial approval is still required.
The Minister of Health had already approved several applications since October 2008 to import and use the UK-made cannabis extract Sativex. which had followed a petition organised by NORML and the debate surrounding the Green Party’s 2006 medicinal cannabis law reform bill. Health authorities conceded that cannabis does have therapeutic properties and is a valid medicine.
In 2011 New Zealand’s medicines regulatory agency Medsafe gazetted Sativex as an approved medicine in New Zealand. This means patients can now go to their regular GP for a prescription, rather than needing an additional specialist. There is still some red tape, but less of it. This is fairly good news for patients.
For more information see:
Herbal cannabis still denied to patients
It’s great that the cannabis extract Sativex has been made available for prescription under the Medicines Act, and we fully encourage all medical users to talk to their doctor about it. We remain concerned that without any subsidy from Pharmac, Sativex will remain out of reach of most patients. Special Ministerial approval is still required for the imported alcohol-based cannabis extract, and it contains a particular cannabinoid profile that will work for many but not for all. We think there should be more options including giving patients or caregivers the ability to grow their own.
No patient has ever been approved by the New Zealand Government to use real herbal cannabis. The New Zealand Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 prohibits any use of cannabis, including medicinal use by seriously ill patients, however the Minister of Health has the power under section 14 of the Misuse of Drugs Act and associated regulations to issue licenses permitting medicinal cannabis use.
Misuse of Drugs Act regulations allow a patient’s doctor to apply for special permission to import and prescribe a cannabis-based medication that has been approved in another country, or to run an experimental clinical trial (Sativex is one of those, but there are others. Theoretically, it should include the medicinal cannabis found in dispensaries in California and other US states). Your GP must also have the written backing of a relevant specialist, and they must have tried all other available medicines and found that they don’t work. Despite these high hurdles, several applications have been made to various Ministers of Health for patients to be able to consume whole herbal cannabis – which could be imported from authorised suppliers in Canada, the US, Netherlands, Germany or Israel – but so far all applications have been rejected.
What’s the problem?
The excuse for taking so long to approve Sativex and for continuing to deny herbal cannabis has usually been that no clinical trials have been conducted in New Zealand, even though most pharmaceutical medicines have also not had local clinical trials. It seems that for every other drug the government accepts the results of overseas clinical trials, but for cannabis any trials must be repeated in New Zealand.
Several politicians have rejected applications on the grounds that a medicine that is smoked cannot be safe. To that we say any potential harms from smoking cannabis are far from proven, and even if that were true, seriously ill patients and their doctors are more concerned about current suffering that potential future lung damage – especially for terminal patients.
Ministers have also objected on the grounds of not having a ready supply of cannabis to make available. This is simply not true – medical-grade whole herbal cannabis is available from the UK, the Dutch Office of Medicinal Cannabis, HortaPharm in Israel, Health Canada, or NIDA in the USA, or it could come from local police seizures of cannabis, or more simply, patients could be allowed to grow their own supply.
For patients, the problem is not just jumping through all these hoops – which can be difficult if your quality of life is already affected by an illness or condition – but if an application is successful they must then pay for it. Sativex for example can be very expensive for patients. In come cases ACC will help but in other cases patients may need to pay for treatment themselves.
What is clear is that the continuing reluctance to make progress on medicinal cannabis is based on political not scientific considerations. Let’s restore medical decision-making to those who are trained to make medical decisions – doctors and health professionals – and get the politicians out of the way.
Medicinal cannabis overseas
The medicinal use of cannabis is legal in 27 states of the USA including California and Washington DC, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Canada and Israel. Research shows allowing medicinal cannabis will not effect overall use rates or teenager’s attitudes towards drug use. One million Californians can legally purchase medical cannabis at dispensaries or they may grow their own. In fact, research shows medicinal cannabis law reform in the USA is associated with reduced teen use rates as well as reduced road deaths.
For more information, see:
- NZ Medical Cannabis Users Group: www.greencross.org.nz
- NZ Ministry of Health: How to apply for medicinal cannabis
- Sativex application form on Medsafe’s website: www.medsafe.govt.nz
- GW Pharmaceuticals, manufacturers of Sativex: www.gwpharm.com
- Database of cannabis clinical trials
- Teenage use rates in medical marijuana states
- Road death rates in medical marijuana states