Refuge quotas – a little will help some people a lot

Pressure is building on the Government to increase our refuge quota from a level of 750 set in 1997.

All parties other than National have stated support for an increase as a refuge crisis grows around Syria and in Europe. John Key wants to kick the can down the road, saying the number will be up for review in 2016.

Each of National’s support partners want an increase.

  • UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne said the Government had “got it wrong” on the refugee issue. There was a strong case for lifting New Zealand’s annual refugee quote to at least 1000, Dunne said. That was “the very least” New Zealand could do as a good international citizen, Dunne said.
  • Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox said New Zealand could afford to take on more refugees as part of its global citizenship, and the Maori Party thought the yearly quota should increase from 750 to 1000. “We want to be sure we are able to cater for the people that come in – we call that manaakitanga – are we able to care for them and their needs?”
  • ACT leader David Seymour said he would not pick a number for how many refugees New Zealand should accept, but as a principle said the quota should be “pegged to our ability to support refugees”. It could be pegged to population – which would have it somewhere between 1000 and 1100, Seymour said.

What New Zealand can do is always only going to be a small drop in an ocean of humanity searching for a safe place to live.

Lebanon has a similar populatio to New Nealand but due to proximity to Syria have been burdened with 1.2 million refuges. That’s a huge influx, proportionally.

Germany is set to accept 800,000 refuges this year – but that could blow out with the increasing pressure of refuges currently on the move.

Increasing our quota from 750 to 1,000 won’t make a huge difference overall, but it may make a huge difference for 250 people. It’s a little to ask of a country that has the advantage of distance and a huge moat in protecting ourselves from people desperate to re-settle somewhere safe.

Release of the National Drug Policy

Peter Dunne released the 2015-2020 National Drug Policy today. Here is his speech.

Good afternoon and welcome to the launch of the new National Drug Policy.

I am very pleased to be here with you all today, and it is great to see so many familiar faces in the audience.

Today’s announcement is the culmination of what has been a lengthy process.

Many of you or your organisations are among the 120 individuals and organisations who submitted on the discussion document.  Some of you are also signatories to the Wellington Declaration on reshaping New Zealand’s alcohol and other drug policy.

Thank you for your input – it has shaped this Policy, and your ongoing involvement will give life to the Policy and its actions.

A National Drug Policy cannot be contained within just one government portfolio.

This policy reflects a cross-government commitment, and I would therefore like to acknowledge my Ministerial colleagues whose portfolios will also contribute to achieving its vision.

This includes the Ministers of Health, Justice, Education, Social Development, Police, Corrections and Customs.

I would particularly like to acknowledge the Chair of the New Zealand Drug Foundation, Tuari Potiki, and Executive Director Ross Bell.  The Foundation has been a long-time advocate of reducing drug harm in New Zealand and has been a valuable source of feedback in the Policy’s development.

Finally, I would like to thank the officials who have overseen the development of the Policy and ensured it reflects a coordinated cross-government approach.

The development of such a significant piece of work, particularly on what can be a challenging issue, is quite an undertaking and brings with it certain challenges – so I thank all involved for their patience and perseverance.

Compassion. Innovation. Proportion.

Three words that I consider to be of the utmost importance when developing drug policy, and three words that are reflected in the contents of this new Policy.

Alcohol and other drug issues are above all health issues, and this Policy recognises that.  Alcohol and other drugs have the potential to cause significant harm when misused.  About 12% of New Zealanders will develop a substance use disorder at some point in their lives.

The social cost of alcohol and other drugs is significant.

I’ve been working in the drug policy space for some time, and as we all know there is no quick fix.  Help needs to be available for those who need it, interventions need to happen early and the stigma that acts as a barrier to help seeking and recovery needs to be addressed.

We also have to be prepared to challenge traditional approaches and ways of thinking about these issues. Innovation is essential in a world where a new psychoactive drug is discovered every week and the black market has gone digital.

But we are making progress.

The psychoactive substances regime was introduced because existing legislation could not keep up with the array of new substances.  Mechanisms are now in place for substances proven as low risk to be legitimately sold, and all others have been removed from retail sale.

New Zealand was recognised around the world for this bold and innovative piece of law.

Through the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act, the Government has tightened the rules on the sale of alcohol and put more control in the hands of local communities.

We have also reduced the blood-alcohol limit for driving and increased alcohol screening and brief interventions in primary care.  These measures are working: the number of people who drink hazardously has decreased from 18 per cent to 16 per cent over the last several years.

We have made extraordinary progress on reducing the rates of smoking, but tobacco remains the biggest preventable cause of death. It requires an approach commensurate with the magnitude of the problem.

As a result the Government is developing a separate tobacco control plan which will sit alongside the National Drug Policy.  The new National Drug Policy seeks to build on this progress by carrying over fundamental principles of the previous policy while also providing a clear focus for improvement over the next five years.

The Policy’s overarching goal remains to minimise the harm from alcohol and drug use.

This has been expanded to also include the promotion of health and wellbeing.

This takes a more holistic view of harm minimisation and is more inclusive of families, whānau and communities.

This will help us strive towards the wider social sector goals of reducing welfare dependency, supporting vulnerable children, boosting skills and employment, and reducing crime. The Policy carries over the same three strategies in order to achieve this: problem limitation, demand reduction and supply control.

But unlike the previous Policy, it focuses on five new Priority Areas in order to guide action.

These are:

  1. 1creating a people-centred intervention system
  2. 2shifting thinking and behaviour
  3. 3getting the legal balance right
  4. 4disrupting organised crime
  5. 5improving information flow.

First, our system for dealing with alcohol and drugs must be people-centred.

We need to make sure that services are better joined up so that ‘no door is the wrong door’.

Interventions need to be tailored to different populations and needs.  In order to do this, we will develop a map of potential intervention points across a person’s life course, and create common tools to foster system change.

Services need to respond to people as early, efficiently and effectively as possible to achieve the best outcomes.  Second, the Policy aims to shift people’s thinking and behaviour about alcohol and drugs.

We need to build new ways of thinking about alcohol and drugs, particularly around New Zealand’s drinking culture.  We also need to encourage people to seek help, and make the right support available at the right time.

Change in this area will require a sustained effort over a long period of time. But it is achievable.

Third, the Policy emphasises the need to get the legal balance right.

This responds to the recommendations made by the Law Commission in their 2011 review of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

The laws we make need to be reasonable, and it is crucial that our enforcement response is proportionate. We want to make sure that drug use is deterred where possible, but also that the laws are actually working for individuals, communities and society.

We are trying to minimise harm, not create more. The Law Commission recommended that we repeal the Act and replace it with a whole new one.

We thought carefully about this recommendation.  But we have now decided that a complete revision of the Act is not required at this time.

Instead we want to dig deeper.

We want to understand how the legislation is operating on the ground.  Is the legislation allowing appropriate access to controlled drugs for medical reasons, while protecting communities from their misuse?

Does it allow Police to make appropriate decisions to stop drug harm?

The Act only sets the boundaries for us to work within.  We can still make changes within that.

So a number of actions in the new Policy respond explicitly to the Law Commission recommendations. The Ministry of Health will work with the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs to make sure that drug classification decisions are focused on harm.

They will also commence work to examine whether the laws and enforcement around drug possession and utensil possession are still reasonable compared to the severity of these offences.

We have already made progress in reviewing how controlled drugs are used for legitimate purposes. This has identified the need to examine labelling and packaging requirements as part of the new Therapeutic Products regime.

The review did not recommend any changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act itself.

But it has identified a need to review of the Misuse of Drugs regulations in order to ensure that they are fit for purpose for current medical and pharmacy practice.

We will also re-examine the prescribing process for Sativex, New Zealand’s only approved medicinal cannabis product. When we have made progress in all of these areas, I believe that we will be in a better place to consider what a new Misuse of Drugs Act might look like.

The Policy’s fourth Priority Area is to disrupt organised crime.

We need a multiagency approach in order to break supply chains and disrupt the ability of criminal groups to sell illegal drugs. It is important that our efforts are as innovative as those of the criminals we are trying to catch.

Finally, the Policy aims to improve the way the government uses information.

This is vital if we are going to anticipate and respond to alcohol and drug issues effectively.

Greater availability of information is also crucial for people and communities to make better decisions about alcohol and drugs. The five Priority Areas will ensure that the Policy focuses on the things that matter.

But they are not the only way that this Policy improves upon its predecessor.

Another key difference with the new Policy is that it contains far more robust accountability mechanisms.  This will allow us to actually track the progress we are making, and I have required government agencies to report annually to Cabinet on their progress.

Because making promises is not enough.

We need to make sure we keep them. This new accountability system will do that. The action plan contained in the Policy runs for only two years.  This was a deliberate choice.

Some of these actions have never been tried in New Zealand, so we need to feel our way forward.

At the end of the two years there will be a chance for us to take stock and listen to input from the sector.

We can decide which actions to keep going with and also to incorporate new ideas. We may even need to respond to issues which haven’t even emerged yet. I have no doubt that Ross will be knocking on my door with some items he would like to see added.

Overall, this is a Policy I am very pleased with.  I think all of New Zealand can be pleased with it as well.  It places us on the forefront of policymaking and builds upon what we know has been working so far – without compromising our most important values.

Compassion. Innovation. Proportion.

The Policy does not shy away from the difficult issues and places people at its heart.

I am very proud to present it to you today.

Thank you all for being here, and for your continued support as we strive for a more compassionate, innovative and proportionate approach to alcohol and drugs in New Zealand.

What does Labour stand for?

What does Andrew Little stand for? Does anyone have any idea?

He’s not the first Labour leader to morph into meaninglessness since Helen Clark stood down. He’s the fourth.

Peter Dunne may have swung away from Labour over the decades. He posts on his weekly blog (it’s often an interesting insight) about Labour in the UK and how that compares to here:

The contrast with the New Zealand Labour Party could not be more striking. Rather than standing for anything, it seems to have decided that the best way for it to reconnect with New Zealand voters is to be against everything, despite the absurd situations that creates.

For example, since the time of Norman Kirk, now over four decades ago, Labour has been in favour of changing the New Zealand flag to something more representative of our country today, although it has never actually done anything about it. Now, when the Prime Minister initiates a referendum process to change the flag, Labour is suddenly against the idea.

Similarly with the new Health and Safety legislation. Everyone accepts the current law is inadequate and in need of reform. The legislation currently going through Parliament does not meet Labour’s objectives but is nevertheless acknowledged as an improvement on what we have at present.

But contrary Labour opposes it as not going far enough. In other words, it would rather stick with an unacceptable status quo, putting more people’s lives at risk, than support changes which at the very least improve the current law.

These knee-jerk reactions are symptomatic of a Party that has lost its way, and does not know where it stands anymore.

Who, for further example, would have ever imagined a Labour Party in New Zealand apologising to Chinese migrants one decade for the disgusting, discriminatory poll-tax imposed on their forbears a century ago, in the next decade attacking those with Chinese sounding surnames for buying residential property in Auckland?

Or, with its historic commitment to free speech, singling out particular journalists and commentators for attack because they are perceived to be supportive of the current government?

Labour needs a Corbyn-like threat, a contemporary Jim Anderton if you like, to shake it out of its torpor and to allow it to redefine itself in terms of what it actually now stands for.

As the failings of the Little leadership start to become obvious, and the mutterings begin about possible replacements, the challenge will be to find a candidate to stands for something and is prepared to fight for it.

That forlorn hope probably means Andrew Little is safe for a while, and that Labour’s spiral of angry negativity will continue. It also means John Key’s smirky grin will grow ever broader.

Is this disillusionment with Labour just because Dunne has spend to long in coalition with National?

Someone who presumably still has close ties with Labour also Looks at Corbyn and Labour in the UK. And at his own Labour Party. Rob Salmod (Labour’s pollster and infamous for his Chinese surname data analysis) in In defence of the centre at Public Address:

The part where Monbiot is right is that the centre ground really is where elections are won and lost. (That statement is more controversial in New Zealand than it should be.) There are a ton of people there, and those peoples’ own identities are of being open to voting left or right. Below is a chart showing how New Zealanders perceive themselves, Labour, and National. Over a third see themselves as right of where they see Labour, and left of where they see National. That’s huge.

But “pulling the centre back towards the left” is massively, massively hard. You win those people over by being relevant to them as they are, not by telling them they’re worldview needs a rethink. It is just basic psychology. Tell people they were right all along; they like you. Tell people they were wrong all along; they don’t.

And if you win a majority of centrists, you win. The New Zealand Election Study series records six MMP elections in New Zealand – the three where Labour did best among centrists were the three Labour won.

That’s another message from the adacemic study I quoted above – in Germany, Sweden, and the UK, the elections where the left did best among centrists were the elections where they took power. As their popularity among centrists declined, so did their seat share.

New Zealand’s Labour looks nothing like a centrist party. Andrew Little looks nothing like a centrist leader.

I saw this exchange on Twitter a couple of days ago:

Lance Wiggs ‏@lancewiggs
Fascinating to see UK’s Corbyn vs @AndrewLittleMP’s @nzlabour. Corbyn is offering genuine difference, based on Labour values

Andrew Little ‏@AndrewLittleMP
@lancewiggs @nzlabour That explains opposition to state house sales, opp’n to loss of sovereignty under TPP, support for higher min wage …

Lance Wiggs ‏@lancewiggs
@AndrewLittleMP Some good things but plenty of anti-immigration, and other non-labour values. I’ve no idea what you stand for. @nzlabour

I have no idea what Labour or Little stand for either. Last year Little stood for “cut the crap”. That’s been flushed away by the Labour groomers. Little allowed himself to be repackaged as somethig but no one seems to know quite what.

Prison violence concerns beyond Serco and Mt Eden

There are sufficient concerns about alleged violence at Mt Eden prison and about the private management of the prison by Serco to prompt the Department of Corrections to temporarily take over management of the prison.

That seems fair enough.

But there are potentially wider issues. While Labour MP Kelvin Davis has successfully publicised this and has got a result one could wonder about the timing of bringing this up in Parliament, at a time that Labour were facing considerable embarrassment.  If it was designed to divert some of the political heat then it’s also been successful.

But the spotlight on one privately run prison has major political ideological implications. Labour have used this to try and discredit privatisation in general.

But what they haven’t done is make a case that this one prison is significantly worse than any other prison.

Many of the most violent people in New Zealand are in prisons, so it will be difficult to make them violence free zones.

Peter Dune put this media release out yesterday.

24 July 2015

Prison Violence Should Be Eliminated Wherever It Occurs

UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne wants a strong focus on eliminating violence in all prisons.

“The current allegations about what has been happening at the SERCO run Mt Eden prison are appalling, and SERCO needs to be held to account.

“However, it is fatuous and naïve to suggest that violent attacks on prisoners occur only in privately-run prisons, and that the state-rune system is free of such behaviour.

“The sad and unacceptable truth is that violence is an endemic feature of prison sub-culture across the system, and has been forever,” he says.

Mr Dunne says the overall focus of government policy has to be on ending prison wherever it occurs, not just Mt Eden.

“Otherwise, the current campaign looks much more like part of the ongoing opposition to privately-run prisons, than a genuine effort to eliminate prison violence across the entire prison system, “ he says.

Perhaps Labour could now pressure the Government into a wider investigation into prison violence.

Then we would find out whether it’s the private running of prisons that’s the problem or not.

If Labour are not interested in a wider investigation them it could be assumed their motives are more political than concerned about reducing prison violence.

Historical Medical Cannabis Policy Briefing with New Zealand Healthcare Officials

From PRNewswire:

United Patients Group Participates in Historical Medical Cannabis Policy Briefing with New Zealand Healthcare Officials

The New Zealand Drug Foundation in conjunction with United in Compassion New Zealand call upon United Patients Group to contribute to a first-of-its-kind collaboration between US and international experts to further explore cannabis as a possible therapeutic treatment in New Zealand for a range of conditions

SAN FRANCISCO, July 23, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — United Patients Group, the leading medical cannabis information and education site, disclosed their participation in a history-making policy briefing held last week in Wellington, New Zealand with key members of the New Zealand Drug Foundation, United In Compassion New Zealand, world-renowned researchers and leading medical cannabis physicians.  United Patients Group will act in an ongoing advisory and consultative capacity to the New Zealand working group in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, to further explore and initiate potential phase 1 medical trials to examine cannabis as a possible therapeutic treatment in New Zealand.

The esteemed invitation-only panel are made up of experts from across the medical cannabis care pathway and included New Zealand and Australian participants, along with several key experts from the United States, including United Patients Group.

John Malanca, founder of United Patients Group commented, “We are honored to be a part of such a ground-breaking and historic effort and are incredibly impressed that the New Zealand government has listened to its constituents and are making a concerted effort to explore thoughtfully and swiftly the benefits of cannabis for medicinal purposes.”

In May 2015, after intense petitioning by United in Compassion NZ, recent media coverage of high profile medical cases and resulting public pressure, New Zealand’s Associate Minister of Health, Peter Dunne, agreed to start a dialogue in order to become better informed about the process of bringing medical cannabis into New Zealand for potential research and development purposes.

Dunne set up a team to explore the current climate regarding medical cannabis in New Zealand and formed a Ministry of Health Working Group, led by Dr. Stewart Jessamine, current Director of Public Health for the Ministry of Health in Wellington.  Jessamine also heads up Medicines Control which functions as a regulatory team within the Ministry of Health that oversees the local distribution chain of medicines and controlled drugs within New Zealand.  Jessamine is also an executive board member for the World Health Organization.

With a marked shift in public opinion toward legalization of cannabis for medical purposes worldwide, New Zealand (like the US) is re-examining its long-standing policies toward the (currently illegal) drug.

Compassion Melds with Science
Malanca further commented, “Fundamentally, it’s difficult to ignore the daily barrage of stories coming from all over the world where medical cannabis is cited as having an effective impact on the relief and treatment for patients living with chronic and life-threatening conditions such as Dravet Syndrome to brain cancer.”

It was Malanca’s own personal experience with the devastating diagnosis of his father-in-law’s lung cancer (which had metastasized to the brain), that led he and co-founder, Corinne Malanca to medical cannabis as a last lifeline for their family member, Stan Rutner.  Five years later, Stan Rutner remains cancer free (both brain and lung scans are clear).  The duo formed United Patients Group in 2010 in order to provide reliable, comprehensive information on medical cannabis to individuals around the world.  The online site has expanded to include information for caregivers, physicians and treatment facilities throughout the US as well as online CME (continuing medical education) courses in medical cannabis .

New Zealand Seeks US Expertise
Toni-Marie Matich is a mother of a teenage daughter suffering from Dravet Syndrome.  Matich also has an early education in science and horticulture. They live in New Zealand, where like many other countries, cannabis is illegal.  She had heard the story of young Charlotte Figi, the Colorado child who was suffering from 300 grand mal seizures per week that was being successfully treated with medical cannabis.

After exhausting all options available in New Zealand, and her daughter still suffering hundreds of seizures a day, Matich  began working behind the scenes for several years to try and raise the issue (and awareness) of medical cannabis, gaining the support of the NZ Children’s Commissioner, and the CEO of the NZ Drug Foundation along the way.  She became the New Zealand representative to United in Compassion Australia in 2014.

“Due to the laws criminalizing cannabis in New Zealand, it isn’t a treatment that our doctors or other health professionals are familiar with, therefore the ability for a doctor to have an open mind and discussion with their patient is non-existent and we would like that to change. I recognized that United Patients Group was leading the way in information across the entire spectrum of the medical cannabis movement in the US, as well as providing the educational resources for clinical and medical professionals, so I sought them out.”

Matich secured a meeting with (Associate Health Minister) Dunne, known for his vehement opposition to legalizing cannabis.  “Dunne listened and showed compassion.  To my surprise he immediately tasked a working group within the ministry to meet with us and engage in developing our initiatives.   A key component was to educate individuals on medical cannabis, so we immediately brought in United Patients Group.”

The policy briefing was hosted by the NZ Drug Foundation which functions as a charitable trust dedicated to advocating for evidence-based drug policies.  Ross Bell, Executive Director for the NZ Drug Foundation said, “Across the globe there’s a tremendous amount of new research coming up surrounding medical cannabis, and some of the research appears to be very promising.”  Bell stresses that at the core of the matter are the people of New Zealand, who are living with medical conditions that many of them feel may benefit from medical cannabis. “We’re thrilled to be working with experts from around the world, like United Patients Group, to address how to specifically deliver a medicine such as cannabis and to what type of medical condition while working through some of the political realities we face, just like any other nation at this time.”

In addition to United Patients Group, participants from the historic policy briefing included:

  • Toni-Marie Matich – Co-Founder and CEO, United in Compassion NZ Charitable Trust
  • Ross Bell – Executive Director of the NZ Drug Foundation
  • Dr. Russell Wills – The Children’s Commissioner (New Zealand)
  • Dr. Alan Shackelford  Harvard-trained physician and medical cannabis researcher who came to worldwide prominence as the doctor who successfully treated Charlotte Figi, the Colorado child suffering from 300 grand mal seizures a week
  • Dr. Bonni Goldstein – Medical Director of Canna-Centers, a medical practice in California devoted to educating patients about the use of cannabis for serious and chronic medical conditions
  • Lucy Haslam – Co-Founder and Director, United In Compassion Australia
  • Troy Langman –  Co-Founder and Director,  United In Compassion Australia and New Zealand
  • Knut Ratzeberg – Laboratory Director, Medical Cannabis Services (AU)
  • Dr. Helga Seyler – Liaison between The University of Sydney and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO)
  • Nevil Schoenmaker – Founded ‘The Seed Bank’ in Holland in 1984, and was one of the first legal producers of cannabis seeds

About United Patients Group
United Patients Group (UPG) is the unparalleled online resource and trusted leader for medical cannabis information and education for physicians, patients and health-related organizations.

Learn more about United Patients Group at

About United In Compassion NZ
United In Compassion is a non-profit charitable trust whose purpose is to educate the public on Medicinal Cannabis, supporting and facilitating NZ based research into the therapeutic effects of cannabinoid based medicines, as well as providing support to New Zealanders who would like to access legal medicinal cannabis, as well as to lobby government for legislation changes regarding the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes

About NZ Drug Foundation
A charitable trust dedicated to evidence-based alcohol and other drug policy.

Dunne supports discussion on end-of-life issues

Another thoughtful blog post from Peter Dunne on ‘end-of-life’ issues which although not named includes euthanasia.

The issue of end-of-life care is on the agenda again. I am not one who believes that doctors should be able to kill terminally ill patients, but then I doubt many New Zealanders do either. In any case, the issue is far more complex than that, which is why a wider inquiry is justified.

All of us who have experienced the pain of watching someone close to us suffer a lingering and often painful death have felt the anguish and powerlessness of wanting to do more to help, but being unable to do so.

We have admired the dedicated and compassionate efforts of those involved in palliative care and know of the medications now available to ease pain and make the last stages of life more comfortable, and are hugely appreciative of that.

But, at the same time, we are becoming more aware that end-of-life care is but one aspect of overall health care. Advanced care planning, where people discuss with family at earlier stages of life what their expectations are when they become old and/or frail or suffer from a terminal illness, is becoming equally important.

Similarly, understanding people’s expectations is also a significant consideration as well. At a time when the bulk of health spending occurs in the last five years of a person’s life, are we certain that is what they want, or do they simply want a dignified, managed exit?

Medicines management is another factor. For years now it has been an open secret that doctors manage the demise of terminal patients through adjustment to medication levels to ease suffering and assist gentle death.

Nor is it a new practice – King George V’s doctors reportedly managed his death nearly 80 years ago so that it could be announced in the morning papers. But doctors managing life as it ebbs away is different from actively securing its end.

Nevertheless, the moral argument about the sanctity of natural life and that no-one has the right to interfere with it begs the question somewhat. While I have sympathy with that view in an absolutist sense – hence my vehement, unwavering opposition to capital punishment – I acknowledge that in many terminal cases, it is questionable (as a consequence of medication and other life support measures) whether a patient is actually living a natural life any more. Therefore, the morally absolutist argument may no longer be relevant in all cases.

And then there is the question of free will. I was always taught that the most precious gift we possess – which defined us as human beings – is free will, the right to be able to decide for ourselves.

Any debate about the end of life cannot overlook this fundamental point. What a patient “wants” should rank ahead of what “we can do” for the patient in such circumstances, provided the patient’s decision is rational and informed, which brings us back to the advanced care planning argument. In such instances, do the rest of us have the right to override a patient’s wishes?

Providing a patient who requests it with the means to end life in such circumstances is arguably different from another person deliberately ending that life. The ultimate recognition of free will is, after all, respecting people’s exercise of it.

A public discussion about all these issues would be welcome and timely. Ideally, an independent expert panel should be established, with a wide-ranging brief to consider and advise upon all aspects of end-of-life care and how it should be managed. This inquiry should undertake widespread public consultation leading to the presentation of full and thorough recommendations to Parliament for action. For its part, Parliament needs to show its willingness to both lead and respond.

It’s good to see MPs contribute to thoughtful discussion, especially Ministers.

Dunne: find a doctor who is open to medicinal cannabis

Peter Dunne has been reported as effectively encouraging patients wanting to use medicinal cannabis to find a doctor who will consider this in their interest.

This is in Mum desperate for medicinal cannabis for her sick son:

Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne has made it clear to GPs and the Medical Association that conservatism about using medicinal cannabis isn’t always in the best interests of their patients.

If a doctor wasn’t open to medicinal cannabis then families had the option of finding another doctor, he said.

“I’m not going to encourage or discourage that because it’s not my role, but it’s an option for them to consider.”

This looks like a carefully worded but significant statement from Dunne. This was in response to discussion about other parents wanting to try medical cannabis for their children because other drugs weren’t helping and follows the approval of the Ministry and Dunne to allow Alex Renton to be treated with Elixinol.

His family’s fight to get doctors to apply to the Ministry of Health has triggered another mother, Julie Dixon, to share her experiences battling for CBD for her son, Matthew.

The Christchurch 27-year-old has suffered from refractory epilepsy since he was aged 3 and has spent much of his life in and out of a hospital.

“We’re desperate,” Dixon said.

Matthew’s seizures are uncontrolled by medication and he too has spent time in hospital in an induced coma.

The Government allows oral treatment of a drug called Sativex, which contains cannabis extracts that include CBD and requires ministerial approval.

When Dunne approved Elixinol for Alex Renton it was the first time that particular product had been approved.

“The last time we visited the specialist we asked about Sativex and the doctor’s response was, why would you want to try that when it hasn’t been proven to work,” Dixon said.

“For us there is an absence of any other treatment options. We are regularly advised there is nothing left.”

Dixon said doctors have never discussed anything outside of conventional treatments with her and it was only when she started doing her own research she came across Sativex and Elixinol.

She and her husband, Kelvin, have written to Dunne asking for approval but without the support of Matthew’s doctor, Dunne is hamstrung by the procedure, which isn’t one he plans to change.

“At the end of the day cannabis oil is just another drug – no different from the powerful drugs being used to keep Alex comatose and the powerful drug that our son Matthew takes every day of his life, which does not control his seizures,” she said.

And Dunne seems to be following these cases and recognises the difficulties the families are having with treatments.

While Dunne said he had considerable sympathy for the families involved, “I’m not a clinician and I’m not in any position to override the clinical judgment.”

But he is open to broadening access to medicinal cannabis despite Prime Minister John Key saying he wouldn’t support a parliamentary debate on the matter.

“We are watching closely the trials that are being undertaken in Australia. Essentially if they prove to be effective we would obviously seek to take advantage of them in New Zealand.

“But the real issue beyond that is manufacturers being prepared to make those drugs available, in some cases they’re not interested because they don’t see the market as big enough.”

For it to go beyond a case by basis a manufacturer would have to apply for interim or general approval of use of their products here.

Perhaps the New Zealand market isn’t big enough – but if a manufacturer had their products approved in the New Zealand market and proved their worth here that would do a lot to help them establish wider markets.

Pressure on Dunne – another mother wanting medicinal cannabis

There is pressure on Peter Dunne with another mother applying pressure to be able to use medicinal cannabis to treat her 7 year old daughter.

The Rotorua Post (via NZH) reports: Hope for Zoe in cannabis oil

Zoe has neurodevelopmental disorder and refractory seizure disorder, due to her brain being deprived of oxygen during birth.

Mrs Jeffries said doctors had given her 24 hours to live but, seven years on, Zoe was still fighting. “It’s the ups and downs that make it hard. You can only live each day as it comes … As a family, we are extremely happy Mr Dunne has shown considerable compassion and approved the use of Elixinol for Alex (Renton).

“In regards to Zoe, she has had a list of seven pharmaceuticals to trial this year. There is one left to try and she still continues to have hundreds of seizures daily”.

Dunne has made it clear that approval for Alex didn’t set a precedent:

Mr Dunne stressed the use of Elixinol in Mr Renton’s situation wasn’t a precedent and shouldn’t be seen as a “significant change in policy”.

But that is contradicted.

Mr Dunne said doctors had been able to apply for medicinal cannabis products for many years but it was the first time that avenue had been used for that product.

More products are available now, and more testing is being done, and more anecdotal evidence is becoming available. And there’s quite a bit of research pending.

What Mrs Jeffries will need to do is apply to the Ministry for approval to use a product.

Ministry of Health advice was “50/50 saying that there’s no compelling evidence that this product will work. On the other hand there’s no compelling evidence it will do significant damage to him”.

She needs to show that there is reasonable evidence the product might work, and that there is no compelling evidence it will not do any damage to Zoe.

Ideally approval for the product in general can be obtained to save parents from going through procedures and more stress.

It will help if more doctors and specialists ask for these relatively safe products too.

Mrs Jeffries said UICNZ was working constructively with the Ministry of Health to change that. “We hope to be able to implement a methodical regime here in NZ. Ideally compassion for one can equate to compassion for all in need.”

” Zoe is my inspiration for becoming a trustee with United in Compassion NZ (UICNZ), a sister branch of the Australian organisation who worked with Rose Renton on Alex’s case. As a non-profit we are working towards the goal of medical cannabis in NZ, and doing so from an angle highlighting education, compassion and logic.”

UICNZ now has charity status and has set up a Givealittle page to raise funds. For more information visit

Karen Jeffries is far from the only parent desperate for something that will effectively treat their child.

Dunne approves medicinal cannabis for teen in coma

Just breaking –

Assoc Health Minister Peter Dunne has approved cannabidiol (medicinal cannabis) for Alex Renton

Good news for Alex and his family.

Minister approves one-off use of Cannabidiol product

Hon Peter Dunne
Associate Minister of Health

9 June 2015

Minister approves one-off use of Cannabidiol product ‘Elixinol’

Associate Minister of Health Hon Peter Dunne has today approved on compassionate grounds the one-off use of Elixinol, a cannabidiol (CBD) product from the United States to be administered by clinicians treating Wellington patient Alex Renton.

The Minister said that “despite the absence of clinical evidence supporting the efficacy of CBD in patients with Mr Renton’s condition status epilepticus, my decision relies on the dire circumstances and extreme severity of Mr Renton’s individual case”.

“I have considerable sympathy for the family of Mr Renton who face an incredibly difficult situation. Understandably they want to do the best for their son, and they believe that this option is worth trying.

“I have also considered the absence of any other treatment options, the low risk of significant adverse effects, and the conclusion reached by the hospital ethics committee from an individual patient perspective.

“Ministerial approval in this case does not extend beyond Mr Renton’s application and should in no way be construed as setting a wider precedent,” he said.

Mr Dunne said the advice he has received was that there remains a lack of clinical evidence supporting the use of CBD products in sufferers of Mr Renton’s condition.

“The fact that Elixinol does not have a supporting pharmaceutical testing regime means this application has been reviewed as a stand-alone case and weighed against the severity of his condition.

“My officials will be closely following the outcome of studies overseas, including those due to commence next year in Australia, on the efficacy of different products. Those results will help to inform future legislative and regulatory considerations here in New Zealand.

“I am satisfied with the way the DHB and the Ministry have handled this matter. After exhausting all recommended and standard treatment options, CCDHB made a clinical decision last week to complete the necessary documentation to apply for approval to use a non-standard medicinal cannabidiol treatment for Mr Renton. That application was lodged with the Ministry yesterday afternoon. Ministry officials considered the application as a matter of priority and briefed me this morning.

“I hope for a positive outcome for Mr Renton and his family,” Mr Dunne said.

Party positions on medical cannabis

In DHB delays treatment application for teenager in coma Stuff  canvases parties to gauge their position on allowing the use of medical cannabis.

Labour MP Damien O’Connor wants action.

O’Connor is also calling for Parliament to debate the issue of access to medicinal marijuana, particularly in cases such as Alex’s, where all conventional medications have already been tested.

Peter Dunne (UnitedFuture, Associate Minister of Health):

If the application to the ministry is successful, the ultimate decision comes down to Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne.

He would not comment on Alex’s specific case, but said he was already doing work around the possibilities of making medicinal cannabinoid (CBD) more readily available.

“While the evidence to date wasn’t strong … we have begun assessing from New Zealand what the situation should be.”

“I don’t know how long this process will take, but we are gathering evidence. I’ve had a series of meetings with officials around what it might look like and the process is ongoing.”

Labour leader Andrew Little…

…agreed with O’Connor that it was time for a debate, and would support a bill on the matter.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei…

…said Alex’s case was another example of the law not working.

She said the current process put up too many barriers for doctors and families, and it was time to consider opening up access to medicinal marijuana.

ACT leader David Seymour and Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox…

…were also open to a debate on the issue.

NZ First leader Winston Peters…

…said nobody could stop a debate in Parliament but he’d want to be sure all other legal options were exhausted before considering granting access to medicinal marijuana.

That’s five in favour of addressing medical cannabis and one who sounds reluctant.

Notably absent from that list is National.

But this may not need to go through Parliament. Dunne and the Ministry health are able to approve the use of drugs for medicinal use..


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