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 www.unitedpatientsgroup.com

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  http://unitedincompassion.org.nz/

About NZ Drug Foundation
A charitable trust dedicated to evidence-based alcohol and other drug policy.  http://www.drugfoundation.org.nz/

Leave a comment


  1. Its good to hear that the debate is going on.. BUT will Dunne & this ‘know-it-all’ Govt. really pay them a blind-bit of notice ?

    Dunne has stated that he will never approve ‘leaf cannabis’ in the forseeable future & only pharmaceuticals; IF approved by him. He even stated at a UN meeting that the ‘evidence for medicinal use is UNDERWHELMING’… even though most other OECD countries are looking into it.
    Key said he ‘does not agree with DRUGS’ (end of story ?)

    So whilst this appears to be a step forward, will it fail to get over the hurdles, this Govt. have set-up ??

    I will keep a eye on these developments & fingers crossed for ANY progress. :/

  2. kittycatkin

     /  25th July 2015

    How nice it would be if you could write something that didn’t include a tedious & gratuitous snipe at John Key. I am sure that if he did say that he didn’t agree with drugs, he meant what most of us do-not the sort of drugs used in medicine. If he’d said that medicinal cannabis was a great idea, I imagine that you’d find fault with that too.

    You must know that any drugs must be proved to do good. You have surely heard of the Thalidomide disaster. In the past, mercury was used to cure syphillis, although we now know that it didn’t. History, even recent history, has many such well-intentioned failures. Heroin was used as a pain relief as recently as the 20th century. I know many older people who remember when amphetamines were sold in chemists-these people bought them to keep themselves alert at university exam times . Morphine, which is now strictly controlled, was once among many such things sold over the counter.

    LDS was once used as a legitimate medical treatment; I very much hope that it isn’t now.

    I would hope that nobody would want to ignore the lessons learned from these medical misjudgements.

    • One things certain.. I don’t think the ‘suns shines out of his A’ (as some seem to) LOL

      btw; LSD was a legitimate ‘psychoactive’ medicine & Cannabis was also widely used too, prior to the current MISINFORMATION being spread by some.

      • kittycatkin

         /  26th July 2015

        I am aware of that. I have mentioned it elsewhere as an example of why medicine needs to be used with great caution.

        If you mean ‘arse’, then say so. We only have one sun, as far as I know.

  3. It is not ‘debate’ going on, it has been logical and progressive discussion whereas individuals from grassroots level through to government have met regularly to find some common ground and a way forward that sees this issue progressed in the most sensible way, Medical Cannabis isn’t the cure-all that many hope it will be, research shows that it is a particular subset of people who do in fact benefit and to varying degrees, the constant barrage of social media and internet viral stories does nothing to offer a balanced approach to the issue, you do not hear about those who do not benefit because they simply stop taking it, and you do not hear of those who experience contra-indications or side-effects as with any other medication, if you want it to be treated like a medicine then it needs to be researched and introduced like one through the appropriate trials, allowing this will also allow NZ to be part of the global discussion and facilitate and contribute such research as well as better understanding the many aspects of it that we do not, and there are many

    • It is good to hear your feedback Toni-Marie

      I am glad to hear also ‘discussions’ are ongoing, BUT I am concerned that this Govt. appear to be almost working ‘in isolation’ on this issue, whilst nearly all other parts of the ‘western world’ are moving forward. Canada, USA, much of EU & Australia are already allowing ‘natural cannabis’ to be trialled & prescribed for a raft of illnesses & conditions, whilst Dunne appears to be just looking for reasons to maintain this restrictive; status quo.
      eg one-off approval for elixinol, not setting a precedent, underwhelming evidence, 3 levels of approval for sativex etc.

      I think the law reform movement needs to make medicinal use the first priority, BUT I do not think that other uses should be, just dismissed at the cost of this. “Kia Ora”

      • Toni-Marie

         /  26th July 2015

        Kia Ora Zedd
        Yes various regimes in multiple states of the US and now over 20 countries globally is hard to sit back and understand why we are taking so long, what I’ve learnt is that those regimes are all regulated differently and come with many problems and issues that we do not hear of here, Australia is making progress to a certain extent, they have a substantial amount of money injected into research and development, however they to are dealing with a conservative govt and issues such as supply and demand and how can that be guaranteed, safe and effective?
        If we step outside of our box on this issue for a bit and take a really good look at the actual reliable research at hand and global data we find that it is a particular subset of individuals who do indeed benefit medicinally from cannabis, this is different to the social/recreational benefit’s which can be seen by users as medicinal and muddy the waters for actual progress as Dunne has stated.
        We do however have the ability to create a framework that takes all of this into consideration and perfect a regime here for that particular subset of individuals and that will take time, allowing trials is a reasonable and logical place to start and as they progress we can work on education and developing the other areas such as safe legal access to quality products that do not have the price tag of products such as Sativex

        • There are advantages to being “Late to the party” From a purely medical perspective it allows NZ to learn from the misuse of Green card/grow your own regimes from overseas. Was it California where the average MC card holder was a late 20s early 30s Male with lower back pain? (hardly the demographic with the worst health and disability issues) conversely it allows us to leverage off the positive developments up front, no barriers, such as the concrete list of conditions enshrined in Law that many US states have, stifling research etc. Kevin Hague had a good quote on the subject, words to the effect of “As a country that prides itself in primary industry, I see no reason why we cannot grow Cannabis to stringent standards” or words to that effect.

  4. so; here’s my story:

    I’m turning 55 soon.. I have suffered with severe back-pain (sciatica/lumbago) for over a decade. (esp. in cold weather) a series of doctors have told me ‘take a couple of aspirin’ (but that does F all for me) I found out several years ago that a couple of cones of ‘illegal weed’ does take my mind off it & relieve the pain.. BUT I am labeled a criminal (here in NZ) IF I do this. I refuse to actually buy black-market cannabis, BUT in the last couple of years I have been unable to get any viable seeds to grow my own.. so what do I do ?

    Grin & bare it.. or have a six-pack of beers & feel sick in the morning ! 😦

    Aotearoa/NZ is living in the past, whilst many other countries have now ‘got with the program’ & allow medicinal cannabis for those who genuinely benefit from it.. kiwis like me who just ‘suffer in silence’. (or shout on the blogs)

    I still think Dunne needs to be asked “why did he promote SYNTHETIC cannabis, but refuse to consider the ‘natural herb’ even for medicinal use (which is exempt from any bans under the UN conventions 1961) Who is ‘pulling his strings’ ???

    • kittycatkin

       /  26th July 2015

      There are much stronger painkillers than aspirin.Ibuprofen is strong (and inexpensive if you buy the cheaper brands which cost (in the case of Ethics brand) about 1/4 of the other brands and are exactly the same.)

      I hope that no doctor would diagnose lumbago as a medical condition; it’s a general (and more or less obsolete) term meaning back pain from any cause.

      What are you baring ? I hope you mean ‘bearing’.

  5. Firstly our Government voted in favor of the phychoactive substances bill which in fact was a reasonably unflawed bill that allowed regulation and harm reduction, secondly it is a COMPLETELY separate issue to that of Medicinal Cannabis!


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