Medical cannabis: Terminal vs Severe and Debilitating?

Medical Cannabis Awareness NZ wants the Government’s medical cannabis bill to be expanded to cover people suffering from ‘severe and debilitating’ illness. It currently only allows an exemption from prosecution for using cannabis for people certified to have less than a year to live (but growing is still illegal, as is the supplying of cannabis to them).


Terminal vs Severe and Debilitating?

The exemptions outlined for the terminally ill by Labour’s Medical Cannabis bill do not go far enough, and have been universally panned by patient advocates and policy experts.

MCANZ Coordinator Shane Le Brun:

“David Clark’s excuse for failing to deliver on Labour’s election promise is that there is a high portion of New Zealanders with chronic pain, many of those however would not be severe such as those who suffer from comparatively mild conditions such as osteoarthritis”.

“The Ministry of Health’s Non-pharmaceutical application guidelines have a terminology of  “severe or debilitating condition” using that definition instead of terminal would be a far more effective way of protecting patients. If such terminology is good enough for prescribers it should be good enough for police and the courts.”

“If such a change creates any extra administrative load for the courts to determine ‘severe or debilitating’ it would be short term only, as police would be on the receiving end of an attitude adjustment, the cost in administration pales into comparison against the significance of what it offers a very ill and vulnerable cohort of New Zealanders”

MCANZ Feels that the best solution to the criminalization of patients is to disrupt police prosecution
habits directly, before they get to court.

“The Solicitor General’s prosecution guidelines could be easily reviewed and updated to include a specific clause in the public interest test section. Such a clause counting against prosecution could be worded along the lines of ‘where the Misuse of Drugs Act has been breached for a significant therapeutic benefit”.

“Intervention before prosecution is critical to the safety and wellbeing of patients, most of whom are on benefits who can ill afford costly legal battles, and the seizure of what for many is an essential medicine”.

MCANZ Spokesperson Dr Huhana Hickey MNZM”

“The contradictions in allowing terminally ill to access but not providing them with a way of doing it, is as bad as denying all with pain the chance of taking a medicine that works. We need to educate society over the benefits of medicinal and how it can change lives.”

“To deny Medical Cannabis any longer is to show a disregard for people in chronic pain and who are in effect suffering at the hands of government policy. Change it now, it’s need not be complex, it can be simple, but they need to work with those of us who can no longer take opioids and other strong drugs who want our quality of life back.”

Cheaper medicinal cannabis product approved

The only legal medicinal cannabis product available in New Zealand until now has been Sativex, a mouth spray that has been prohibitively expensive for many people.

Another product that is less than half the price, Tilray, has just been approved by Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne after Dr Huhana Hickey applied to use it.

NZ Herald: Medicinal cannabis costs set to tumble after cheaper product gets green light

It is estimated the marijuana-based tincture called Tilray will cost at least 50 per cent less than the existing legal product Sativex, a UK mouth spray made by GW Pharma.

Multiple sclerosis sufferer, Dr Huhana Hickey, who applied to use Tilray, said: “I’m so relieved. It’s going to save me $700 a month.”

The AUT academic says she has spent $9000 on prescriptions since she started taking medicinal cannabis in February. Hickey says the results have been remarkable.

“I’m living my life again. I’m back to work, I am fully-functioning”

She started using the spray to replace pain killers such as morphine, codeine, tramadol and other opiates which she had been prescribed for years.

“At the start I was sceptical I didn’t think it was going to work that well, but I can’t believe it. I haven’t had opiates for seven months. It really works and I have no side effects.”

Hickey says she doesn’t get high, just a little dozy at nights.
“And I sleep, which is great because I’ve been an insomniac for 40 years.”

Medicinal cannabis is being used to treat diverse conditions such as chronic pain, terminal cancer, Tourette’s and child epilepsy. Patients say it reduces the severity of their symptoms.

Sativex, which is not funded by the drug buying agency Pharmac, has been available in New Zealand since 2008. Medical marijuana campaigners say fewer than 40 patients use it, largely because of the price. A prescription through a district health board costs patients around $1200 a month, or $1500 if it is ordered with a chemist.

Hickey’s success follows the rejection of a similar application by trade unionist Helen Kelly. She wanted to use a cannabis product to alleviate symptoms of terminal lung cancer. Kelly, 52, died on Friday.

Kelly’s application was rejected and she didn’t try again, instead choosing to illegally use medicinal cannabis, openly flaunting the law.

The campaigning charity Medical Cannabis Awareness NZ supported Hickey’s application for the new concentrate.

Spokesman Shane Le Brun said: “There are many people suffering while waiting for legal access, who balk at the price of Sativex. We hope that Tilray products will be recognised over time as a ‘close enough’ equivalent to Sativex to spare patients the exorbitant cost.”

Le Brun says the other reason for the lack of uptake of Sativex the difficulty in finding an anaesthetist who will agree to prescribing medicinal cannabis. He hopes this decision will change things.

“Once we have a few more approvals through then specialists will have less room to squirm and avoid the issue.”

Le Brun hopes that eventually new cannabis medicines will not require ministerial sign off.

Dunne would not comment but his office indicated that in the future approval for recognised products such as Tilray was likely to become routine.

“Hopefully this will open door for others in need,” says Hickey.

It’s a toe in the door. Now Hickey’s application has succeeded expect more people to apply to use Tilray.