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.”

A watered down Medical Cannabis bill?

It looks like Labour’s promise and Green’s hope of a medical cannabis bill is being watered down by NZ First, to the extent that Greens are keeping their Members’ Bill in the ballot.

Labour promised in Taking action in our first 100 days:

  • Introduce legislation to make medicinal cannabis available for people with terminal illnesses or in chronic pain

There are growing concerns about how far they will now go.

NZH: Bill to legalise medicinal cannabis introduced this week

Legislation to legalise medicinal cannabis will be introduced this week.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed the bill would be introduced this week during her post-Cabinet press conference today.

She declined to give details on the legislation, including who would be able to access cannabis and in what circumstances.

Ardern said the Green Party and NZ First had been involved during the development of the Government’s bill.

She indicated the Government bill would not go as far as the measures in Swarbrick’s private member’s bill, because it was necessary to put up something that NZ First would support.

“What we are producing is a bill that we know has the support of the House to get through,” Ardern said.

“We have undertaken that we would improve on the status quo. And we are doing that. And we can guarantee with the bill we have got we can do that. We can’t guarantee that with the member’s bill. There are differences, and you will see that when the bill is introduced.”

But the Greens are obviously not satisfied that it will go far enough.

Green Party leader James Shaw said the Greens would not withdraw the private member’s bill, called the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis and Other Matters) Amendment Bill.

“That will be in there as an option. But the good news is we know there is also a Government bill that has the numbers to pass the House. If we can also get the numbers for the other bill, then that is great.”

So it looks like NZ First is putting a spoke on the Medical Cannabis wheel.

This stays in the mix:

The Government legislation will be introduced as another private member’s bill, introduced by Green MP Julie Anne Genter but now in the name of her colleague Chloe Swarbrick, awaits its first reading.

It would amend the Misuse of Drugs Act to make a specific exemption for any person with a qualifying medical condition to cultivate, possess or use the cannabis plant and/or cannabis products for therapeutic purposes, provided they have the support of a registered medical practitioner.

This exemption would also apply to an immediate relative or other nominated person, so they can administer or supply cannabis to the person.

But that would also require NZ First support unless National backed it, which is unlikely.

Ardern and Labour should remember Helen Kelly.

Here is one reminder from last year: Jacinda v David: ‘The pain behind the medical marijuana debate’

It was sometime in the middle of last year when the political suddenly felt personal. It wasn’t a party, it wasn’t even a social occasion. I was visiting my friend who had spent the evening periodically flinching, doubling over, and rocking, and was now reaching for a form of cannabis as she tried to deal with her pain.

My friend was dying.

I think that’s what gets me most about the medical marijuana debate. It’s the perfect example of the brutal reality of people’s individual situations, and the layers of complexity that emerge as soon as you dig into it as a politician.

As policy makers, we are meant to park the personal, and deal with the big picture. But perhaps it’s those personal experiences that force us to figure out a way to get back to some simple principles. There are people who are terminally ill, who are experiencing extraordinary pain, and who are asking to access relief that works for them without being blocked by a minister of the Crown, and without being criminalised. Simple.

Not so simple with a three party government.

If NZ First won’t support decent legislation there’s not much Labour and the Greens can do but offer us crumbs of medical cannabis.

We may be surprised when we see the legislation some time this week, but the signals are not encouraging.