Labour violins getting ahead of writing the symphony

One repeat criticism of Labour in Government, with Jacinda Ardern leading, is that they are talking the talk far more walking the policies. I think this criticism is justified.

So does John Roughan:  Labour violins play but ovation must wait

Labour governments have one habit that annoys me intensely. They love to trumpet big liberal social advances without doing the hard work. The last Labour Government made an art-form of this and the present one is shaping up to be just the same.

This week its Health Minister, David Clark, moved the final reading of the bill legalising medicinal cannabis and hailed it as “compassionate and progressive” legislation that would make a difference to people living in pain and nearing the end of their lives. You could almost hear the violins playing in Labour minds and see the wistful look in their eyes as they imagined this moment in a movie made for audiences susceptible to simplified social history.

While the medicinal cannabis bill is progress (anything would be progress compared to what National stalled) but it is hardly a great progressive moment. And the compassion is limited to some and excludes many others, like those who suffer from chronic pain and prefer safer, less addictive but illegal relief.

You had to read the news reports carefully to notice that a great deal of work on the bill, now law, has still to be done. “Little” details such as, what cannabis products? How will people know they are effective? Who will be allowed to make them? How are you going to restrict them to people genuinely in pain or terminally ill?

All those questions, and more, have been passed to officials in the Ministry of Health. Until they can work them out the legislation does almost nothing, it’s just a statute of intention.

And a problem with this is that the Ministry of Health has proven to be far from progressive in dealing with medicinal cannabis. We won’t know how much real progress the current bill will make for up to a year.

It annoys me intensely because it is dishonest. Not just politically, but intellectually dishonest, which you would not expect Labour people to be. I don’t understand how they can take pride in acts of principle that leave so many practical difficulties demanding answers.

Fair call from Roughan.

To my mind, if a principle is not practical there is probably something wrong with it.

Ironically, the one thing this week’s legislation has done immediately is provide the terminally ill with a legal defence should they be prosecuted for using the drug while it remains illegal. Since they were never likely to be prosecuted that pretty much confirms the status quo.

While Labour play the violins of progress the tune is often much the same as National’s.

Labour seems divided on the subject. Police Minister Stuart Nash and Health Minister Clark this week announced a toughening of the laws against the manufacture and sales of synthetics, classifying them as class A drugs which I guess means the end of the attempt to provide a legal framework for them.

At the same time they announced a directive to the police would be written into the Misuse of Drugs Act to use their discretion not to prosecute for mere possession of all drugs (all?) where a therapeutic approach might be more beneficial. Again, the status quo, for lesser classes of drugs anyway. Discretion works well enough in practice but how do you define it in law? More hard work for somebody else.

Much of the work on regulations for the medical marijuana was in fact done by a new MP in National’s caucus, a physician, Dr Shane Reti.

Reti spent last summer in the US talking to officials in states that have legalised the drug for medicinal use. On return, he drafted a private members’ bill that appeared fairly practical and capable of controlling the standard and distribution of cannabis in medicinal forms.

He convinced the National caucus to support legalisation and for a while it seemed the Government might write his proposals into its bill. But though he was deputy chair of the select committee on the bill, it didn’t happen. It is hard to know why.

Labour could hardly claim to be the great progressive party but helped by National.

Maybe this Government is using medical legalisation to soften the electorate for general decriminalisation before we get a referendum on that issue. Is that the kind of dishonesty we are dealing with? I prefer to think not, and that Reti’s work will not be wasted when National returns.

There is a real possibility that Labour has used the medicinal cannabis bill to appear to be doing something (that they had promised to do with urgency) but in fact have used it to kick the cannabis can down the road.

The violins play while the opportunity to be progressive runs away. It’s almost as if Labour are running away from it.

I was resigned to National continuing to stall progress on drug law reform, but especially after Labour’s promises their hollow violin promises are even more disappointing.

Peters promises to fix medicinal cannabis bill ‘defects’…

…sort of. He only agreed that Parliament would make it better, vaguely.

The medical cannabis bill currently being considered by Parliament hit a stalemate in the Health Committee that could not reach agreement so couldn’t recommend it. Final report (Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill) [PDF 595k]

Recommendation

The Health Committee has examined the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill. We have been unable to reach agreement and therefore cannot recommend that the bill proceed.

Winston Peters was asked about this on Q & A last night:

Corrin Dann: Can you put party politics aside and for the chronic pain sufferers out there tonight, give them an assurance that you will try and make a bill that is better than Labour’s, and maybe a bit of a halfway house? Will you do something?

Winston Peters: Well on two counts. We’ve put party politics aside more than any other party. That’s why we argued for a long time for the referendum. And we were on our own on that score.

But on this matter, I mean it’s a bit rich for Mr bridges to be saying that when his former minister [Peter Dunne] said that he’d been trying to do that, that’s what he’s talking about now, for the last nine years and he’d been blocked by his colleagues.

Corrin Dann: I get that it’s cynical, it’s a stunt, call it what you will…

Winston Peters: …and wearing a green tie doesn’t cut it.

Corrin Dann: For the people at home who are chronic suffers, under Labour’s bill you effectively have to be terminal, don’t you, in order to be able to get access to the cannabis.

Winston Peters: Well not quite like that, but let me just say…

Corrin Dann: …Will you go further though?

Winston Peters: Well I’ve made it very clear, and I’m certain it goes for a whole lot of people in Parliament as well, that they want to put politics aside. They don’t like these sort of tactics, and in the full committee of the House we’ll have a real chance to make any appropriate changes if we can.

But these people [chronic pain sufferers] can’t wait.

But the National Party bill for example would not have helped Helen Kelly. So if there are defects on both sides of the proposals, let’s fix them up. I agree with you.

Corrin Dann: You’ll make it better?

Winston Peters: Yes.

Peters saying he will make things very clear is no guarantee he will do that. Often the opposite. And he was not veery clear about what he will do, or can do.

And Peters blaming others for playing politics is a tad hypocritical,

Nevertheless, Peters may be an important factor in fixing a flawed bill.

Russell Brown’s submission on medicinal cannabis bill

I am a journalist and one of my specialist areas is drug policy. In the course of my work, I have interviewed users, suppliers, doctors, police officers, researchers, activists and government ministers. But the story I want to tell you is a personal one.

My old friend died this year. He had survived three years since he was diagnosed with a kind of brain tumour called glioma multiforme – far longer than he was supposed to – but complications associated with his illness were eventually too much for his system and his health deteriorated rapidly in the weeks before his death.

Shortly before he was moved to a hospice, I had a conversation with his wife, another old friend, about medical cannabis. My friend had, with the approval of his oncologist, used a cannabis oil preparation (acquired as a gift) for some time while he battled his disease: a couple of drops rubbed into his gums before bed each night.

I can’t tell you that that prolonged his life. But there is a body of pre-clinical evidence that a balanced preparation of THC and CBD can help shrink tumours in glioma cases. His tumours shrank to the point where he was at one point declared cancer-free.

Our concern now was not with the cancer itself, but with his comfort and well-being through his final days. I agreed to try and source a product for him and, through the kindness of strangers, was able to source a good-quality medical oil.

—-

My dear friend died in hospice, after a handful of deeply precious days in which he and his loved ones were able to say their goodbyes. It is my belief that the cannabis product helped him have those precious days, awake and aware. I would unhesitatingly break the law again to give him those days. And I believe it is wrong that I – or anyone else – should have to do that.

Summary:


I ask you to consider taking a realistic and compassionate view and do the following:

• Use the regulations that will be attached to this bill to make the gesture towards the terminally ill work in the real world by allowing them to nominate an approved supplier, so they and their loved ones can safely access a safe product.

• Recognise that the terminally ill are not the only New Zealanders to derive benefit from cannabis products and allow others with chronic conditions to register to use these products.

• Provide specific protection for hospitals and hospices from prosecution under Section 12 of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

• Allow a local industry to develop by allowing export of locally-produced products, and by not excluding those with existing convictions from participating in the industry.

• Allow self-growing under regulation.

• Enable research into growing, and clinical trials. The trend in the developing global industry is overwhelmingly towards breeding plants with desired attributes – an area in which New Zealand has a strong track record of IP development.


Brown comments:

I seem not to be the only one who sat in on these hearings and came away with the impression that the bill’s statutory defence may well be extended to those with chronic illnesses. If that happens, it’s huge. It’s worth bearing witness.

I hope that’s not just wishful thinking.

Swarbrick medicinal cannabis fails, promises made

As expected MPs failed to represent the majority of New Zealanders and voted against the Swarbrick Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis and Other Matters) Amendment Bill.

Even the few National MP’s who were granted special permission (in a fucking conscience vote!) to vote for the bill decided not to back a dead horse – but some of them  have made assurances they will work on fixing the pathetic Government bill that purports to address the issues.

In her opening and closing speeches in the first reading Chloe Swarbrick tried to promote the bill but seemed to resigned to failure.

A number of MPs pointed to the Government bill, already past it’s first reading, as a way of trying to get something decent and compassionate for the people of New Zealand, but that will require some work.

Ex Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman (National):

So much as I’m critical of this current Government and much as they also left a lot out of the bill that was before the House yesterday, what that bill yesterday had was a regulation-making power, and that regulation-making power in the Government bill sets the groundwork for a regulatory scheme to create a market place that will increase the access for people who need medicinal cannabis products, and it will mean that they can get products that have been approved on the basis of the available evidence to help relieve their debilitating conditions. That is the way to go.

The other thing about the Government bill is the select committee process will allow all those who have an interest in this particular bill to submit to the select committee and have their case heard. So I think—much as I’m no fan of this Government—that the bill that the Government brought to the House yesterday will enable that public discussion that thousands of New Zealanders wish to have.

I hope MPs listen to the people far better than they have on the Swarbrick bill.

Greg O’Connor (Labour):

What the Government bill that went to select committee yesterday has done is it has bought us time, which will allow us to address many of the issues that have been brought up here today.

Actually the Government bill was rushed to beat Labour’s 100 day deadline and addresses the issues poorly.

But it will mean that when we move forward, we get it right. We don’t have to recreate. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s been done. We pride ourselves on being world leaders on this, and we can.

New Zealand doesn’t lead, it trails Australia, it trails the US, it trails Canada, it is badly behind progress elsewhere in the world on cannabis law reform.

What I implore the House and my fellow members to do is don’t send this to select committee. Let’s get it right, let’s start with a blank bit of paper, and let New Zealand end up with a highly workable cannabis regime that makes it safe for our children and for all those in the future, and, most importantly, that gets it out of the hands of criminals.

Odd comments. The Government bill is already in place, and it’s screwed paper. But at least it’s a toe in the Parliament door.

Dr Liz Craig (Labour) supported the bill, but expressed some concerns.

So why am I supporting it to select committee? I think the first thing is that so many people around the country have been in touch. There’s a real sense out there that people want their voices heard, and I think select committee will allow us to do that.

The other thing is that we saw that the Government’s own bill passed its first reading yesterday and will go to select committee. I think that bill will address a lot of the issues that people in the community are raising, but what I would like to see is some formal discussion about whether and how much further we can go beyond people that have got a terminal illness. So that’s why I’d like that looked at in that select committee process.

So for me I think we need to have that debate. We need to have people to be able to put forward their views, and we need to think about the broader extension, but I think a lot of those other issues need to be sorted out at select committee so that we’ve got a safe, high quality product and we know who’s going to get the benefit from it, but we’ve got to step back from causing further harm.

Nikki Kay (National):

So I’m faced with two bills that have come before this Parliament. Both of them are flawed. One goes too far and one does too little. So that is the dilemma that I have, and I actually believe there are many members of Parliament in this House that have the same dilemma. And this is why I am conflicted. I want to acknowledge the work that you have done.

I will not be voting for the legislation this evening, but what I am committed to doing, with other members of Parliament—and I know from the conversations that I’ve had in the last 24 hours. I’m not going to cross the floor on a bill that I know, even with my vote from the National Party, we don’t have the numbers for.

It shouldn’t have been necessary to ‘cross the floor’, it was supposed to be a conscience vote. Not allowing National MPs a conscience should weigh heavily on Bill English’s conscience.

But what I will do is I will work with Chlӧe Swarbrick, I will work with the Prime Minister, I will work with those other members in New Zealand First that want change around those people who have chronic pain or debilitating conditions to provide greater access for either cannabis products or loose leaf.

And I think we can do that with the existing Government bill, and that is what I will be campaigning for, and I commit to working with you, Chlӧe, and other members of the House—to try and deliver that. It has been one of the toughest political decisions that I have ever had to make. But I want to then finally speak to the people in the gallery but also the people that are watching tonight. It’s very easy to look at parliamentarians and think they don’t care. That is not my experience of this place. People do care. And there is a pathway through, and I’ll be fighting for that.

I hope she does fight for that.

Nicky Wagner (National):

So, in summary, National certainly supports the use of the therapeutic cannabis-based products for their patients, but we cannot support this bill. Yesterday we voted for the Government’s bill as a stop-gap, but with the clear expectation that the Government will work efficiently, well, and urgently to set up the medicinal cannabis scheme as promised—a scheme that can deliver secure access for patients, that can deliver consistent and assured quality control for the product, affordability, and a safe, well-managed supply chain.

Chris Bishop (National):

So when we come to the two bills that have come to the House on successive days, we talk about David Clark’s bill. That does one very worthy thing and one thing the previous Government had already done, and is utterly silent on the very worthy thing it purports to do…

What the bill doesn’t do is establish a regulatory scheme to actually establish medicinal cannabis in New Zealand. It says it does, but it doesn’t. We have to wait at least two years for that to happen.

So then we come to this bill. Now, it, too, is inadequate. Members have canvassed, on this side and the other side as well, a lot of deficiencies. It does not set up any sort of regulated market for medicinal marijuana. There are no controls on production and supply. It will not give doctors any confidence—and this is a very important point—about prescribing medicinal marijuana. The qualifying criteria, as my colleague Shane Reti pointed out, are too broad. So it was a difficult decision, but I have decided to vote against the bill.

Ultimately, I want a conversation about wider access to medicinal marijuana and how we can design a world’s best practice regulatory regime for New Zealand. The appropriate place for that is at the select committee, the Health Committee, that considers the Government bill that purports to establish that scheme.

I also, and this is very important, want the voices of those with chronic pain to be heard and listened to. Again, the right place for this is at select committee, and as part of designing a good regulatory regime we must listen to the thousands of New Zealanders out there who get therapeutic value from medicinal cannabis.

I thought Greg O’Connor made a very important point in his contribution to the debate. Let’s get this right, through the Government bill that sets up at least the starting point to, over the next couple of years, and I suspect beyond as well, through Government consultation and through engagement with this side of the House—because I think there is good-hearted support, as you’ve heard from members on the National side tonight, for a robust regulatory regime that allows people who gain therapeutic value from medicinal marijuana products to use them. But let’s get this right.

I’ll be looking to Bishop, Kaye and others to work hard on at least improving the Government bill. It’s the least they should do after failing to support the Swarbrick bill at least to Select Committee.

Full transcript of the first reading

 

Government’s medicinal cannabis bill “woefully inadequate”

Dylan Kelly, son of Helen Kelly, staunch Labour party supporter and campaigner for allowing the legal use of cannabis for pain relief, has described the Government medicinal cannabis bill “woefully inadequate”.

Labour had said they would honour the memory and efforts of Helen by promising a medical cannabis bill within 100 days of taking office, but they have rushed it and made a very poor job of it.

Associate Minister of Health Jenny Salesa referred to the Helen Kelly legacy in her speech on the introduction of the bill in Parliament yesterday.

Indeed, as I alluded to before, and other speakers have also, we have examples of people who have spoken really strongly about the use of medicinal cannabis. Helen Kelly is one such example of a person who lived so bravely, so openly, with terminal illness, and she devoted the last part of her life to campaigning for her fellow New Zealanders to make their lives better. She felt for ordinary people for whom medical cannabis might make a real difference.

In July of 2016—I want to just end with a quote from one of many interviews that she made, and this is something that Stuff actually covered. At that stage, she was suffering from tumours, she had a broken back, and she had only a few months to live.

I quote her: “I’ve still got all the symptoms of coughing and being weak but living without pain is sensational.” She was taking 10 milligrams of slow-release morphine twice each day, but by bedtime the morphine had stopped working and she was aching.

I quote her: “If I took nothing I reckon my pain would be seven or eight out of ten. If I just took the morphine my pain would be about five out of ten but if I take both my pain is nothing. [It’s only the cannabis] that gives me relief, it lets me sleep all night.”

Labour MP Dr Liz Craig also mentioned Kelly in her speech:

In speaking, I would like to acknowledge a wonderful colleague known to many of us, and that was Helen Kelly. In the months before she died in 2016, of cancer, she shared her journey with many of us in New Zealand.

In that way, she became a very powerful advocate for medicinal cannabis, because what she found is that, even though she was on strong opiates, it was really only with cannabis that she could become pain free.

Helen Kelly in April, 2016: Why I take an illegal dose of marijuana every night

“I’m getting it from a circuit of people in this country who are supplying sick people with cannabis.

“Brave, brave people, they’re not charging. People who believe in the product and don’t think it should be unlawful.”

Every night, she mixes up an illegal dose to ease her pain and allow her to sleep through the night.

Ms Kelly says she doesn’t want to be “arrested and charged and criminalised”, and is calling for a referendum at the next general election on legalising cannabis for both medicinal and recreational use.

Jacinda Ardern in May 2016:  ‘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.

This is not a new debate – it came up when I first came into Parliament. At that time it was in the form of a member’s bill. It’s fair to say that it had a few holes in it, but those were all details that we had time to fix. I voted in favour of it, others used the drafting as an excuse to turn it down. The bill failed.

And here we are again. Same problem, different political cycle.

My friend will never benefit from change in this area, she passed away. But in reality I doubt she ever really cared too much. She was too busy living every single day to the fullest right up until her last breath. Surely we owe it to everyone to give them the best chance they have to do the same, despite the pain.

In an election debate in September 2017 both Ardern and Bill English were asked if they would consider legalising cannabis for medical purposes. Both were given thirty seconds to respond.

“I don’t need 30 seconds, Mike. The answer is absolutely, yes.”

Dylan Kelly, Helen’s son, on the bill before Parliament now (RNZ):

“It’s woefully inadequate – terminally ill patients are not the only people who need medicinal cannabis.

“But sort of more importantly a lot of people who do need this medication can’t really provide it for themselves, and a lot of the people who supplied my mum’s medicine are putting themselves in really quite serious legal jeopardy in order, not to make money, purely in order to help people with chronic pain”.

“And I think a bill that continues to criminalise those people is insufficient.”

The bill passed it’s first vote in Parliament yesterday. Can it’s inadequacies be fixed at Select Committee?

Coleman on the medicinal cannabis bill

Opposition spokesperson on health (and ex Minister of Health) Jonathan Coleman spoke on the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill in it’s first reading in Parliament yesterday.

 

As an electorate MP in the Northcote electorate, I’ve had extensive contact with people from a wide range of backgrounds with a wide range of views on medicinal cannabis, but there is no doubt that this is becoming much more of a mainstream issue and that people have an interest in being able to access these products when they are experiencing, sadly, a terminal illness.

There’s also, of course, people who are wanting to access it for a wider range of medical complaints as well. It’s also been an issue that’s had a great deal of public exposure through the sad illnesses of Helen Kelly and Paul Holmes and Martin Crowe—three very public figures who all said in their latter days that they had accessed medicinal cannabis.

So there’s no question that this is an issue that the Parliament has to deal with and that it’s of great import to tens of thousands of people across the country.

A Curia poll last year showed that 78% of people supported making medical cannabis is use legal.

I can say that he must have his officials tearing their hair out, because he was out there around New Zealand, campaigning big on medicinal cannabis. He said to people that the Labour Government would increase access to medicinal marijuana for the terminally ill and those with chronic pain and chronic conditions. Of course that created a huge wave of expectation, and there will be many people who, when they read this bill, will be bitterly disappointed. As Bill English has said, this is a Government long on intentions but actually poor in the delivery.

That’s what we’re seeing in this bill. It’s a hollowed-out, weak bill that goes nowhere close to delivering on what Labour had promised.

That’s a fair description – Labour promised, but then blamed NZ First for not delivering on the expectations that Labour had built up.

There’s a change there in this bill. Of the three changes, we’ve talked about two of them. There’s the regulation-making power. There’s the effective criminalisation for possession of marijuana, although it’s silent on the quantity for terminal patients who are using it for their own use. But then there’s this thing that the Minister has been heralding—how they are changing the classification of cannabidiol.

It’ll be really interesting to understand how that is any different to what the last Government did under the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act 2016 Commencement Order 2017, passed in about June 2017, where cannabidiol was no longer a controlled drug. All this is, from what I can see in the legislation, is just a tidy up of the legislation to reflect the regulations and existing practice. So, when you take that away, what you’re looking at is a pretty hollowed-out bill.

Labour promised something they haven’t been able to deliver on, and deserve criticism for that.

But much of the responsibility for this hollow shell of a bill must rest with Winston Peters and NZ First.

The last Government had already taken some action on medicinal marijuana. Peter Dunne did a very good job as the Minister then, and I want to acknowledge his contribution. In December 2016 he removed some of the bureaucratic restrictions around access to marijuana, and Sativex, one of two products available in New Zealand, no longer needed ministry approval for sign off. He then in February 2017 signed off non-pharmaceutical grade medical cannabis. That delegation was moved from the Minister to the Ministry of Health.

Arguably that was as significant progress in some respects as the current bill.

But David Clark has said, and this is pretty much from his press release actually, “We wanted to make sure that medicinal cannabis is more accessible to people with terminal illness or chronic conditions and the piece of legislation [here] will make progress.”

Well, I can tell you, it absolutely doesn’t, because when you look at people who are using medicinal cannabis for a terminal illness, this is not going to result in one more person accessing medicinal cannabis. The other thing is he’s got a half-baked scheme here. He’s legalising possession, but where are these people—the middle-class, elderly, terminally ill patients of Northcote—meant to get their cannabis from? So it’s a half-baked scheme, which doesn’t go far enough.

David Clark and Jacinda Ardern have as good as admitted that it doesn’t go far enough.

It’s very clear, it’s the result of that political pressure to get this over the line within 100 days. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the regulatory impact statement (RIS), because that’s very clear about what this bill does and doesn’t do. It actually says there’s been massive time pressure here. It actually says the legislation has had to be rushed to get it under the bar for 100 days.

On other 100 day promises Labour stepped them back and delayed them, to do more work and consultation, saying that it was more important to have good legislation than rushed legislation.

It says there will be a paper in March 2018 that will lay out the description of this medicinal cannabis scheme, which the Minister was talking about as if it’s actually in the legislation. It’s not. The scheme has not been designed. All this gives is a regulation-making power. So you can see this is a heck of a long way from perfect, and there are some major weaknesses in the bill.

Although this is a poorly designed, politically-driven bill, on balance we have to be mindful of the needs of those terminally ill people. So, in the end, compassion has to win out over a very poorly designed piece of legislation.

National will be supporting this bill but we’re expecting to see some big changes, some big improvements, and we will have some very big questions when this comes to the select committee.

With the Swarbrick bill apparently doomed (in large part by National’s decision not to allow a conscience vote for most of their MPs) then the only chance of a decent bill will be getting big changes and big improvements via the select committee stage.

Medicinal cannabis bill passes first reading, doesn’t pass the compassionate test

The Government Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill passed it’s first reading in Parliament yesterday, but it has failed to pass muster as a decent, compassionate bill.

Minister of Health, David Clark, introduced the bill.

This bill makes three key changes: it provides people who have a terminal illness a statutory defence to the charge of possessing and using cannabis, it will allow us to make regulations to set quality standards for medicinal cannabis products, and it removes cannabidiol from the Misuse of Drugs Act so that it is no longer a controlled drug. This bill does not make any changes to the recreational use of cannabis.

Making regulations to set quality standards for medicinal cannabis products will in time be worthwhile.

The last Government effectively already removed cannabidiol from the Misuse of Drugs Act so that it is no longer a controlled drug – it can now be supplied on prescription.

And the first change is a crock. It will remain illegal for cannabis to be grown or supplied, so people who are terminally ill will have to rely on someone breaking the law.

This bill will make medicinal cannabis more readily available and will help bring relief to people suffering a terminal illness or those in chronic pain.

That is very poorly worded (Clark read from a prepared speech).

The bill will do little to make medicinal cannabis more readily available (in the main it will be illegal to make it available).

And it provides no legal or medical relief for those in chronic pain or suffering from a debilitating illness if they are not certified as dying (within 12 months).

A major part of this bill is the development of a medicinal cannabis scheme. This will include an advisory committee to review the current requirements for prescribing medicinal cannabis, setting minimum product quality standards to improve patient safety and give medical practitioners confidence, and allow for the domestic cultivation and manufacture of medicinal cannabis products. In time, this scheme will lead to a greater supply of quality medicinal cannabis products worldwide, including products made here in New Zealand. The bill will allow for quality standards to be set for all medicinal cannabis products, whether produced domestically or imported.

Sounds ok, but this will take time to implement. Years probably.

We know, however, that in the interim there will be people with a terminal illness using illicit cannabis. That is why this bill establishes a defence to the charge of using and possessing cannabis or a cannabis utensil for people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Giving the terminally ill a statutory defence for the possession and use of illicit cannabis will mean they are not criminalized in their final days. This is the compassionate thing to do while the medicinal cannabis scheme is established.

Someone who is dying probably won’t like being criminalized “in their final days” but it will be of little real consequence. It is unlikely the police would try to prosecute them now anyway, and they would probably die before the court process completed.

This is the compassionate thing to do while the medicinal cannabis scheme is established.

Terminally ill people are likely to rely on family, whānau, and friends to source illicit cannabis for them. We do not propose extending the statutory defence to cover the range of people who could supply cannabis to terminally ill people.

It is not ‘compassionate’ to force family, whānau, and friends to act illegally to supply cannabis. This is an awful aspect of the bill.

This legislation will not please all of the campaigners for medicinal cannabis…

An admission of it’s inadequacies.

…but it goes further than any previous Parliament has gone. It represents real progress in making these products more widely available. This bill is a real step forward that all Government support parties are pleased to sign up to.

In some ways it is a real step forward, or it will be, eventually. But in other ways it is abominable.

If Parliament wants to go further, it has the opportunity when it considers a member’s bill in Chlöe Swarbrick’s name.

When Clark said that he will have known, or at least should have known, that the Swarbrick bill is likely to fail at it’s first vote in Parliament today, so to suggest that as a solution to the inadequacies of his Government bill is embarrassing for him and for Labour.

This bill does offer some progress (in the future) on supply and use of some medical cannabis products, but it is a slap in the face of family and friends of those who are dying and might want some relief, and it ignores the needs and wants of the many people suffering from chronic pain and debilitating illness but not at imminent risk of dying.

Dunne to support Genter’s medicinal cannabis bill

When Green MP Julie Anne Genter’s medicinal cannabis bill was drawn from the Member’s ballot Peter Dunne said he would decide on whether he would support it or not when it cam time to vote on it at it’s first reading in Parliament.

Dunne said he had major reservations about the bill and it was unworkable.

However Dunne has now said he will support the bill at it’s first reading when he was taking part in a panel discussion  at the Drug Symposium.

RNZ: Peter Dunne to back first reading of medicinal cannabis bill

Today Mr Dunne said he’d been talking to Julie Anne Genter and he will vote in support of the bill in it’s first reading.

“There are a lot of things in the bill that would need to be changed before it could proceed further, but I think it’s a useful discussion to have, and to see where the Select Committee gets to”.

Getting Dunne onside at least for the first reading is a success for Genter, but the bill will still requite support from NZ First or from at least a chunk of National if they are allowed a conscience vote.

At the symposium MPs from the ACT, Maori, Green and Labour parties said they would all support the bill, but more votes from wither NZ First or National would be needed.

National MP Chris Bishop said his party hasn’t made it’s mind up yet.

“It’s one of those issues where we do want to have a good discussion about it as a Caucus. We may decide to have it as a conscience vote where MPs can vote individually. We may also decide to have it as a party vote where the National Party takes a party position.

Polls show there is strong public support for changes to cannabis and drug law, especially related to medicinal cannabis.

It would be a travesty of democracy if Parliament didn’t allow this bill to at least progress past the first reading.

 

Minor tweak to medicinal cannabis approvals

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has announced a minor change to procedure for approval of medicinal cannabis, removing the need for the minister to do final approval. In practice this will make virtually no difference apart from removing a step in the procedure as Dunne had approved all applications that had come through the Ministry of Health.

Dunne has also criticised doctors for their reluctance to seek medicinal products for patients. He said that some medical professionals were too afraid of being labelled “Doctor Dope”

Ministry of Health to Decide on Cannabis-based Products

Following his decision on 1 December last year to remove the requirement for Ministry of Health approval to prescribe Sativex for Multiple Sclerosis, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has today delegated decision-making for the prescribing of all cannabis-based products to the Ministry of Health.

“Last week I wrote to the Director-General of Health, advising him that as of 8 February 2017, applications from specialists to the Ministry to prescribe non-pharmaceutical cannabis-based products will no longer need Ministerial approval. Approval for pharmaceutical grade cannabis products was similarly delegated some years ago” says Mr Dunne.

“As I stated in my delegation letter to the Director-General, when applications first began to be received it was my view that the final decision appropriately lay at Ministerial level, rather than exposing officials to risk, given the complicated and contentious nature of the issue – that is to say the buck stopped with me”.

“I have approved every application that has come before me with a positive recommendation – within a matter of minutes once the application came across my desk.

“Since the first application was approved, guidelines have been developed, consulted on and simplified to allow specialists who are interested in accessing such products for their patients a clear, straight-forward and unobstructed pathway to acquiring the appropriate products.

“I am satisfied that with the development of these guidelines, and with a number of successful applications having been subsequently completed, any risk associated with the early processes has largely abated and I have confidence in the Ministry of Health to handle the process in its entirety from now on.

“It is my intention to write to the New Zealand Medical Association and the Pharmacy Society of New Zealand outlining my decision and my ongoing expectation that medical professionals consider the prescribing of cannabis-based products with an open mind.

“I also intend to include a list of internationally available cannabis-based products that are either pharmaceutical grade or Good Manufacturing Practice certified, to provide additional clarity on the issue”, Mr Dunne said.

For further information go to http://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/regulation-health-and-disability-system/medicines-control/prescribing-cannabis-based-products

Dunne has said more to media. NZ Herald: NZ doctors too prejudiced about medical cannabis, Government says

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has accused New Zealand doctors of being too conservative about prescribing medical cannabis, saying some of them are rejecting their patients’ applications because of their “downright prejudice” about the drug.

Some medical professionals were too afraid of being labelled “Doctor Dope” and needed to be more open-minded about medical cannabis, Dunne said.

He plans to write to organisations representing doctors and pharmacies to urge their members to take a more evidence-based approach.

“What I want to see from them is an open approach, not one where I think to date has been based a little on their wariness and in some cases downright prejudices,” he said this afternoon.

“And I want to see an end put to those things.”

Small steps, but at least they are in the right direction.

Dunne on cannabis products

Peter Dunne has given a summary of the slow progress on medicinal cannabis, saying that there has been a lack of proven products available but hopes that will change next year as New Zealand benefits from what is happening in Australia.

Stuff’s Prime Minister Bill English needs a ‘clear stamp’ on his leadership.

With his health hat on Dunne says not a lot of medicinal cannabis products have come onto the market this year, which makes progress more difficult.

“I think the reality is between the wishful thinking and the actuality there is quite a gap. The fundamental problem remains a lack of reputable product.”

“The problem with trials in New Zealand is the perception from the pharmaceutical companies that the market isn’t big enough.”

New Zealand would be a good trial market for new products but the lack of Government will to lead on this probably rules us out as much as market size.

Dunne is working closely with the Australian Health Minister and hopes they’ll approve a couple of new products next year that Kiwis can piggy-back off.

That sounds like slow progress at best.

So far it’s been done on a case-by-case basis, which will continue, and while the “numbers are not large, everyone that has come through has been approved,” he said.

You still have to find a medical specialist who will make your case to the Ministry or Health.

While recreational cannabis remains a “political no-no”, he says, the “willingness to keep looking at medicinal cannabis” won’t stop under English.

“Political no-no” means that National won’t consider going there, and Dunne can’t do anything about that except cop the flak. A convenient cop out for National.

I haven’t seen Peter Dunne state whether he will stand again or not but he implies that he will contest Ohariu again next year:

…he’s well aware that he’s got to win his Ohariu seat to survive next year’s election.

If he survives, and if National stays in government, and if he is appointed Associate Minister of Health (with responsibility for diverting attention from National’s intransigence on cannabis law reform, then progress on medicinal cannabis is likely to remain slow.

If Labour lead the next Government then Dunne is unlikely to be in the mix, so it will be up to Labour and Greens and possibly NZ First to push things along, but cannabis is unlikely to be a priority.