A silly headline but a useful article from NZ Herald: Medical marijuana: Is NZ dazed and confused?
A conservative lobby group is seeking support for new, cheaper medicinal cannabis for chronic pain relief.
Kat Le Brun, by her own admission, is a “grumpy” Christian student teacher from Nelson, and Jacinta, a tiger mother with a quickfire voice.
What do they have in common? Pain. Not bang-your-thumb-with-a-hammer pain, but the sort of pain that lasts as long as you do.
Many people suffer from chronic pain and legal pain relief products are not always effective – and can be addictive, like morphine.
“I believe we have to focus on the medical at this stage. It might be selfish but it’s all getting muddled up. We need to look at one issue. This is too much for the politicians to deal with.”
This conflation of medical marijuana and general legalisation may be one reason why New Zealand seems stuck, while our neighbours and allies are moving quite fast.
Medical marijuana is legal in 25 states of the United States, half the country.
In Australia, Victoria and ACT are preparing to join the party.
Ross Bell from the NZ Drug Foundation says after all these years railing against the evils of marijuana our Government is in a bit of a quandary.
“They think they are the drug warriors. Medical marijuana is confusing them, ‘we should do something but we don’t know what’. Something’s not computing. They don’t know what to do to meet the needs of the 75 per cent.”
New Zealand is certainly lagging behind the US and Australia on enabling the legal use of medicinal cannabis products.
Like Kat, Nichola’s tried marijuana and finds it transformative.
“It works and it’s a crime that it’s not available to us,” says Nichola. But just like Kat she refuses to turn herself into a criminal.
“I have quite strong values. I don’t want to blur the lines.”
In the blurry world of right and wrong all these women have had more experience with hard drugs than any of the dodgiest-looking characters on the protest.
Tramadol, OxyContin, morphine. You name it. Nichola is even taking heroin substitute methadone. She longs for medical marijuana to be legal.
“That’d be incredible. I’d be burning all my drugs my methadone and fentanyl patches.”
Patient frustration at the fringe nature of the movement has birthed a new conservative pressure group.
The co-ordinator is Kat’s husband Shane Le Brun.
“It’s been a long journey. Before my wife was injured we chucked flatmates out for drug use once upon a time. Now the tables have turned,” says the former soldier and National Party voter.
It’s called MCANZ. Medical Cannabis Awareness New Zealand.
They are trying to normalise the health benefits only of cannabis products.
A report to Health Minister Jonathan Coleman obtained under an Official information request says “there is a lack of robust clinical data and evidence of patient benefit”.
Kat, Nichola and Jacinta’s daughter have carried out their own personal trials and believe it works for chronic pain. For them anyway.
Not a cure or anything but a great alternative to opiates.
“It means pain relief that doesn’t affect me in a bad way,” says Kat. “A natural solution without all these massive side effects.”
With one in five kiwi adults suffering from chronic pain, Shane believes there are thousands out there who could benefit from medical marijuana.
But he’s careful not to suggest that it’s a panacea.
“At one end conservatives say it gives you schizophrenia and is so addictive and horrible. Then you’ve got those who say it will cure all ills and you never need another drug again. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.”
Getting New Zealand to catch up with that middle is a challenge given the current Government’s unwillingness to change the law.
Revelations that Martin Crowe and Paul Holmes used marijuana to mitigate the effects of chemotherapy has no doubt bolstered public opinion in New Zealand.
Since 2003 the number of people in favour of medical marijuana has doubled.
“We have people like Sir Paul Holmes using it in his dying days,” says Shane.
“You don’t have to be a hardcore lefty for that to strike a chord.”
Helen Kelly is another high profile user of medicinal cannabis, the difference being she is going public while she is still alive (albeit dying).
Shane agrees there’s a lot of compassionate cultivation going on.
“Some people will just grow and do it on the sly to self-medicate.”
But as Ross Bell warns, if you are treating kids with seizures you probably don’t want just anyone boiling up cannabis oil, you probably do want pharmaceuticals.
MCANZ is supportive of Rose Renton’s work, but as a conservative charity can’t support home-growing.
“As the only patient-led group playing within the rules we hope to be taken a little more seriously. All we care about is getting medicine into patients hands and getting rid of the background noise.”
To that end MCANZ is trying to make two cannabis-based medicines from a Canadian company called Tilray available for patients.
But there are hoops.
First they have to be assessed by the Ministry of Health, then personally signed off by Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne.
The MCANZ applications are expected to land on Dunne’s desk in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, Kat and Shane are contemplating a second baby.
They hope medical marijuana might be available by the time it arrives. Their first child was born addicted to narcotics because of all the painkillers Kat had been prescribed.
“What my son went through because of the medication … For two weeks he had to go through withdrawals. I would not wish that on anyone. That’s what opiates do.”
What is currently available legally has major drawbacks, generally and compared to cannabis products.
They are sharing this personal story in the hope the decision makers will listen.
“They should come and sit with us and see what goes on with our families on a daily basis,” says Shane.
“There’s so much suffering our people go through. All behind closed doors. The only way is to open it up.”
Seeking support for new, cheaper medicinal cannabis seems the sensible, logical, relatively safe and compassionate way to go.