NORML welcomes the Health Select Committee’s acknowledgement that cannabis is a legitimate and effective medicine , and supports their recommendation that the Government makes access to the natural cannabis extract Sativex easier, and “continue to make pharmaceutically-based THC derivative medicines available to treat serious medical conditions when traditional methods have failed.”
The committee recommended Sativex be put into the Medicines Act so that GP’s can prescribe it without needing an additional specialist or needing to apply for the Minister of Health for special permission.
However the use of whole natural cannabis should also be an option available to doctors and patients, and it’s disappointing the committee did not seem to notice that several other countries already allow this. Pills don’t work for everyone, and there is evidence to show smoked whole cannabis is more effective than extracts or synthetic alternatives.
The committee was responding to a petition organised by NORML, signed by 2991 people, and submitted back in 2005. The petition called for /”Parliament to give urgent consideration to changing the law to allow individuals to obtain, possess and use cannabis for treatment of serious medical conditions when this has been endorsed by their registered medical practitioner.”/
The committee’s report says the Ministry of Health said the scientific and clinical evidence “supports the medicinal use of cannabis”, that cannabis has a “wider safety margin… with fewer short-term side effects” than currently prescribed analgesics, and that “medicinal cannabis appears effective and safe in all age groups”.
The UK-made cannabis extract Sativex has so far been approved for five Kiwi patients, but NORML told the committee that thousands of Kiwi patients already use medicinal cannabis or could benefit from doing so. While there is no lack of support from doctors, it is difficult to get them to apply for permission.
“The current application process is futile, onerous, and politicised,” said Chris Fowlie, the petition organiser and former president of NORML. “It does not help patients and should be changed.”
The Ministry of Health told the committee that to allow patients to grow their own could expose them to risk of burglary – a result of cannabis prohibition, and a risk they already have to suffer under the current law – but this has not been reported to be a significant problem in countries that allow patients to grow their own. Anyway, patients could go to the police and get help recovering any stolen medicine – which is something they cannot do now.
“Many patients already grow their own, and allowing them to do it legally would give them more protection and make it safer,” said Chris Fowlie. “The risks of harm to patients is increased by treating them as criminals.”
“We are amazed there was no discussion or consideration of what other countries are doing. Many nations around the world now allow the medicinal use of whole natural cannabis and they have acknowledged that concerns over smoking are not as important as having an effective medicine that actually works,” said Mr Fowlie. These countries include:
* Thirteen states in the USA allow patients to grow their own medicinal cannabis, or nominate someone else to do it for them. Some states have licensed producers to grow standardised cannabis strains for supply to patients. The US Federal government also has a programme where patients are sent whole natural cannabis grown at the University of Mississippi and pre-rolled into joints. Patients can also be prescribed Marinol (synthetic THC).
* Canada allows patients to either get Sativex, or grow their own, or be sent standardised cannabis grown by the Government.
* The Netherlands allows patients to grow their own, or be prescribed one of three cannabis strains grown under contract to the Bureau of Medicinal Cannabis, part of their Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport.
* German patients can also purchase this Dutch medicinal cannabis from their local pharmacies, or can be prescribed Dronabinol (synthetic THC).
* Spain allow patients to grow their own or be prescribed Sativex.
* Israel allows patients to grow their own, or be supplied an extract made from police seizures.
* In Australia, the NSW government is re-launching a programme to allow patients to grow their own or be prescribed Sativex.
Interestingly, both Canada and California researched the impact of allowing medicinal cannabis on rates of teenage cannabis use, and found teen use dropped after patients began smoking cannabis. This could be a result of regulating access to cannabis, making it tougher for teens to get than under prohibition, or that medicalising cannabis makes it “uncool” for teens.
“Whatever the reason,” said Chris Fowlie, “it’s yet another myth about cannabis law reform that has been busted.”
* Health Select Committee petition report: http://www.parliament.nz/NR/rdonlyres/389B5252-F457-402C-ADD3-4C4BC86AE259/96537/DBSCH_SCR_4340_Petition200584ofChrisFowliePresiden.pdf
* NORML medicinal cannabis news: http://www.norml.org.nz/medical
* Study says smoked cannabis more effective: http://www.norml.org.nz/article652.html
* Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis and Cannabinoids – A Review of the Recent Scientific Literature, 2000 — 2008 http://www.norml.org/index.cfm?Group_ID=7002
* Health Organisations Supporting Immediate Legal Access to Medical Marijuana http://www.norml.org/index.cfm?Group_ID=3390