Home Culture New Zealand Loosens Medical Marijuana Restrictions

New Zealand Loosens Medical Marijuana Restrictions

Image Courtesy of New Zealand NORML

Access to cannabis medicine just got a little easier for New Zealanders, as the head of the health ministry handed over the duty of signing off on each medical marijuana request to the Ministry of Health.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne says the new process is a result of improved guidelines, and successful allowances of medical marijuana as treatment for a few individuals.

As reported by Radio New Zealand, Mr. Dunne said in a statement, “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.”

Sue Grey is a human rights lawyer. She’s been on the ground in New Zealand fighting for patient’s rights to the plant. She says the change in procedure is just a ‘baby step’ forward.

“Every step forward by our government is important, however the scope of the Associate Minister’s announcement is disappointing,” she told The Marijuana Times in an exclusive interview.

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After the build-up to the announcement, Grey says she was wondering if she had missed something, so she rang Peter Dunne’s advisor Rob Eaddy to check:

“Not much has changed at all,” says Grey. Here are her takeaways:

  1. The Minister has delegated his approval process to the Ministry
  2. The Minister has publicly urged doctors to consider cannabis medication as a treatment option

While the changes may make life easier for the Minister to manage his paperwork in an election year, she points out that the changes won’t help patients or doctors. “They will still have to deal with the red tape of making an application to our bureaucrats in Wellington,” she says, “which requires both a GP and a specialist seeking approval on behalf of the patient.”

Also, she adds that the Minister’s encouragement of doctors to consider medical cannabis is dependent on patients being able to find supportive New Zealand doctors who are aware of the herbal alternative – and have the time, courage, and resources to apply on behalf of their patients.

“While every step forward is important, we need the Minister to act consistently with his words and a) remove the bureaucratic red tape completely and b) provide access to quality information for doctors so they can focus on their duties to their patients under the Hippocratic Oath without bureaucratic interference.”

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Abe Gray is one of New Zealand’s most prominent cannabis advocates. He’s the VP of NORML New Zealand, President of The Green Party, and host of ‘Overgrown’ on Radio One. He is optimistic that the implication of a medical marijuana program in New Zealand will open a pathway toward more cannabis reforms.

“Any movement is a step in the right direction so it’s good to finally see some of our major political parties acknowledge that medicinal cannabis is useful, unfortunately they’re overly fixated on pharmaceutical cannabis preparations and totally prejudiced against raw natural cannabis flower as a medicine,” Gray said in an interview with The Marijuana Times.

“This decision will not dramatically increase the number of patients receiving medical cannabis in New Zealand, but it will mean that a few of those suffering the most will have a slightly easier time getting cannabis pills or pharmaceutical sprays. But no one will be able to grow it for themselves, it will still be very expensive with all profits going to pharmaceutical corporations and the vast majority of patients using cannabis on a day-to-day therapeutic basis as a non-toxic herbal medicine will still be prevented from accessing the medicine.”

Although, for Gray there’s a silver lining: “Now that we have medical cannabis according to our government – maybe we can move forward with wider law reform in the interests of our country.”

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Meanwhile, Sue Grey is trying to speed up cannabis law reform by forwarding the Minister and his advisors information about an initiative from 5th year medical student Tori Catherwood, who is crowdfunding to prepare a documentary to educate New Zealand doctors.

“The Associate Minister’s support for this documentary would be a timely, practical and cost effective way forward and show the minister is prepared to take action to back up his words,” says Grey.