James Greenland of  Your Law Limited (NZ) writes……
Despite Kiwis being amongst the most prolific recreational users of cannabis, New Zealand has been slower than many other jurisdictions to recognise the potential medical benefits of marijuana.
And it’s largely thanks to a 40-year-old legal “loophole” that no one seemed to know about. Generally, cannabis remains a “class C” (considered relatively low risk) controlled drug, prohibited under New Zealand’s Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 (MDA). (http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1975/0116/latest/DLM436101.html).

There’s traditionally not been much political will to legalise, or even decriminalise cannabis, nor many news stories that paint the plant in a positive light. There’s always been the occasional bit of interest, moments of controversy, but prolonged campaigns for reform have never gained much traction. ‘Puff, puff, pass’, if you will.
But a spate of high-profile events, most recently the “discharge without conviction” of a woman who had posted to herself in New Zealand cannabis-chocolate from the USA, have rallied the public and placed pressure on the Government to reconsider its restriction on medical marijuana.

The New Zealand mainstream media is at the moment ablaze with discussion and debate about cannabis laws.

In subsequent articles we will explore the history of cannabis (and other narcotics) prohibition in Aotearoa/New Zealand, and consider how we went from a nation of lefty-liberal, LSD-takin’, weed smokin’ Rainbow Warriors in the 60s and 70s, to a staunch ally in the global “war on drugs” through the 80s, 90s and naughties, to a potentially world-leading regulator of psychoactive substances or “legal highs” in the years ahead.

For now, though, I will briefly look at the current state of the laws controlling medical marijuana in New Zealand, consider some of the voices in the national conversation about reform, and share three of the deeply-human stories that have sparked this county’s increasing interest in relaxing its policy on cannabis control.

Empathy has proved more powerful than protest.

The tragic death of young Alex Renton

Kiwi teenager Alex Renton died last year after succumbing to a rare disorder that had put him into a prolonged sort of epileptic seizure.

His death caught the attention of and touched many around New Zealand, not only because of the cruel injustice – that an ordinarily active and healthy young lad could so quickly have become sick and passed away, but also because Alex – hospitalised and in an induced coma during his final weeks – had been prescribed a cannabis oil-derived product by his doctors.

The professionals had tried, prescribed all kinds of mainstream medicines to little effect before they took a chance – at Alex’s family’s persistent request – on a cannabidiol product called Elixinol, having been eventually granted a special Government allowance.

The medical reports will not confirm it to any scientifically accepted standard, but Alex’s mum Rose swears that her son’s quality of life was improved in his final days as a result of the medicinal marijuana.

Alex died on the first of July. He was the first New Zealander in history to receive a medicinal cannabis treatment in hospital.

Weeks later, on national television, Rose Renton revealed she’d administered the drug to Alex herself with an oral syringe, before his doctors had received allowance from the Health Ministry. She had no choice, she says. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/70362941/Rose-Renton-left-with-no-choice-but-to-give-son-cannabis-treatment-illegally)

Now Ms Renton is campaigning for medical marijuana to made available to patients without delay, saying the current special allowance law is “too strict, too slow and too expensive”. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/78134956/rose-renton-starts-petition-to-counter-impossible-criteria-on-medicinal-cannabis-access )

That law is found in the Medicines Act 1981 and the Regulations pursuant to it. (http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1981/0118/latest/DLM53790.html) (andhttp://www.legislation.govt.nz/regulation/public/1984/0143/latest/DLM95668.html ). It gives the Associate Health Minister a discretionary power to approve the importation and prescription of “new medicines” if certain, strict criteria are met (“guidelines” followed, to use Health Ministry-speak).

Staunch trade unionist Helen Kelly’s final stand

Always an advocate for the ‘everyman,’ ordinary working-class New Zealanders, long-time national union leader Helen Kelly is not afraid to say what she thinks, to ‘call a spade a spade’ if that’s what it is – as we Kiwis say, or to stand up for what she believes in and fight to the last.

Helen Kelly is terminally ill (lung cancer – though she’s never been a smoker).

She treats herself every night with cannabis oil, which she obtains illegally, to help manage her pain and nausea and to stimulate her appetite.

“You’ve got to put these things out in the open,” she’s said. While she knows she’s not likely to be arrested for openly flouting New Zealand’s drug laws, because of her public profile and terminal diagnosis, she says it’s not right that others must live in fear, become ‘criminals’, if they want to treat themselves in the same way.

So Kelly publicly applied for the same type of special allowance that Alex Renton’s family had eventually been granted. She has also publicly raised awareness about the fact that our drug laws have forced other well-known New Zealanders, including beloved cricketing–legend the late Martin Crowe, to illegally self-medicate with cannabis products.

As it happens, Alex’s highly-publicised case had catalysed a hasty review-and-revision-of the already strict rules governing special approval of “new medicines” which Kelly has claimed make it even more difficult for an applicant to succeed.

“Impossible” straight-talking Kelly says. She’s discontinued her application, but is advocating for a binding national referendum on medicinal cannabis.

Critically, the current rules mean that no one can be prescribed or legally procure new medicines like cannabis oil until “all other reasonably applicable conventional medicines” are tried and found to be ineffective*. So essentially, no toking anything alternative until every one of ‘Big Pharma’s’ pills have been popped first
Even Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne, an old-school politician who has somewhat reluctantly become Parliament’s poster-boy for drug reform, isn’t sold on his Ministry’s rules, calling them “a bit inflexible” and acknowledging that only “God knows what the police will do” as people increasingly look to at-present illegal cannabis-derived medicines to manage their illnesses and find quality at the end of their lives.

But, that’s the law.

“It’s insane,” says Kelly. (http://www.vice.com/en_au/read/helen-kellys-battle-for-medical-cannabis-is-whats-wrong-with-nzs-drug-policy)

Medicinal marijuana illegal in NZ, unless smuggled across international border

And it gets even crazier.

Back in 2010 the New Zealand Law Commission proposed reform of drug laws and policy, to treat substance abuse and addiction as a health issue, not a criminal one. Then Justice Minister Simon Power bluntly rejected reform, promising there was “not a single solitary chance … that we’ll be relaxing drug laws in New Zealand”.

What Powers wasn’t aware of (to be fair, it seems no one knew about it) was a legal “loophole” in the existing legislation (MDA section 8) ( http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1975/0116/latest/DLM436242.html ) that would allow some people to legally possess cannabis-products and even transport the controlled drug over international borders.

Earlier this year Rebecca Reider, an environmental researcher from the paradise-like and aptly named Golden Bay area of New Zealand, won awell-publicised court battle ( http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/77438549/golden-bay-woman-wins-legal-victory-for-medicinal-cannabis ) to avoid a conviction and potential imprisonment for her importation of a medical marijuana product (cannabis chocolate bars prescribed by a family doctor in California), which she had lawfully obtained overseas.

Reider, through her lawyer Sue Grey, essentially and successfully argued that a previously untested “loophole” in the law had permitted her to import up to one month’s personal supply of medicinally-prescribed cannabis and cannabis-related products. (The full decision of the court has not yet been released). Controlled drugs that are legally prescribed overseas are allowed to be brought in to the country, it turns out. See Andrew Geddis’ blog for a more detailed analysis. (http://pundit.co.nz/content/medical-marijuana-in-australia-next-stop-new-zealand)

This “loophole” could get pretty wide pretty quick – with close neighbor Australia moving fast to legalise medical marijuana – and cause significant issues for Customs Officers who have to interpret the newly uncovered law on the ‘shop floor’ at the international border.

Associate-Minister Dunne has since confirmed, if reluctantly, that it’s “potentially possible”, and has been for 40 years since the MDA was enacted, for patients to bring medicinal cannabis into New Zealand for their personal use.

Reider’s “discharge without conviction” is just the most recent example of the irregular, unclear application and enforcement of New Zealand’s cannabis laws.

Dunne reckons medicinal cannabis will be legalised (not his decision) within a couple of years anyway, making the section 8 loophole redundant – solving the problem. He’s taking the low-risk legacy-protecting ‘do-nothing-and-wait’ approach to political leadership (no wonder he’s been around so long).

But how many hoops will patients continue to have to jump through before then, to simply gain access to and try the medicine that they want and quite possibly need?

It’s hard to look past the father-of-liberalism John Stuart Mill’s famous 1859 assertion, that; “over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign”.

Instead of asking patients, doctors, Police and Customs, and lawyers and Courts to spin around in circles to comply with our convoluted drug laws, isn’t it high-time to change the laws, to end the bureaucratic nonsense, and to recognise the rights of individuals to retain sovereignty over themselves? – especially when they’re busy battling a nauseating life-threatening illness, or preparing to face the inevitable conclusion of a terminal diagnosis.

The man responsible for approving medicinal-marijuana allowances seems confuddled by this country’s crazy laws, and doesn’t seem to want the decision-making duty.

So don’t we Kiwis deserve the sovereignty to decide for ourselves?

P.S. Since submitting this article the New Zealand Ministry of Health has responded to criticism of its “guidelines used to assess applications” for a special allowance to import, prescribe and treat patients with cannabis-derived products, (https://www.lawsociety.org.nz/news-and-communications/latest-news/news/medical-marijuana-guidelines-based-on-science,-dunne-says ) claiming that the process is scientifically robust and treats medicinal marijuana “like any other medicine”. Two key amendments to the guidelines (http://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/regulation-health-and-disability-system/medicines-control/prescribing-cannabis-based-products#guidelinesassess ) have been accepted, including removal of the controversy-causing word “all” which previously meant that “all reasonably applicable treatments [must] have been trialled” before prescription of a cannabis-based product. A report supporting the guidelines states that a lack of efficacy data, the cost of pharmaceutical grade products and the lack of products on the market are continued barriers to New Zealand doctors prescribing cannabis-based products. (http://www.health.govt.nz/system/files/documents/media/health-report-external-consultation-on-guidelines-final-v4.pdf ) The report also notes that the use of cannabis (either in its raw plant form, or non-pharmaceutical grade derivatives such as cannabis oil and teas) by New Zealanders with terminal illnesses is widespread, albeit illegal.recturl=”https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&q=http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1975/0116/latest/DLM436101.html)&source=gmail&ust=1464564620015000&usg=AFQjCNFlNFWegLQjzs722nM65ooT526D-A”>http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1975/0116/latest/DLM436101.html).

There’s traditionally not been much political will to legalise, or even decriminalise cannabis, nor many news stories that paint the plant in a positive light. There’s always been the occasional bit of interest, moments of controversy, but prolonged campaigns for reform have never gained much traction. ‘Puff, puff, pass’, if you will.
But a spate of high-profile events, most recently the “discharge without conviction” of a woman who had posted to herself in New Zealand cannabis-chocolate from the USA, have rallied the public and placed pressure on the Government to reconsider its restriction on medical marijuana.
The New Zealand mainstream media is at the moment ablaze with discussion and debate about cannabis laws.
In subsequent articles we will explore the history of cannabis (and other narcotics) prohibition in Aotearoa/New Zealand, and consider how we went from a nation of lefty-liberal, LSD-takin’, weed smokin’ Rainbow Warriors in the 60s and 70s, to a staunch ally in the global “war on drugs” through the 80s, 90s and naughties, to a potentially world-leading regulator of psychoactive substances or “legal highs” in the years ahead.
For now, though, I will briefly look at the current state of the laws controlling medical marijuana in New Zealand, consider some of the voices in the national conversation about reform, and share three of the deeply-human stories that have sparked this county’s increasing interest in relaxing its policy on cannabis control.
Empathy has proved more powerful than protest.
The tragic death of young Alex Renton
Kiwi teenager Alex Renton died last year after succumbing to a rare disorder that had put him into a prolonged sort of epileptic seizure.
His death caught the attention of and touched many around New Zealand, not only because of the cruel injustice – that an ordinarily active and healthy young lad could so quickly have become sick and passed away, but also because Alex – hospitalised and in an induced coma during his final weeks – had been prescribed a cannabis oil-derived product by his doctors.
The professionals had tried, prescribed all kinds of mainstream medicines to little effect before they took a chance – at Alex’s family’s persistent request – on a cannabidiol product called Elixinol, having been eventually granted a special Government allowance.
The medical reports will not confirm it to any scientifically accepted standard, but Alex’s mum Rose swears that her son’s quality of life was improved in his final days as a result of the medicinal marijuana. Alex died on the first of July. He was the first New Zealander in history to receive a medicinal cannabis treatment in hospital. Weeks later, on national television, Rose Renton revealed she’d administered the drug to Alex herself with an oral syringe, before his doctors had received allowance from the Health Ministry. She had no choice, she says. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/70362941/Rose-Renton-left-with-no-choice-but-to-give-son-cannabis-treatment-illegally)
Now Ms Renton is campaigning for medical marijuana to made available to patients without delay, saying the current special allowance law is “too strict, too slow and too expensive”. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/78134956/rose-renton-starts-petition-to-counter-impossible-criteria-on-medicinal-cannabis-access )
That law is found in the Medicines Act 1981 and the Regulations pursuant to it. (http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1981/0118/latest/DLM53790.html) (andhttp://www.legislation.govt.nz/regulation/public/1984/0143/latest/DLM95668.html ). It gives the Associate Health Minister a discretionary power to approve the importation and prescription of “new medicines” if certain, strict criteria are met (“guidelines” followed, to use Health Ministry-speak).
Staunch trade unionist Helen Kelly’s final stand
Always an advocate for the ‘everyman,’ ordinary working-class New Zealanders, long-time national union leader Helen Kelly is not afraid to say what she thinks, to ‘call a spade a spade’ if that’s what it is – as we Kiwis say, or to stand up for what she believes in and fight to the last.
Helen Kelly is terminally ill (lung cancer – though she’s never been a smoker). She treats herself every night with cannabis oil, which she obtains illegally, to help manage her pain and nausea and to stimulate her appetite. “You’ve got to put these things out in the open,” she’s said. While she knows she’s not likely to be arrested for openly flouting New Zealand’s drug laws, because of her public profile and terminal diagnosis, she says it’s not right that others must live in fear, become ‘criminals’, if they want to treat themselves in the same way. So Kelly publicly applied for the same type of special allowance that Alex Renton’s family had eventually been granted. She has also publicly raised awareness about the fact that our drug laws have forced other well-known New Zealanders, including beloved cricketing–legend the late Martin Crowe, to illegally self-medicate with cannabis products. As it happens, Alex’s highly-publicised case had catalysed a hasty review-and-revision-of the already strict rules governing special approval of “new medicines” which Kelly has claimed make it even more difficult for an applicant to succeed. “Impossible” straight-talking Kelly says. She’s discontinued her application, but is advocating for a binding national referendum on medicinal cannabis. Critically, the current rules mean that no one can be prescribed or legally procure new medicines like cannabis oil until “all other reasonably applicable conventional medicines” are tried and found to be ineffective*. So essentially, no taking anything alternative until every one of ‘Big Pharma’s’ pills have been popped first. Even Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne, an old-school politician who has somewhat reluctantly become Parliament’s poster-boy for drug reform, isn’t sold on his Ministry’s rules, calling them “a bit inflexible” and acknowledging that only “God knows what the police will do” as people increasingly look to at-present illegal cannabis-derived medicines to manage their illnesses and find quality at the end of their lives.
But, that’s the law.
Medicinal marijuana illegal in NZ, unless smuggled across international border
And it gets even crazier.
Back in 2010 the New Zealand Law Commission proposed reform of drug laws and policy, to treat substance abuse and addiction as a health issue, not a criminal one. Then Justice Minister Simon Power bluntly rejected reform, promising there was “not a single solitary chance … that we’ll be relaxing drug laws in New Zealand”.
What Powers wasn’t aware of (to be fair, it seems no one knew about it) was a legal “loophole” in the existing legislation (MDA section 8) ( http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1975/0116/latest/DLM436242.html ) that would allow some people to legally possess cannabis-products and even transport the controlled drug over international borders.
Earlier this year Rebecca Reider, an environmental researcher from the paradise-like and aptly named Golden Bay area of New Zealand, won awell-publicised court battle ( http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/77438549/golden-bay-woman-wins-legal-victory-for-medicinal-cannabis ) to avoid a conviction and potential imprisonment for her importation of a medical marijuana product (cannabis chocolate bars prescribed by a family doctor in California), which she had lawfully obtained overseas.
Reider, through her lawyer Sue Grey, essentially and successfully argued that a previously untested “loophole” in the law had permitted her to import up to one month’s personal supply of medicinally-prescribed cannabis and cannabis-related products. (The full decision of the court has not yet been released). Controlled drugs that are legally prescribed overseas are allowed to be brought in to the country, it turns out. See Andrew Geddis’ blog for a more detailed analysis. (http://pundit.co.nz/content/medical-marijuana-in-australia-next-stop-new-zealand)
This “loophole” could get pretty wide pretty quick – with close neighbor Australia moving fast to legalise medical marijuana – and cause significant issues for Customs Officers who have to interpret the newly uncovered law on the ‘shop floor’ at the international border.
Associate-Minister Dunne has since confirmed, if reluctantly, that it’s “potentially possible”, and has been for 40 years since the MDA was enacted, for patients to bring medicinal cannabis into New Zealand for their personal use.
Reider’s “discharge without conviction” is just the most recent example of the irregular, unclear application and enforcement of New Zealand’s cannabis laws.
Dunne reckons medicinal cannabis will be legalised (not his decision) within a couple of years anyway, making the section 8 loophole redundant – solving the problem. He’s taking the low-risk legacy-protecting ‘do-nothing-and-wait’ approach to political leadership (no wonder he’s been around so long).
But how many hoops will patients continue to have to jump through before then, to simply gain access to and try the medicine that they want and quite possibly need?
It’s hard to look past the father-of-liberalism John Stuart Mill’s famous 1859 assertion, that; “over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign”.
Instead of asking patients, doctors, Police and Customs, and lawyers and Courts to spin around in circles to comply with our convoluted drug laws, isn’t it high-time to change the laws, to end the bureaucratic nonsense, and to recognise the rights of individuals to retain sovereignty over themselves? – especially when they’re busy battling a nauseating life-threatening illness, or preparing to face the inevitable conclusion of a terminal diagnosis.
The man responsible for approving medicinal-marijuana allowances seems confuddled by this country’s crazy laws, and doesn’t seem to want the decision-making duty.
So don’t we Kiwis deserve the sovereignty to decide for ourselves?
 P.S.    Since submitting this article the New Zealand Ministry of Health has responded to criticism of its “guidelines used to assess applications” for a special allowance to import, prescribe and treat patients with cannabis-derived products, (https://www.lawsociety.org.nz/news-and-communications/latest-news/news/medical-marijuana-guidelines-based-on-science,-dunne-says ) claiming that the process is scientifically robust and treats medicinal marijuana “like any other medicine”. Two key amendments to the guidelines (http://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/regulation-health-and-disability-system/medicines-control/prescribing-cannabis-based-products#guidelinesassess ) have been accepted, including removal of the controversy-causing word “all” which previously meant that “all reasonably applicable treatments [must] have been trialled” before prescription of a cannabis-based product. A report supporting the guidelines states that a lack of efficacy data, the cost of pharmaceutical grade products and the lack of products on the market are continued barriers to New Zealand doctors prescribing cannabis-based products. (http://www.health.govt.nz/system/files/documents/media/health-report-external-consultation-on-guidelines-final-v4.pdf ) The report also notes that the use of cannabis (either in its raw plant form, or non-pharmaceutical grade derivatives such as cannabis oil and teas) by New Zealanders with terminal illnesses is widespread, albeit illegal.