Last night New Zealand MPs voted overwhelmingly against a law change that would allow patients to use cannabis for specific medicinal purposes. They thought they knew the interests of these patients better than the patients and their doctors -- and knew the issue better than legislators in Canada, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and in fourteen states in the US, all places where medical marijuana is legal. They told those patients essentially to go to hell, because that describes the pain that some are in.
The Green Party bill [says TV3 News] would have allowed doctors in New Zealand to prescribe cannabis for 22 approved illnesses and eligible patients would have been given an identification card allowing them to grow, possess and consume marijuana.
ACT MP Heather Roy says that the stance is supported by science.
"There's very good scientific evidence to show that some medical conditions are improved by the use of cannabis," she says.
Evidence that would have been presented at Select Committee, but 86 MPs, a clear majority said with their vote that they didn’t want to even hear.
ACT were all for, including their conservatives. So too were the Greens, whose bill this was. For Maori, all but one were against. Labour was split. And the Nats were all against – very revealing that as a conscience vote not a single Nat broke ranks for the bill. Not one apparently had enough of a conscience to even cross the floor.
Here’s who Voted For:
Ardern, Jacinda Labour Party, List
Beaumont, Carol Labour Party, List
Boscawen, John ACT New Zealand, List
Bradford, Sue Green Party, List
Burns, Brendon Labour Party, Christchurch Central
Chadwick, Steve Labour Party, List
Chauvel, Charles Labour Party, List
Cunliffe, David Labour Party, New Lynn
Delahunty, Catherine Green Party, List
Douglas, Roger ACT New Zealand, List
Dyson, Ruth Labour Party, Port Hills
Fenton, Darien Labour Party, List
Fitzsimons, Jeanette Green Party, List
Garrett, David ACT New Zealand, List
Graham, Kennedy Green Party, List
Hague, Kevin Green Party, List
Harawira, Hone Maori Party, Te Tai Tokerau
Hide, Rodney ACT New Zealand, Epsom
Hipkins, Chris Labour Party, Rimutaka
Hodgson, Pete Labour Party, Dunedin North
Jones, Shane Labour Party, List
Kedgley, Sue Green Party, List
King, Annette Labour Party, Rongotai
Lees-Galloway, Iain Labour Party, Palmerston North
Locke, Keith Green Party, List
Mackey, Moana Labour Party, List
Moroney, Sue Labour Party, List
Norman, Russel Green Party, List
Pillay, Lynne Labour Party, List
Prasad, Rajen Labour Party, List
Roy, Heather ACT New Zealand, List
Sepuloni, Carmel Labour Party, List
Street, Maryan Labour Party, List
Turei, Metiria Green Party, List
Twyford, Phil Labour Party, List
Metiria Turei, whose bill this was, wrote in support of her bill in a recent Free Radical. Here’s what she had to say.
Medicinal Cannabis Vote Coming Soon!
by Metiria Turei, MP
Compassion for ill New Zealanders is a core New Zealand value. Many campaigns for legislative or policy change have been about supporting and protecting the ill. My campaign enabling doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients supports thousands of ill New Zealanders who may benefit from this option, relieving the pain of (for just a few examples) nail-patella syndrome, muscle spasms, phantom limb pain, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and the wasting syndrome from HIV/AIDS.
The world is increasingly recognising the value of medicinal use of cannabis. Fourteen US states now allow medicinal use, with similar systems in Canada, Spain and the UK. New South Wales is developing a four-year trial for medicinal cannabis. International health organisations supporting medicinal cannabis include the American Medical Association, US Institute of Medicine, Federation of American Scientists, the WHO and the UK Royal College of Physicians. All these jurisdictions and organisations base their support on evidence from highly regarded international medical research teams and institutions.
There is a process for medicinal use in New Zealand which has never been used because it is simply unworkable. The application must be made by your GP, involving extensive negotiations with both the Ministry of Health and Customs. The patient must purchase the pharmaceutical version of medicinal cannabis, which is extremely expensive. One constituent, who has a very low tolerance for cannabis, was quoted a price of $300 per week for the pharmaceutical cannabinoid preparation Sativex. In effect, ill New Zealanders, especially those who have the least resources or are the most ill, are denied access to potential relief.
My Bill proposes a system whereby patients grow their own cannabis and are registered with both the Ministry of Health and local police. It is the most accessible and cheapest model for ill New Zealanders. (There are other models that have greater and lesser degrees of control, many of which are used in other jurisdictions. I am open to the discussion on those other models.)
My campaign enabling doctors to prescribe cannabis is based on medical evidence. Research from the UK, Israel, Germany, Canada, USA and numerous universities and medical associations demonstrates cannabis can provide relief to some patients where mainstream pharmaceuticals have failed. In New Zealand, the NZ Medical Association supports research into the benefits of cannabis for medicinal use, and the NZ Pharmaceutical Guild told the 2001 Cannabis Inquiry that it considers it perfectly possible to safely distribute legal medicinal cannabis.
Our proposal adds cannabis to the tool box of medical interventions available to doctors. To hear more from the medical profession the Greens conducted a survey of doctors in 2003 to find out exactly what sort of professional support there is for medical use. The results were revealing, showing medicinal cannabis has been widely discussed or considered by doctors and/or patients. The potential use of medicinal cannabis is very high. Doctors were asked to rate their knowledge of medicinal cannabis: we found that those with a high level of knowledge were more likely to consider prescribing cannabis. 6% said that they have recommended their patients try cannabis; 10% said they currently had patients who would benefit from using cannabis; and 32% said they would consider prescribing cannabis if it were legal to do so.
Thirty-two percent demonstrates a “silent epidemic” of ill New Zealanders searching for alternative relief that the pharmaceutical industry simply cannot provide. Their silence should be cause for shame amongst those who make decisions about laws that prohibits this relief. They are silenced because they fear prosecution – and it is a real fear. Our courts have sent to jail for cannabis use people with very serious medical conditions for which the jails are simply not equipped -- and because these people have no other form of relief, they are by their very nature repeat offenders, attracting longer jail sentences. Regardless of one’s view of recreational use of cannabis, medicinal use is clearly a question of compassion.
There are a number of arguments against medicinal cannabis. Many are worried about the effects of smoking. Many are concerned about controlling dosage. And many are worried about enforcement of the law. Let’s address those in turn.
There are concerns smoked cannabis will contribute to lung damage -- this was a real concern of doctors surveyed. But the health risks of smoking are meaningless for patients with terminal conditions, especially if the drug relieves suffering during the remaining stages of their lives.
For non-terminal patients there are many different forms of ingestion with few negative health effects. One constituent of mine makes a tea; others use vaporisers, tinctures or even massage oil rubbed on damaged muscles or stumps. With good information, doctors can work through the various options for ingestion that work best for the patient. And in terminal cases, compassion has to be the dominant concern.
As for the question of dosage, patients say they do not want the euphoric effects, but rather to simply be free of the perpetual pain that confines their lives. GPs work out dosage issues all the time with other pharmaceutical drugs, and with appropriate information can do that with medicinal cannabis as well.
The third major concern is continued law enforcement against recreational marijuana use, a real concern that should be taken very seriously. Some are concerned about pharmacy break-ins, for example, but the NZ Pharmaceutical Guild say they can manage the storage and distribution of any legal medicinal cannabis product – and in this respect, medicinal cannabis can be compared to any drugs or medicines. The police already have systems for managing misuse of drugs such as barbiturates, sleeping pills, and pain medications such as morphine and anti-depressants, some of which – unlike the case with cannabis -- are fatal if misused.
In New Zealand there is increasing research on medicinal marijuana. Otago University research for example explores the use of cannabis in minimising damage caused by strokes, as well as in pain relief. More New Zealand-based pharmacological research is one benefit of freeing up medicinal marijuana. If we can enable a doctor-directed process rather than a ministerial one, researchers will have greater incentives to engage in that research, and patients will have another treatment available to them.
What she neglected to say is that this is a clear-cut issue of personal freedom.
And what she neglected to do was campaign for her bill. But now, with this vote, this issue of personal freedom has been put back years.
UPDATE 1: Plenty of reaction around the place, the pithiest perhaps being Russell Brown who says, “It's hard not to see MPs' rejection of Metiria Turei's medical cannabis bill as the result of a desperate desire to avoid talking about the issue, rather than a genuine exercise of conscience.” It sure does.
UPDATE 2: Alright, this from Danyl at Dim Post is pretty pithy too:
It’s a measure of the hysteria about drugs that we can have ‘medicinal heroin’ (diacetylmorphine, or other morphine derivatives) prescribed by Doctors but medicinal cannabis would simply be beyond the pale! And with the highest rates of cannabis abuse in the world I think its safe to say the drug is already present in mainstream New Zealand society.