31 October 2003
The Dominion Post
The Government has opened the way for the legal use of medical cannabis if trials under way in Britain prove it is safe.
In the meantime, Associate Health Minister Jim Anderton ruled out relaxing the law on smoking the drug as a method of self medication.
Mr Anderton issued the Government's response yesterday to the report on cannabis from Parliament's health committee, which was the result of a three-year inquiry.
He ruled out legalising cannabis, which was not one of the recommendations of the health committee, adding that would never happen under the present administration.
But he gave the strongest Government support yet for the use of cannabis as a medicine.
British company GW Pharmaceuticals is testing several products including cannabis pills and under-the-tongue sprays which New Zealand's Health Ministry medicines watchdog Medsafe is closely monitoring.
If the drugs met the requirements of the Medicines Act an application could be made to test and market them in New Zealand, Mr Anderton said. "I do not have a problem with that."
Labour MP Steve Chadwick, chairwoman of the health select committee, welcomed the response, saying the recommendation that the Government support medical trials had been unanimous.
She said it would be up to Health Minister Annette King to approve the medical drug and she would ask her what the next step should be.
GW Pharmaceuticals applied for a British product licence for its Sativex brand of cannabis spray in March.
A dose of medical marijuana is expected to cost about $10.
Green Party justice spokesman Nandor Tanczos said the Government's response was positive for sufferers of diseases such as multiple sclerosis who wanted relief from pain and nausea.
But the result was not so good for Greg Soar, who has HIV and used the illegal drug now. He told The Dominion Post it relieved nausea caused by other drugs but it was expensive and difficult to obtain.
"Every time I vomit, I ask why is my Government doing this to me?"
The Government chose not to recommend that the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs give priority to looking at the classification of the drug as the committee suggested.
Nor did Mr Anderton believe the justice select committee should examine the drug's legality as the health committee recommended.
Other recommendations, such as to beef up education around minimising harm from the drug, were already being dealt with by other initiatives, Mr Anderton said.
United Future leader Peter Dunne, who made not decriminalising cannabis a condition of his party's support for the Government, said he was comfortable with the idea of clinical trials.
"What is not acceptable is the position that `I get relief from smoking a joint therefore it should be legal'."
National's health spokeswoman Lynda Scott had wanted suicide victims tested for cannabis to investigate any link between the drug and depression.
The Government says that would be up to a new regime being developed for coroners.
Dr Scott said drug education was not adequate.
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