Opinion: Vaughan Gunson

According to recent polling, nearly 90 per cent of us favour the use of medicinal cannabis for chronic pain relief.

That’s up there with support for having a police force, or wanting the All Blacks to win against England, or that killing dolphins is wrong.

Few public or political issues poll so one-sided. Allowing cannabis to be used medicinally should be a done deal.

And yet it isn’t. Politicians (with the exception of the clear-eyed Greens) are making a hazy, befuddled hash of it.

Let’s start with Labour. They’ve put forward a bill, the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill, which would give exemption to terminally ill patients to possess cannabis.

Medical cannabis supporters during a march in Auckland last year. Labour’s bill, as it currently stands, does not allow possession of cannabis for people suffering from chronic pain (but not at risk of dying anytime soon), writes Northern Advocate columnist Vaughan Gunson.

Labour’s bill, as it currently stands, does not allow possession of cannabis for people suffering from chronic pain (but not at risk of dying anytime soon).

Maybe they think that allowing cannabis use for people experiencing chronic pain would only highlight the ridiculousness of keeping cannabis classed as an illegal drug. They’d be right.

But Labour seems worried about being perceived as too radical. They’ll take a drag on the voter support for medicinal cannabis use, but they don’t want to inhale the full ramifications of doing so.

Their unwillingness to take a clear and positive stand, means they’ve been reluctant to come clean on how people are going to get the cannabis they’ll be using on their death bed.

Would a caring family member or friend be able to buy cannabis leaf at the local food market or organic health shop?

Well, there seems to be provision in Labour’s bill for that, but there’s a lack of detail. Their plan was to pass on the drafting of any regulations and guidelines to the Ministry of Health.

This is where National’s Whangārei MP, Dr Shane Reti, comes into the picture. His private member’s bill is very detailed on how cannabis would be manufactured and accessed by sufferers (they would have to have an ID card authorised by their doctor).

Dr Reti’s bill would allow people with chronic pain to access cannabis products, but not in leaf form.

The manufacture and sale of medicinal cannabis would be restricted to companies which are able to get their product ticked off as pharmaceutical grade. That’s costly, giving the big drug companies a massive advantage.

Dr Reti often claims to be a champion of Northland business, yet in this case, he’s advocating restrictions on medicinal cannabis manufacture that would favour international pharmaceutical companies over the potential development of a grassroots and locally owned industry. There’s no shortage of people in Northland who know how to grow cannabis.

Having the drug companies in control will also mean that getting access to cannabis products will be expensive. A burden on the health system and taxpayers.

Pill or leaf, it’s the same substance with the same pain relieving properties. But there’s a huge difference between empowering Big Pharma to make its profits or empowering sufferers to access cannabis cheaply and easily.

Dr Reti’s bill may never get drawn from the ballot, and would presumably get voted down by the ruling Government parties, but let’s hope it’s a stimulus for Labour to sort out its own bill.

■ Vaughan Gunson is a writer and poet interested in social justice and big issues facing the planet.

Source: Northern Advocate


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