GUEST BLOG: Chris Fowlie – Sick people and their caregivers need compassion, not punishment



NORML, Peter Dunne and Family First all agree on one thing – patients should have more access to effective medicinal cannabis.

But instead of wasting huge amounts of time and money on years of pharmaceutical-level testing, we should follow the Australian approach, treat it as a herbal remedy, and immediately allow compassionate access now for those in need.
Medicinal use of cannabis is known to help with the symptoms of both everyday minor ailments as well as serious conditions including HIV, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, cancer and nausea, IBS, Crohn’s and other gastrointestinal disorders, epilepsy and seizures, glaucoma, hepatitis C, migraines, multiple sclerosis, pain, Tourette’s, improving the quality of life of the terminally ill, or for your sick pets. The US Government even holds a patent for medicinal cannabinoids.
Safe legal physician-supervised access to medicinal cannabis is supported by organisations including the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Public Health Association, British Medical Association, the Epilepsy Foundation, The Lymphoma Foundation of America, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church, the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the Union of Reform Judaism, and the Unitarian Universalist Association.
TVNZ poll last weekend showed an increase in support for medicinal cannabis, and that only 21% of respondents support the current law. Full details of the poll are here with a discussion at yournz. It shows support for medicinal use has increased. It also shows that if you first ask people about medicinal use, when you later ask about ‘recreational use’ support for that will be lower. A Herald Digipoll from June last year showed most people want smoking cannabis to be decriminalised or made legal. A follow up poll two months later found “almost 80 per cent of those polled wanted cannabis to be at least partially legalised.”
What was astounding was that even the conservative group Family First has called for an “expansion” of research and a new “emergency” program to increase access for patients. Always Mr Commonsense, Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne had no choice but to tell TVNZ that if medicinal cannabis is effective, he will back it.
“If those products are shown as a result of the normal testing programme to be fit for purpose then we will permit them to be made available in New Zealand,” said Mr Dunne.
previously wrote about how our officials were not providing Mr Dunne with up-to-date information. The concern now is that the call for ‘more research’ is simply blocking access for those who need it right now. There are more published studies on cannabis than most FDA-approved drugs, and Mr Dunne is requiring higher standards for medicinal cannabis than for legal highs.
While the cannabis extract Sativex has passed the usual pharmaceutical tests and is available to a limited number of patients here, clinical trials and published studies have shown whole cannabis herb to often be more effective, and it should be available as an option for those in need.
New Zealand patients and caregivers need safe legal access to medicinal cannabis now, including both refined preparations such as Sativex, and whole herb cannabis medicines such as Bedrocan, as well as the myriad cannabis salves and tinctures available in the USA. With over 20,000 published studies, cannabis is one of the most researched plants in the world.
AustraliaCanada23 US states and multiple European and South American countries have recognised that the decades of clinical testing required for novel pharmaceuticals is not needed for medicinal cannabis, because it is a traditional herbal remedy with the remarkable record of thousands of years of therapeutic use and not one death.
In the USA, NORML took the government to court to force it to think rationally about medicinal cannabis. The DEA’s Administrative Law Judge Francis Young ruled in 1988 that:
“Marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within the supervised routine of medical care.”
New Zealand is now lagging a long way behind the US on the issue of medicinal cannabis. So it was pleasing to note that even the conservative group Family First is now supporting (modest) reforms to our outdated policies around medicinal cannabis. In their recent press release, Family First says they are calling for:
  • the expansion of research into the components of the marijuana plant for delivery via non-smoked forms. (Supported by NZMA)
  • the establishment of an emergency or research program that allows seriously ill patients to obtain non-smoked components of marijuana before final Ministry of Health approval.
  • the Government instruct the Ministry of Health to update the prescribing guidelines for pharmaceutically based THC derivative medicines to include Sativex as a medicine under the Medicines Act 1981 and to continue to make pharmaceutically based THC derivative medicines available to treat serious medical conditions when traditional methods have failed.
However we were dismayed to read quotes they have attributed to NORML. In their press release, Family First falsely claim that US NORML founder Keith Stroup had said in a debate in 1973 that NORML was using the medical use issue as a “red herring for legalization.” Stroup responded to this in 2001:

“That is obviously a lie, and it suggests how desperate these drug warriors have become… At NORML we believe it is unconscionable to continue to deny an effective medication to the seriously ill and dying, in order to advance a political agenda. That is precisely what our opponents are doing.”

The fact is, rather than being a cunning ruse to legalise all uses of cannabis, regulating medical cannabis would reduce the worst aspects of our failed War on Drugs. Of all the injustices committed in the name of protecting illicit drug consumers, perhaps the worst is arresting and jailing those who use or provide cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Sick people and their caregivers need compassion, not punishment.

Former editor of NORML News, Chris Fowlie is president of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, manager of The Hempstore, and court-recognised expert witness for serious cannabis charges.



  1. Thou shalt not “eat” from the “tree” of knowledge and everlasting life. Because that would destroy the power we and our Big Pharma gang have over you.

  2. Something no-one is yet mentioning is that it will only be a few more years before a lot of people who have been smoking marijuana since the 1970s will be entering institutional care like rest homes where they will be forced to stop smoking it. They enjoy it as part of their lifestyle and should be allowed the right to continue enjoy it after they have entered a rest home

    • The issue of medical cannabis seems not to be very well-defined. It’s being waved around as the cure for everything. I have no doubt that it is useful for quite a few things, but if you are going to talk “medical” then let’s hear from the medical profession about it. Because at the moment it seems most of the people promoting the medical cannabis issue are not medical professionals.

      In particular, NORML is not a medical group but a cannabis advocacy group, and a spectacularly ineffective one at that. You’re selling your recreational users down the river in hopes of using so-called “medical” cannabis as a Trojan horse to effect law reform.

      Given that it isn’t simple to differentiate between “medical” use and recreational use in a lot of cases, why doesn’t NORML advocate – effectively – for law reform for all legitimate uses of the Cannabis genus of plants. If it’s legal for recreational users, then the “medical” users will be covered as well.

      I think NORML is letting down a big chunk of the population by increasingly restricting it’s advocacy to “medical marijuana”.

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