From today NSW doctors can prescribe medicinal cannabis – and Kiwi patients can go over and return with one month’s “lawfully obtained” supply. So how would NZ patients lawfully obtain any?
Modern research suggests that cannabis is a valuable aid in the treatment of a wide range of clinical applications. These include pain relief — particularly of neuropathic pain (pain from nerve damage) — nausea, spasticity, glaucoma, and movement disorders. Cannabis is also a powerful appetite stimulant, specifically for patients suffering from HIV, AIDS wasting syndrome, cancer treatment, or dementia. Emerging research suggests that cannabinoids found in cannabis may protect the body against some types of malignant tumors and may be neuroprotective.
Of all the negative consequences of our insane War on Drugs, none is as tragic as the denial of medicinal cannabis to patients who could benefit from its therapeutic use.
Parliament’s Health Select Committee has twice called for medicinal cannabis to be made available, while NZ’s Law Commission recommended a compassionate scheme that would instruct the police to turn a blind eye to the use and provision of medicinal cannabis. New Zealand patients have been all over the media for the last year or so, polls show massive support for making medicinal cannabis legal, and there are at least two medicinal cannabis petitions going around now that you should sign.
Medicinal cannabis is legal in 26 US states, most of Europe, Canada, Israel, and several South American nations. Yet the New Zealand Government has steadfastly refused to make any significant changes, insisting that it’s fake review of the regulations had put the issue to bed.
The contrast with NSW could not be more stark. Peter Dunne, our Minister in charge of drug policy, and his National Party buddies use Australian progress on this issue to stall any action here. We are told we must wait for Australian trials to be conducted, then for products to be registered there, then Medsafe may consider them here, and only then might the situation change for patients who are suffering.
Meanwhile in NSW, Premier Mike Baird – who was awakened to the importance of this issue after being contacted by a patient – has made the clinical trials not a barrier to reform, but a way to enroll as many patients as possible so they can access medicinal cannabis now, and then use those results to widen access as much as possible, as quickly as possible. I was at the Sydney Hemp & Health Expo when he announced the access would be dramatically widened even before the initial trials had begun. Today Mike Baird has made good on his promise to put patients before politics, with more to come.
Peter Dunne has said that New Zealand is likely to follow Australia once it provides medical cannabis for use, but Kiwi patients don’t have to wait for his timetable: many will be eligible to go over right now.
The new regulations for prescribing medicinal cannabis in NSW are here. Some media are reporting patients must have a terminal condition and have exhausted conventional treatments, but this is not mentioned in the new regulations so I think they’ve got that wrong, and that this is not limited to terminal patients. There is also no limit to what conditions patients have, or what may be prescribed (whole cannabis plant and cannabis-based products are both allowed). It is expected that medicinal cannabis products will eventually be registered with the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration, so doctors could then prescribe them to anyone like any other medicine.
As of today, the process is:
a) medical practitioners must apply to both the TGA and the NSW Health Board for licenses to prescribe cannabis-based products;
b) medical practitioners must be involved in the patient’s “ongoing care” – but do not need to be their main doctor;
c) the medicinal cannabis product must be “lawfully imported into or manufactured in Australia”.
None are yet – but I expect several will be available soon. For example the new regulations allow doctors and pharmacists to manufacture medicinal cannabis and/or products without a license, ie they could grow some at the doctor’s surgery!
It’s now widely known that New Zealanders can travel overseas and bring back with them up to one month’s supply of legally obtained medicinal cannabis or medicinal cannabis products. This was built into the Misuse of Drugs Act when it was passed way back in 1975, but it was difficult to muster the courage to test this provision when Customs were saying it didn’t exist and they’d bust anyone who tried. Rebecca Reider put it to the test and won in court. New Zealand patients can indeed bring back a month’s worth of herbal happiness. In fact, the Ministry of Health now provides the following guidance on their website:
If you arrive in New Zealand carrying controlled drugs on you or in your luggage, you may import it provided that you:
- declare the controlled drugs on your passenger arrival card to present to New Zealand Customs Service.
- have no more than one month’s supply of the controlled drug with you.
prove to Customs that the drug:
- is required for treating a medical condition for you or for someone under your care, and
has been lawfully supplied to you in the country of origin
- a letter from your doctor or a valid label on the container with your name and the quantity and strength of the drugs would be sufficient.
For further information for individuals arriving in New Zealand with controlled drugs, please contact New Zealand Customs Service.
One issue remains. It is not clear whether patients must be NSW residents – the Terminal Illness Cannabis Scheme (TICS) says they must be, but the new regulations do not specify this and are additional to TICS, which remains in force as well. New Zealanders have the right to live and work in Australia indefinitely, but are not technically “permanent residents” for immigration purposes. It’s possible that having a NSW address may be enough to satisfy the condition of being a NSW “resident”, or it may not even be required at all.
In summary, patients or their caregivers will need to find a licensed doctor, ask them to be involved in their ongoing care, identify a product they can lawfully import into Australia (another license required), or convince them to grow some, then buy a month’s supply and come home with it on their person, with all their paperwork, and declare it at the border.
If any patients reading this think they may qualify, please get in contact, and perhaps we can help get you over to Australia and back again with some legal medicinal cannabis. I’m certainly keen to test this out.