“Legalising personal use cannabis will help considerably with what has been a long and challenging battle to give Kiwi patients access to a range of affordable products,” says Pearl Schomburg, Founder of Auckland Patients Group, and medicinal cannabis campaigning for over 20 years.
Her comments follow the Government releasing the final draft of the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill which the public will vote on via a referendum at this year’s General Election.
With no certainty of the referendum passing, and even if it does, a regulated market not coming into effect for at least another two years, Auckland Patient Group implores the Government to now extend the existing medicinal cannabis amnesty for palliative patients to all patients and the carers and green fairies who support them.
“Our patients are still facing many obstructions to accessing legal products due to limited options and high pricing. Patients are also confronted with a great hesitancy to prescribe by our medical professionals,” says Ms Schomburg.
She says a good example of this has been the Auckland District Health Board continuing to maintain a departmental policy not to prescribe legal cannabis products to patients.
“We understand that these medical professionals feel that they don’t have the education, time, available products or the product knowledge to feel comfortable prescribing, not helped by all the regulation red tape.
“This has created a problem, leaving these patients open to the black market, which takes advantage of vulnerable patients that I myself have witnessed. Thankfully, green fairies have stepped up, often gifting these desperate patients with medicine, to ensure they have access to safe products – something the Government has yet to achieve.”
Ms Schomburg says while the country celebrated the passing of the medicinal cannabis bill in 2018, the system New Zealand has adopted is largely a replication of what has been put in place in the United Kingdom and Australia. Some years on, and unfortunately most British and Australian patients are still not able to access legal products, with cost, available prescribers, and product availability being the biggest barriers.
“One thing our Government did was place an order over palliative patients to enable them to use cannabis in the last 12 months of life to ease their suffering. However, there was no extension of this amnesty for their carers, green fairies or a palliative patient’s right to grow and make their own balms and tinctures. Again, while well intended, the question of accessibility of products is something the Government has fallen short on,” she says.
The patient advocate says such an extended amnesty would provide medicinal cannabis patients in Aotearoa New Zealand with a safe transition period until legal, affordable access is a reality for all patients.
While her first priority will always be to campaign for the access of safe and reliable products for medical patients, she says the Government’s Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill is now a real opportunity for patients in New Zealand.
“As it stands, Auckland Patients Group wholeheartedly endorses a yes vote at September’s referendum. Patients are desperate. Legalising personal use cannabis is a way we can see patients being able to gain access, without fear of prosecution, to safe and consistent cannabis products,” she says.
In a recent media interview Pearl Schomburg talked about her struggle as a patient.
“Since then my phone has not stopped ringing with patients needing help, most of them elderly. They feel like they have nowhere to turn and fear persecution. It really isn’t good enough. We need access to safe products now,” she says.
Auckland Patients Group was formed in 2016 to lobby government for an amnesty on all medicinal cannabis patients and their supporters, including carers and green fairies while cannabis law reform in Aotearoa New Zealand was enacted.