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Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne announced that he has changed his mind about a formal policy that will shield terminally ill medical cannabis users from police harassment. He said that the Police Commissioner has assured him that the police are not targeting medicinal cannabis users and are approaching such cases with compassion and no precautionary measures are needed.
Medical marijuana is currently illegal in New Zealand, except for a single product, Sativex, which requires sign-off by the Ministry of Health.
Pro-medical marijuana campaigners have complained that police were coming down hard on severely ill patients who depended on various forms of cannabis for pain relief and have petitioned to allow GPs to prescribe medical cannabis without needing Government approval.
In February, Dunne said in a blog post that a register for terminally people who were using cannabis was “worth further consideration” if it offered vulnerable people “a little more assurance at a very stressful time of their lives”.
In New South Wales, dying patients can voluntarily add their names to a register to ensure that they and their family are not harassed by police.
Dunne said “It strikes me, on balance, that our more pragmatic solution is arguably better than having a formal, rigid position like the NSW register.”
However, Nelson lawyer and campaigner Sue Grey told Parliament’s Health Committee:
“I get called by people every week. A triple amputee with phantom pains was prosecuted by police last week for using medical cannabis in his own garden on the West Coast.
A young mother who’s had a series of chronic back issues, she’s been in and out of the emergency ward of hospital. The police raided her medical cannabis that was the one thing that was giving her a cure and letting her keep going. Not only are the very illest people in New Zealand currently being punished, but their medicine is being taken away.”
Responding to this, Dunne said “I think that people who are in a terminal or serious situation and who are using marijuana for pain relief – I don’t that that should be a priority for the police. I would be concerned if it were to become one. At a general level, my assurances have been that the police have a similar view to me.”
Rose Renton’s son Alex was the first person to get approval to use medical cannabis in New Zealand before his death in July 2015. She told MPs she was contacted every day by people who were “desperate, dying and terrified of our laws and what to do next”