Nelson lawyer Sue Grey, who has been at the forefront of the medicinal cannabis debate, says she sees the issue as a human rights matter rather than a criminal law issue “especially when you hear some of the stories”.
She describes the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Act 2018 as a missed opportunity, preferring the more community-focused Medicinal Cannabis Bill prepared by Green MP Julie Anne Genter and taken over by Chloe Swarbrick.
“Unfortunately, National block-voted against it. The 2018 reform is a step forward but is corporate-focused and raises as many issues as it solves,” Grey says.
“In my view, the barrier for access will be too high if the government tries to force cannabis into a pharmaceutical model.
“It will exclude many of New Zealand’s current growers who have the most experience and have developed the best quality seeds for medicinal use.
“It also risks excluding New Zealand’s most experienced cannabis healers – our “green fairies” who have been helping thousands of sick New Zealanders.
“The new regime will resolve little if a parallel black or green market continues, as has occurred in some US states.”
Grey says New Zealand has “an odd situation” where cannabis and hemp plant extracts, including CBD [cannabidiol], are assumed to be harmful until proven to be safe, even though cannabis and other herbs have been used medicinally for 4000 years or so.
“Meanwhile new technologies such as RFEMR [radio-frequency electromagnetic field] emissions, and chemicals including pesticides and even 1080 poison baits are assumed to be safe until proven to be harmful.
“The challenge is to make laws that are fit for purpose and which promote community wellbeing. We need to find more creative solutions.”
Grey believes the public consultation process is too complex for most sick people, who simply want access to safe, affordable cannabis.
“Its complexity selects well-resourced pharmaceutical interests over smaller-scale, community-focused interests. It’s unfortunate that those with the most resources tend to lobby hardest and force through laws that suit themselves.
“Our system needs to find ways of balancing this to promote community wellbeing.”
Asked to assess the calibre of the players lining up to manufacture and distribute medicinal cannabis and whether they will, as some claim, take control and revenue away from gangs, generate tax revenue and create economic opportunities, Grey said: “There is a wide array of prospective interests, from local green fairies to multinational pharmaceutical companies.
“Overseas it’s typically the corporates who line up to scoop up the smaller growers and it seems likely the same trend will happen here unless active steps are taken to help create a niche for, and then protect, community focused growers.
“It’s very important that there is an opportunity for those who have built up expertise illegally under the old laws to transition into the new regime.”
Another issue concerning Grey is whether New Zealand doctors are sufficiently well informed about cannabis and how to prescribe it.
“Most doctors have no training in the human endocannabinoid system or how plant-sourced cannabinoids can help stabilise the nervous system, autoimmune disorders or help manage an array of other chronic ill health, so I encourage my clients to educate their doctors.”
So, where does Grey stand on the wider issue of legalising recreational cannabis use?
“Many use it for purposes which could be classified as either medicinal or recreational so it’s definitely not a clear line.
“I don’t personally use cannabis but I would like CBD to be readily available in health shops like it is in Scotland where my daughter lives.
“I don’t think people should be punished for making choices about what food, drugs or medicines they choose to use. I’d prefer to see open conversation and education.”