Pubdate: Sun, 06 Jul 2014
Source: Sunday Star-Times (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2014 Sunday Star-Times
Author: Josh Fagan
Page: A5


An American Family Is Upending Their New Start in New Zealand to 
Chase Cannabis Treatment for Their Young Daughter Josh Fagan Reports.

A NORTHLAND family is being torn apart in their bid to give their 
six-year-old daughter cannabis.

Jessika and Brendan Guest moved from America to Whangarei last year 
but Jessika and their two children Jade, 6, and Ethan, 8, are heading 
back to Colorado where they can legally source cannabis oil to treat 
Jade's epilepsy.

Jessika said she believed medicinal marijuana was the best option for 
Jade, whose condition has worsened in recent months, leaving her 
suffering more than 30 seizures a day.

Brendan was planning to stay behind to continue working as a truck 
driver and it was unlikely the family would be reunited in New 
Zealand unless medical cannabis was legalised.

"We sold everything to come over here and give our kids a Kiwi 
lifestyle," Jessika said.

"Our goal is hopefully to come back. Hopefully New Zealand will 
legalise (cannabis oil) so that Jade and other kids can get the help 
they dearly need."

The decision to leave at the end of July followed months of difficult 
discussions, Jessika said.

International evidence suggests young patients using just a couple of 
drops of the oil each day saw a major improvement controlling their symptoms.

A growing number of parents were risking fines or imprisonment by 
importing the drug illegally while one mother told the Sunday 
Star-Times she has grown her own plants to make cannabis oil for her 
teenage daughter.

Jessika said the decision to separate their family was their best 
option for giving Jade a better chance at life.

Jade's daily battle with epilepsy involved being "pumped full of 
(pharmaceutical) drugs" that brought significant side-effects, Jessika said.

"They make her tired, they make her drool, they make her agitated, 
and they make her constipated. They're ruining her kidneys and her 
liver and her stomach lining. She's just a zombie when she's on them 
and she has to be on them all the time."

The cannabis oil, which is legal to use for medical purposes in 
Colorado and eight other states of America, has a low level of THC - 
the component that causes the "high" effect.

Jessika said she couldn't understand why it was legal in Colorado and 
several countries, including Canada, Switzerland, Belgium, Czech 
Republic, Netherlands and Israel, but not in New Zealand.

"It's very difficult knowing that the proof is out there and there is 
so much evidence of it working in other cases. It breaks my heart 
that someone could look at a child suffering and not give them a 
chance to try this drug."

The alternative was to apply for legally-approved cannabis mouth 
spray, Sativex. At $1000 for three small bottles, she said the price 
was "outrageous" and put the drug out of reach.

Sativex has had partial approval in New Zealand since 2008 but was 
not registered through Pharmac and has only had 53 prescriptions 
approved, including for repeat patients.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said another pharmaceutical 
drug Epidolex - a liquid, non-psychoactive cannabinoid - may be 
considered for market use in the future, following testing in 
America. But he rejected calls for the Government to run a clinical 
trial of other medical cannabis products, saying: "I have seen no new 
evidence that persuades me to seek a change to the current policy."

The New Zealand Medical Association has supported calls for a medical 
cannabis trial, which has also gained backing from opposition political groups.

Labour's drug and alcohol treatment spokesman, Ian Lees-Galloway, 
said legislation on medical cannabis was out of date.

He said there needed to be a "more mature, thoughtful" debate and 
greater compassion shown toward people giving cannabis to their children.

"I absolutely sympathise with parents, they've probably tried all 
manner of treatments available to them, they just want to make their 
children well. It must be immensely frustrating if they think they've 
found the answer and the answer is illegal."

The Law Commission recommended in 2011 that cannabis be legalised for 
pain relief and managing symptoms of chronic illness.

That would be the first step Labour would look at responding to if 
they formed Government, Lees-Galloway said.

The Green Party also backed the Law Commission's recommendations, 
while the Internet Party said party members were in support of 
legalising cannabis for medicinal use.

Jessika said while moving overseas was a drastic step; she expected 
others would consider doing the same, following on from so-called 
"Colorado refugees" who relocated families from other parts of 
America to access the drug.

NZ Drug Foundation director Ross Bell said he wasn't aware of any 
other parents leaving New Zealand to access cannabis oil.

He said if Australian states legalised medical cannabis it was likely 
more families would migrate there. "If you're a parent who knows 
there is a drug that could benefit your child - and it's available 
over the ditch - they'll do anything they can.

"Ultimately we want to access that type of medicine over here."
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