Pubdate: Sun, 12 Feb 2017
Source: New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2017 New Zealand Herald
Author: Peter De Graaf and Imran Ali


Moves to make it easier for patients to get cannabis-based medication
for pain relief or symptom control have been welcomed by Northland's
medical marijuana campaigners.

However, some say the change doesn't go far enough or do anything to
help patients to pay for medical cannabis.

Last week Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne announced that people
who wanted to use non-pharmaceutical cannabis products, which are made
from cannabis but with less rigorous standards than those applied to
pharmaceuticals, no longer need to get approval from the Minister of

They still need to get approval, via their GP, from the Health
Ministry, but the change means one less hoop to jump through.

The need to get the Minister's approval for pharmaceutical-grade
cannabis products was removed some years ago, and as of last December
even that is no longer required to prescribe Sativex, a cannabis-based
oral spray, to patients suffering from multiple sclerosis.

The easing of the rules does not apply to unprocessed plant material
such as cannabis oil or dried leaf.

Sushila Butt of Kaitaia, whose disabled daughter, Alisha, uses Sativex
to control severe epilepsy, welcomed the change but said it did
nothing to solve the problem of affordability.

Mrs Butt fought a long campaign to get access to Sativex after Alisha
suffered a series of life-threatening seizures and all other
treatments failed.

Alisha, 21, was granted permission to use the drug but the next
problem was paying for it.

Both Mrs Butt and her husband, Royd, are full-time caregivers and
Sativex, which is not government-funded, costs more than $1000 a month.

Last February the Northland District Health Board stepped in and
funded the drug for Alisha, making her New Zealand's first recipient
of a publicly-funded medical cannabis product.

Mrs Butt said many other families would benefit from the medication
but could not afford it. Alisha still suffered from epilepsy but had
not been admitted to hospital since taking Sativex. In the past she
had been admitted as often as once a week, she said.

The Otamatea Grey Power has repeatedly called for the outright
legalisation of medicinal marijuana, saying members wanted to have the
choice of dying without pain.

President Beverley Aldridge said the government's announcement last
week would not make any difference because medical cannabis would
still be unaffordable.

"The middle- and lower-income earners, including retirees with
deteriorating health, would not be able to pay up to $1600 a month.
The changes are really for the upper class,'' Ms Aldridge said.

"What the government can do is to go back to Pharmac and say how about
every person will pay $20 in prescription charge."

The Green Party welcomed Mr Dunne's announcement, calling it a small
but positive step to speed up the "slow and frustrating" process of
getting medical cannabis for the sick or dying.

However, Greens' health spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said it did not
address the cost issue. New Zealanders should be able to access
medical cannabis, with a doctor's support, as cheaply and easily as
other prescription drugs.

Recent years had seen a shift in attitudes to medical cannabis and it
was time to make it completely legal, which wasn't even close to what
Mr Dunne had announced, Ms Genter said.

Northland-based Green MP David Clendon said it never made sense for a
politician to decide whether a patient should have access to medical
cannabis. The decision should always have been a clinical one.

It seemed the government had a blind spot that demanded tight control
of anything cannabis-related when many opiates, for example, were
available as prescription medicines, Mr Clendon said.

With regard to funding for Sativex, Pharmac operations director Sarah
Fitt said the agency took a consistent, evidence-based approach to
considering funding for any medicine.

No application so far for funding Sativex had been able to show it was
the best use of public money.

She expected Pharmac would continue to receive applications for
funding pharmaceutical-grade cannabis-related products and was
open-minded to the outcome of the evaluations.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt