Medicinal cannabis scam steals cancer sufferer's hopes

A cancer patient has been sold a black-market cannabis treatment programme costing close to $4000.

The treatment - a 90-day regimen of balms, oils and tinctures - was pitched to her as a cure for her cancer. 

Joan Cowie has stage-four lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 

She has been using cannabis products for her pain - products that, until recently, were supplied at low cost to her by a 'green fairy'. 

Green fairies provide cannabidiol products, either free or for a small fee, to those who claim it helps ease their pain.

Joan's green fairy was arrested in October and since then she has been without her cannabis pain relief. 

But the world of medicinal cannabis has attracted the attention of people who Joan believes are out to make a quick buck. 

Just over a year ago, Joan began to research medicinal cannabis on the internet. 

Willing to try anything to stay alive, she decided to reach out through a cannabis Facebook page to see if anyone could help her. 

Joan was approached by a man who sold her the 90-day treatment programme in a package that contained several cannabis products and handwritten instructions, detailing dose and daily intake.

"I thought, 'right, this is it, I'm so lucky. I'm going to get something that's going to cure me'."

Joan was instructed to start by ingesting capsules containing a "half a grain of rice" worth of concentrated cannabis oil, slowly increasing the dose to a gram a day. 

"I built up to all that... but it did nothing."

She was also supplied cannabis-infused oil and instructed to inhale it through a vaporiser.

"Unfortunately for me, that didn't work. All it managed to do was have me coughing up quite a huge amount of blood, which really frightened me, so I stopped taking his medicine."

Joan Cowie holding cannabis oil
Joan Cowie holding cannabis oil Photo credit: Newshub.

This experience left Joan feeling upset and angry with herself.

"I'm not a stupid woman, but given the circumstances, I got pulled in to that out of desperation."

Chris Fowlie, who is president of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, says the government's inaction on the issue of medicinal cannabis leaves patients no other option than the black market.

"Patients are still being forced to get toxic, badly made or completely rip-off products that have no cannabis in them whatsoever. We need licensed producers where the products are tested, where they have certificates of analysis, so that patients know what they're taking, and doctors can then prescribe it with some confidence.

"Sometimes, it's well-meaning [people] just not doing it right, but sometimes it's malicious... it's people just out to rip people off.

"Just as when people sell ecstasy, they put fake chemicals in it ... this happens with all illegal drugs."

Joan also blames the government

"They've forced us into the black market. My fairy - they could easily give him an amnesty to get him to grow. What that man can grow an ounce of weed for is incredible."

The documentation Joan received with her product appears to suggest that she sell cannabis balms to others to help pay for her treatment plan.

"I'll also give you 20 balms to sell on credit. Sell for $24.20. You make $10 each one. If that goes ok, it will help you to pay for the next lot?"

Page of document suggesting Joan sell cannabis balms.
Photo credit: Newshub.

Says Joan: "I feel, because we've got cancer, because you're desperate, you hear that word and you automatically think death. 

"So people like this particular person lead you to believe that their product will cure your cancer and, in actual fact, it didn't cure my cancer, because my cancer has spread so... 

"I think it's cruel to play on someone who is very ill and desperately wants to live."

When approached for comment the Ministry of Health said: "The Ministry strongly recommends individuals discuss with their medical practitioner, before seeking alternative treatments.

"The Government has said it will introduce legislation making medicinal cannabis available for people with terminal illnesses or chronic pain within the first 100 days, and the Ministry is providing advice to the Government on how to implement legislative changes."

Health Minister David Clark later said that they could not confirm whether these changes would take place within the first 100 days.