Cancer patient says NZ needs law change on medical cannabis

Recently the family of a Nelson boy suffering severe seizures won a dispensation from the Government to treat him with cannabis oil, opening the whole discussion about the medical use of cannabis in this country.

But there are plenty of people who believe in the efficacy of cannabis as medicine and who aren't prepared to wait for the law to catch up.

Cancer sufferer Gareth Jones is one of those people. Given three months to live last October, he's survived eight months so far on self-medication with cannabis, and he wants a law change in New Zealand.

Mr Jones is breaking the law, processing cannabis – a fairly large quantity of the illegal plant – and making it into oil.

"Anyone can make it," he says.

Mr Jones is not a drug dealer; he's dying. He has advanced bowel cancer that's spread to his liver, and all up he's battling four large tumours. He says cannabis is his last resort.

Two years ago Mr Jones and his wife, Tash, discovered the cruel medical reason behind his chronic exhaustion.

"Basically he was so sick and we didn't know what was wrong with him, and I just was like, 'You're going to A&E,' and took him up there and they admitted him," she says. "That following Thursday we found out that he had bowel cancer.

"It was the worst thing ever. You have no idea the amount of emotion that you go through when you find something like that out."

The couple have a daughter who is just a year old.

At times it's overwhelming, contemplating life without her husband, but Tash focuses on the day-to-day, keeping Mr Jones as comfortable as possible as the cancer takes over his body.

His pain is substantial. He's doing his best to manage it with pharmaceutical drugs administered through this "pain patch", but he's adamant the cannabis oil is playing a lead role in fighting the pain and improving his quality of life.

He says the benefits are sleeping, pain relief and appetite.

Mr Jones also believes his homemade medicine is extending his life. Last October he was told he had just three months to live.

"The way the oncologist was talking it was more like I'd have a month of good and maybe a month or two after that, maybe three months tops, and he was talking six months as the extreme side of it and I'm over that now," says Mr Jones. "It's always good to prove them wrong."

Without fail, every night Mr Jones takes two capsules – a measured combination of his home-cooked cannabis oil mixed with coconut oil.

"Yes [I get high], but that's why I take it at night, so I sleep off the effects, so I don't really feel anything. So that's why I take a good dose at night then wake up in the morning and it's gone and I carry on the day like normal."

But what he's doing, manufacturing a class B drug, carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

"If it's buying me more time it doesn't really matter," he says. "I'm not too fazed on it."

"Our goal is to get him to Akayla's third birthday, so that's what we're aiming for, and so far he's got his six months where they told him he wasn't going to get that, so let's just keep going and see what we can get," says Ms Jones.

"I'll deal with the consequences if they come," says Mr Jones. "Then I'll have to deal with it. But at this stage I just want more time with them."

What makes it even more frustrating for Mr Jones is seeing the recent legalisation of medical cannabis across the United States; in many states what he's doing is totally legal.

"It's pretty average really. For trying to extend my life and spend more time with my family I get made a criminal for it.

"Something needs to change in New Zealand. Most other countries have woken up to it. And using it for medicinal use anyway, they've been doing it for a long time with good results now, so it's about time New Zealand finally caught up."

Overseas, studies have found cannabis works well on chronic pain, especially for people like Mr Jones with late-stage cancers.

But this family can't wait for New Zealand to catch on. Mr Jones is determined to see his daughter turn three. If that means breaking the law, then that's what he'll do.

"I guess I'll just keep taking my nightly pills and go from there I guess. I don't really have back-up plans now.

"Now the only important things are Tash and Akayla, really. They're everything to me. That's the reason I'm still here and still fighting. If it wasn't for them I might have given up or I might not have tried anything else, who knows, but they're the only reason I'm still here and fighting for them.

"A few more years would be good. Stranger things have happened. I might cure myself and be around for a few lots of years, so we'll be right."

One cannabis derived medicine is available here – Sativex – but has only been prescribed to 48 extreme multiple sclerosis cases and costs $1000 per month per patient.

The medicinal use of the plant is legal in a handful of European countries and Canada and 23 states in the US plus Puerto Rico. Two states in Australia are throwing millions at clinical trials.

But overseas legalisation of cannabis shows no sign of catching on here.

The Ministry of Health told 3D as part of a wider review of the Medicines Act it's looking into the legislation around the use of controlled drugs, including cannabis. The results of the review will be released next year.

- 3D


Producer: Chris Wilks
Camera: Arthur Rasmussen
Editor: Toby Longbottom