Medicinal cannabis: Getting legal weed at the doctor 'changes everything', patient says

Auckland's Ponsonby is known for its nightlife, upmarket shopping and trendsetting cafes, but there's another product being sold that people might not know so much about - cannabis.

Medicinal cannabis is being sold to an increasing number of customers; legally, above-board and right in the middle of town.

It's happening around the country and something The Spinoff's Chris Schulz has first-hand experience with. The senior writer was prescribed medicinal cannabis for pain management and sleep reasons and last week wrote about his experience being prescribed legal weed from a Ponsonby doctor. 

Speaking to AM on Tuesday, Schulz said he didn't know he could be prescribed dried cannabis until he received some advice from a friend. Previously, only THC drops and CBD oil could be prescribed.

"I just thought, 'What? No, that can't be right,'" Schulz said.

"That changes everything, doesn't it? This has always been something you don't want to get pulled over in your car with this in the front seat."

The cannabis buds, from Australian pharmaceutical company ANTG, were granted approval from the Ministry of Health to be prescribed to patients with chronic pain earlier this year - but only in the form of a tea. The flower Schulz was prescribed had a THC level of 20 percent. 

Schulz said before being prescribed cannabis, he was asked a large number of questions about his experience with the drug.

"They ask you about your previous experience with cannabis; if you've had any side effects, if you've got a history of psychosis - he did ask me a lot of questions.

"The doctors are interested in your previous experience with it."

Schulz was prescribed medicinal cannabis by The Green Dr on Ponsonby Rd - a business that started a few years ago.

Medicinal cannabis: Getting legal weed at the doctor 'changes everything', patient says
Photo credit: AM

"There are 'green-minded' doctors dotted around the country… they're becoming more and more open, and out there," Schulz said.

Medicinal cannabis has been legal in New Zealand since 2018 when then-Health Minister David Clark's Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill passed its final reading. The initial aim of the Bill was to allow terminally ill people to use cannabis and utensils for medical purposes.

New regulations for the product were confirmed in 2019, with hopes they would make a wider range of quality medicinal cannabis products available. However, they had remained out of reach for many due to cost and red tape. 

In addition, New Zealanders voted down a referendum on completely legalising and controlling cannabis at the 2020 election by a narrow margin.