Medicinal cannabis users call for amnesty ahead of law change

The Government is being asked to turn a blind eye to the medicinal cannabis black market.

At present, GPs are allowed to prescribe products containing CBD but not THC. To get THC, patients have to see a specialist and get it signed off by the Ministry of Health.

A discussion document released by the Government on Wednesday outlines a proposed scheme under which GPs would be allowed to prescribe medicines with THC.

"If you want something stronger than CBD for pain or for your cancer symptoms, the right balance of CBD and THC won't get you stoned - but it will give you benefit for pain," GP Graham Gulbransen told The AM Show on Thursday.

He's annoyed GPs aren't trusted to prescribe THC products at the moment.

"If a doctor wants to prescribe anything with THC to get stronger benefits, it has to go through a specialist... GPs are specialists in the view of the Medical Council, but not in the view of the Ministry of Health." 

THC is the psychoactive component in cannabis. Dr Gulbransen says it's a lot more effective than CBD for pain relief, even in concentrations so low there's no way to get high off it. 

"We can prescribe other powerful drugs like insulin, like opioids - we should be able to prescribe THC in the same way." 

Medicinal cannabis user Pearl Schomburg says products that work for her would still be blocked under the new guidelines. 

"My doctor has much written much stronger medications than cannabis products, and it doesn't seem that they're going to give my GP the right to prescribe THC medicine."

That's because medicines containing THC will only be allowed to exist in pill, cream or vaping form - not smoking or edibles. The only present approved medicine with THC in New Zealand is Sativex.

"The CBD we prescribe is called unapproved because it hasn't been texted on large groups of patients. But patients tell me it works - I've seen 700 patients for CBD, and getting great results," said Dr Gulbransen.

"These are patients where nothing else is helping for their chronic pain, cancer symptoms, their anxiety, depression, children with autism or challenging behaviour and seizures, CBD is settling things down."

Graham Gulbransen.
Graham Gulbransen. Photo credit: The AM Show

Dr Gulbransen says many of his patients admitto getting cannabis through illegal means.

"Many of them will say, 'Look, I can't afford legal, prescribed cannabis - and I've got a compassionate supplier, a 'green fairy'.' Many people will do that, but as a doctor I can't recommend illegal activities. I'm aware that's the only option for a lot of people."

Schomburg says the authorities should go easy on people who need the stronger stuff for medicinal purposes, but can't afford to get it legally.

"What we would really like to see - that would keep us safe and well until we have access to affordable medicines under this scheme - is the ability to have an amnesty," said Schomburg.

The Government is giving the public six weeks to have their say on the proposal. It's expected to become law in December, and the scheme operational in early 2020.