'We clearly aren't their focus': Patients feel let down by medicinal cannabis proposal

Some patients feel let down by the Government's medicinal cannabis proposals, saying they're afraid it won't make the expensive, hard-to-get drugs accessible enough. 

"What I'd really like to see is a patient-centred model," patient Katie Thomas told Newshub.

Her concerns were mirrored by other patients who came together on Wednesday to learn details of the Government's new medicinal cannabis scheme. 

When asked why the patient focus is so important, Benjamin Ragland told Newshub: "It seems that all this is geared around industry and money and pharmaceutical products."

Johanna Hood said her first takeaway of the discussion document was that she doesn't really see "much talking about us as the people that need it as medicine". 

"I get the impression that they are really focused on highly processed, chemical medicine rather than natural herbs that grow form the Earth."

When asked if he had struck the right balance, Health Minister David Clark told Newshub: "This consultation document is the opportunity for patients, prescribers, and exporters to give their feedback."

Under the Government's details of the proposed scheme, doctors rather than specialists will be able to prescribe the drugs once they're approved and options for high-quality standards have been set out for growers and manufacturers. 

The new model will allow cannabis-infused drugs in pill form, creams and vaping. Patches will be available, but only if government-approved. The same will go for injected products, as well as ear and eye drops. 

But medicinal smoking products are a no-go: It's too harmful and hard to measure. Infused edibles and food are also out. 

To get a prescription from a doctor now, patients need a recommendation from a specialist, like a neurologist, and the Ministry of Health signs it off. The Government now plans to scrap the ministry from the process. 

Doctors will be able to give prescriptions independently, but only when the drugs have been approved.

Dr Clark said he would consider medicinal cannabis if it was prescribed by his doctor, "As I would any other medicine they would potentially prescribe me, according to the evidence". 

When asked if doctors should be allowed to prescribe medicinal cannabis without specialist consent, doctor and medicinal cannabis consultant Dr Graham Gulbransen said doctors can already prescribe cannabidiol (CBD). 

He said Ministry of Health officials not having to be involved would be a "wonderful thing". 

Quality standards for the new industry are a sticking point in the discussion documents. 

The Government's weighing up whether to go full pharmaceutical-grade with the same high standards as other drugs from Panadol to morphine - or to go slightly lower. 

Manu Caddie, managing director of Hikurangi Cannabis Company, told Newshub the infrastructure and process required for that pharmaceutical grade are "very costly". 

He said it would get passed on to patients, and without Pharmac or other government subsidies, the products could remain out of the hands of patients who really need it. 

There's also a risk it could end up in the hands of those who don't really need it. 

But Dr Clark said he hopes that people who really do need medicinal cannabis products will be able to get them more readily under the scheme. 

"As for those who want to take cannabis outside of the law, that's probably a question for the referendum that's coming up at the election when New Zealanders will get a say about [recreational] cannabis use."