Cannabis: Labour, National quash Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick's hope for 'green fairy' amnesty

Labour and National have quashed Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick's push to grant amnesty for 'green fairies', those who illegally supply cannabis to people with health issues. 

Swarbrick wrote to Health Minister Andrew Little advocating on behalf of TV presenter Katy Thomas, whose severely epileptic 6-year old son's legal medicinal cannabis was confiscated and destroyed at the border because the CBD level was a fraction too high.

Swarbrick also asked Little to consider an amnesty for 'green fairies' who risk a prison sentence to provide relief to their communities. A Waikato man giving cannabis free to elderly people for pain relief was recently raided and charged by police.

But Little confirmed he has no plans to grant amnesty to green fairies, despite the unaffordability of legal products. National Party justice spokesperson Simon Bridges also poured cold water on the prospect. 

"All New Zealanders should follow the law when it comes to supplying medicinal cannabis," Bridges told Newshub. 

Swarbrick said it was "immensely disappointing". 

Availability is a major concern despite the legalisation of medicinal cannabis in April last year, which brought into effect the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme, certifying to a minimum quality standard products for medicinal use. 

Customs data shows over the past year, cannabis products were intercepted 121 times at the border, or once every third day, including a total of 3.37kg of cannabis leaf, 282g of cannabis oil and 3.3kg of cannabis resin.  

Newshub Nation spoke to Kiwis in March who have been forced onto the black market because the medicinal cannabis regime is too restrictive. Legally available products such as Sativex cost about $1000 a month.

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick.
Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Little said he can't address pricing now because local products - which would presumably be cheaper - won't hit the shelves until the end of the year. They've been given time to meet the high standards laid out in the cannabis regime. 

"I understand there are some access issues. There will be more products available later this year and I think at that point, once the market is fully implemented, we can look at things like price and make sure that access isn't an issue."

Little said in the meantime police can exercise discretion thanks to a 'health approach to drugs' law change passed in 2019. It's currently under review to find out if it has actually helped to reduce drug convictions. 

'Politics, pure and simple'

Swarbrick said the fact green fairies weren't given amnesty in the medical cannabis regime was "politics, pure and simple".

She had an unsuccessful Member's Bill that would have allowed personal cultivation for green fairies. But the prospect of personal cultivation "became very scary" to anti-cannabis groups, Swarbrick says.

Health Minister Andrew Little.
Health Minister Andrew Little. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"Conservative groups, the likes of Family First, decided to start painting it as 'grow your own' and that's exactly why we've ended up with this highly pharmaceutical approach, with huge cost barriers to patients getting access to this medicine, because we're treating it in the same way we treat things like morphine."

Family First supported National Party deputy leader Dr Shane Reti's unsuccessful medicinal cannabis Bill in 2018 that would have facilitated pharmacist dispensing but would have excluded loose leaf cannabis. 

Family First's Bob McCoskrie told Newshub he found it ironic the Greens voted against Dr Reti's Bill which "would have sped up the process and increased the availability of product".

"We don't allow chemists to distribute illegal drugs willy-nilly."

National's justice spokesperson Simon Bridges is against granting amnesty to 'green fairies'.
National's justice spokesperson Simon Bridges is against granting amnesty to 'green fairies'. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Swarbrick responded: "You only have to look at Family First's anti-science, moral high-horsing history of telling people how to live their lives - what they can do with their bodies and who they're allowed to love - to understand where these views come from."

She said Dr Reti's Bill would have "entrenched a pharmaceutical approach, which is exactly the barrier to access and affordability".

"Worse than that, it would have excluded people who currently are working in the fledgling production of medicinal cannabis in Aotearoa by ensuring nobody with past experience in cannabis production as a green fairy or otherwise could go legit".

Swarbrick is currently seeking cross-party support for decriminalisation of cannabis after Kiwis voted against legalisation by a thin margin during the election last year.