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Govt considers reducing cannabis red tape

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 7/02/2017 Karen Sweeney
Jonathan Coleman © Hannah Peters/Getty Images Jonathan Coleman

Specialists could prescribe medicinal cannabis under changes being considered by the government.

Associate health minister Peter Dunne is exploring options to reduce the red tape around access which currently requires him to sign off on applications to use the drug for therapeutic purposes.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says Mr Dunne's work is around providing quicker access to those who need it.

"The question is really does it need to be signed off by a minister and that may well be just a bit too much bureaucracy," Dr Coleman said on Tuesday.

"It might be specialist access. That's probably more likely than a GP signing off. But we'll see."

Just hours before politicians returned after the summer break on Tuesday a group of medicinal cannabis supporters took the issue to parliament in the hope of making it an election issue.

Campaigners called for greater access to medicinal cannabis and for police to stop arresting those who possess or use the drug.

"I think there's enough awareness across the medical profession now to know that it is an option, particularly when it comes to pain treatment or if you've got severe forms of epilepsy, that is has been used and used successfully, so if doctors knew that they could prescribe and there'd be a process beyond that that was a good outcome then I think they would," organiser David Johnston said.

"At the moment it's a long, laborious and difficult one."

Tuesday also saw the return of National MP Nikki Kaye to parliament after taking time out since September while she battled breast cancer.

Her personal experience has given her a special interest in the use of medicinal cannabis, though she said it was not something she'd considered using herself.

"The nature of ... what I've been through I'm a bit more sympathetic (to changes) but we'll have to see what comes out of the work Peter Dunne's doing," she said.

NZ First leader Winston Peters has called for a referendum.

"Properly funded debate, put it to the country and I could live with the outcome," he said.

But Labour leader Andrew Little doesn't believe a referendum is necessary and while even legislating to allow medicinal use might not be necessary he will introduce it "very quickly" anyway.

"To be absolutely clear it might be helpful just to have a legislative or statutory authority that says cannabis products with therapeutics must be or can be made available on the prescription of a GP and or oversight by a specialist, and that's our position," he said.

Currently New Zealanders can access mouth spray Sativex without approval from Mr Dunne.

Those prescriptions must still be approved by the Ministry of Health, while the it cost patients $1300 a month because it is not funded by Pharmac.

Wider legalisation of the drug doesn't have the same political support as for medicinal use.

"It's not a priority. I won't be giving more people access to marijuana right now," Mr Little said.

Prime Minister Bill English doesn't support it either, believing the wider public would be "pretty cautious" about widespread legalisation.

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