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Ministry of Health agrees with lifting ban on cannabis for medicinal use

Wednesday 16 Jul 2008 6:51 p.m.

The Ministry of Health has joined marijuana users who are asking the government to consider allowing cannabis as a form of pain relief for patients with serious medical conditions.

Billy McKee is one of those users and says he is in constant pain after losing his leg to a drunk driver. He wants the government to let him legally use cannabis for relief.

"I've tried heaps and heaps of pain relief," Mr McKee says. "I've been injured for 30 odd years. I've tried lots and lots of different things from my doctors. I get a lot of side effects from the one they give me at the moment called amatriptonine. I wake up like a zombie."

Mr McKee says cannabis works.

"I wake up in the morning, my head's clear," he says. "I can function, do things, go into parliament and ask them for changes."

Mr McKee and the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), took their argument to parliament. They say that cannabis should be allowed for medical use in New Zealand, as it is in Canada, Belgium and Germany.

And the Ministry of Health says it is not entirely opposed.

"We support the introduction of a standardised pharmaceutical form of cannabis," Bruce Atmore from the Ministry of Health says.

The form that the Ministry of Health refer to is sativex - a mouth spray that administers a standard dose of cannabis. It is allowed only with a special exemption and costs $15 a day.

However what the ministry will not support is smoking cannabis, due to the side effects caused by inhaling tar.

But the submitters had an answer for that - a machine that heats the cannabis, eventually vaporising it.

"You just inhale through the tube," explains Will de Cleenen from NORML. "There's no plant material, there's no tar, there's no toxins. All you're getting is the medicine."

The submitters say while it is promising to see the Ministry of Health supporting pharmaceutical cannabis, it is really just a token gesture because the drug is so difficult to get. It needs sign off from a GP as well as a specialist, and needs enough paperwork filled out to make your eyes water.

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