I have a friend who wakes up every morning and wants to vomit. Most of the day he wants to vomit. Food often makes him actually vomit, and he sometimes vomits blood. The doctors have given him some pills for the nausea but they are hard to keep down. There is one very effective inhalant that his specialist has recommended, but he is not allowed to use it.
Another friend is tetraplegic. That's like paraplegic but with all four limbs incapacitated. He lives in constant pain. The doctors gave him morphine and other pain killers, but he won't use them because he becomes like a zombie when he does. He doesn't have much quality of life, as you can imagine, so anything that gives him some is very welcome. He found a herbal remedy that takes the edge off his pain, makes it manageable and gives him some get-up-and-go. Apparently a lot of people with spinal injuries use it, but when my friend grew some the police arrested him and a judge locked him in Mount Eden prison.
The medicine in both these cases is called cannabis. Whatever people think about the recreational use of cannabis, I find it difficult to believe that anyone thinks sick people should suffer needlessly. Yet they are. Many sick people around New Zealand have tried everything the doctors can offer to no effect, and they know for a fact that cannabis is the only thing that works. They are not asking for a Pharmac subsidy. They are just asking us to please stop arresting them.
This week the Parliament was given a chance to vote on a proposal to do that. It would have allowed sick people to use cannabis for specified illnesses, if they had the written support of their doctor or a specialist. Metiria Turei's private member's bill provided for verified medical cannabis users to register with the Medical Officer of Health and police and get a Medical Cannabis Identification Card. This would exempt them from criminal prosecution for cannabis use, so long as they abided by the conditions.
The bill could be tidied up I'm sure. Police would have comments about potential snags and loopholes, doctors might disagree about the list of specific illnesses. That is what the select committees process is for. Unfortunately no one will get a say because Parliament voted overwhelmingly to keep prosecuting sick people for therapeutic use of cannabis.
Its hard to say why. The debate was full of the usual drug hysteria but I know for a fact that most MPs don't believe those old tired lies. I have had too many tell me privately that they agree with allowing medical use, even as they indicated that they would have to vote against it. No matter how necessary, humanitarian and cautious the bill, they don't want to be seen to be “pro-drugs”.
I can't resist commenting that this doesn't prevent them attending drug glamourising events such as the Air New Zealand Wine Awards. Drug samples are handed out with abandon at Beehive functions, and Associate Minster of Health Peter Dunne has even received money from multinational drug dealing company British American Tobacco (I'm sure it wasn't a bribe because it was only 100 pounds and surely no politician could be bought that cheaply).
That's a diversion though, because this particular debate is not about the usual drug hypocrisy. It is simply about the State denying very sick people the right to use their medicine. Double standards frustrate me, but the disinterested and vicious cruelty of New Zealand's MPs this week has angered and disgusted me.
(from my Waikato Times column, 3/7/09)