Public opinion is warming to medicinal cannabis:
By Hayley Gastmeier
Carterton mother Tracy Yeats hopes the government will take notice of a survey which shows overwhelming support for the legalisation and decriminalisation of cannabis for medicinal use.
Mrs Yeats’ daughter Grace, 14, has shown significant improvements in her health since she began taking Sativex, a cannabis based spray, eight months ago.
She has a rare condition, acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, or Adem, which robbed her of speech and movement four years ago.
The then ten-year-old Saint Mary’s schoolgirl was left cognitively unimpaired but unable to walk, talk, eat or sit.
The survey, commissioned by the New Zealand Drug Foundation, revealed 82 percent of the 1029 participants supported cannabis for terminal pain relief, and 79 per cent for pain relief.
Mrs Yeats was not surprised at the high numbers in support.
“The people around us have seen the difference it’s made for Grace.
“Even if they were kind of anti or sitting on the fence before, now they can see what it can do to ease suffering.”
She said since beginning cannabis treatment in November, Grace was seeing all kinds of benefits.
“It’s calmed her dystonia down a lot, she has more purposeful movement in her hands which has enabled her to communicate on her iPad and do her school work a lot better.
“She can focus and concentrate better with her school work.
“Plus she can now talk, as of late February, and I do put that down to the cannabis.”
Mrs Yeats was disappointed to hear Prime Minister John Key on the radio saying he was not a fan of decriminalising the drug.
“It’s just like beating your head against a brick wall – they just seem so set in their attitude – it really just brings you to tears.”
So far Grace’s treatment has cost $8000, at $1100 a month.
The money to pay for the drug was raised through Givealittle, with Mrs Yeats saying “that money won’t last forever”.
She “desperately hopes” that when the fundraised money runs out there is a cheaper alternative to Sativex available to her daughter.
“It hurts handing that money over to the pharmacy when there are other things that we need as well. I mean it’s a plant that I can grow in the garden.”
Medical Cannabis Awareness New Zealand co-ordinator Shane LeBrun said the decriminalisation of the drug would benefit thousands of Kiwis.
“If they decriminalised it then a lot of people in chronic pain, like my wife [who suffered a spinal injury], would be able to have a bit at home without the fear of prosecution.”
In a country of 4.5milion people, less than 40 were on Sativex, New Zealand’s only legal cannabis-based drug.
He said this was because many people were not even aware of its existence, with some doctors reluctant to prescribe it.
Health conditions with symptoms that could be relieved by cannabis use included Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and arthritis, Mr LeBrun said.
The survey showed 64 per cent supported decriminalising or legalising personal possession of the drug.
Wairarapa MP Alastair Scott said he would not advocate “smoking any drug that’s going to do long-term damage”.
But making cannabis available for medicinal use was “a no-brainer”.
“If you’ve got a doctor who prescribes some sort of cannabis based product, or morphine based product, or a drug that would be dangerous in the hands of the general public but the doctor wants to prescribe it then I’m absolutely in favour of the doctor being able to prescribe it.”
The sample for the poll was drawn from a random selection of 15,000 eligible NZ voters contactable on a landline, of which 1029 agreed to participate.