New Zealanders suffering from chronic illness, and who turn to cannabis to ease their suffering, will continue to be prosecuted as health officials look set to maintain a hard line approach to their plight.
As the government set up the country’s legal medicinal cannabis framework in 2018, people with life-limiting conditions were given a criminal defence if found to be using illicit cannabis.
But the amnesty did not extend to those with non life-threatening, chronic conditions.
Despite hopes that may change, a legally required review into the amnesty – and whether it needs to be extended or amended – looks set to continue the merciless approach.
Health department documents obtained by radio network RNZ show the review will not even consider expanding the amnesty to include people with chronic, though not life-limiting, conditions.
It means thousands of Kiwis will still be forced to break the law in order to ease their pain and stay healthy.
The NZ Drug Foundation, which led the ‘yes’ campaign in last year’s cannabis referendum, told RNZ the health ministry should examine all options.
Policy and advocacy manager Kali Mercia said: “We are jumping the gun if we are restricting this review so much that we are not taking into account that there are a lot of patients with a lot of different conditions and who need these products, but are not able to get them legally.”
The government stance was also criticised by Green Party MP Chlöe Swarbrick who insisted the review should be widened.
“That review can be as wide a scope as the minister wants it to be so it is really unfortunate that is appears as though he has limited it and in turn limited the ability to fix a piece of law that is disabling people from accessing the only medicine that works for them,” she said.
Swarbrick, the Green Party’s drug reform spokesperson and a prominent supporter of cannabis legalisation, added: “I don’t see a practical approach and I don’t see any form of kindness.”
Health minister Andrew Little said widening the review would be a “big exercise and go down the path of the misuse of drugs regime”.
He added the legalisation of cannabis has already been the subject of a referendum.
“The signal from the electorate was that we are not ready for that level of liberalisation,” he said.
RNZ quoted the ministry of health as saying the review has a specific and clear purpose and parliament “never intended for it to be wider”.