Poll shows wide support for medicinal cannabis

A bill opening the way for medicinal cannabis to be made available for people needing palliative relief is likely to pass on Tuesday. Photo: Files
A majority of New Zealanders say medicinal cannabis should be allowed to treat chronic pain, sleep disorders and other conditions, according to a new poll.

The Horizon Research poll, which was commissioned by fledgling medicinal cannabis producer Helius Therapeutics, comes just before a bill is expected to pass that will allow the use of medicinal cannabis for people who need palliative relief.

The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill is expected to pass on Tuesday with the support of all coalition parties.

The poll, which canvassed the views of 2105 adults, showed support for medicinal cannabis to be allowed for a range of conditions.

Some 68 per cent agreed its use should be allowed for chronic pain, 65 per cent said it could be used for sleep disorders, 58 per cent for cancer, 52 per cent for epilepsy, 50 per cent for multiple sclerosis, 49 per cent for anxiety, and 48 per cent for arthritis.

The poll, which had a margin of error of 2.1 per cent, also found that 38 per cent of respondents would themselves use medicinal cannabis for chronic pain.

Close to 75 per cent of respondents agreed that medicinal cannabis should be treated the same as any other medicine. And 59 per cent agreed that doctors and nurse practitioners should be able to issue "medicinal cannabis cards" so patients could access cannabis products from pharmacists without prescription.

Helius Therapeutics executive director Paul Manning said the survey showed New Zealanders wanted a more comprehensive law than was likely to pass on Tuesday.

He hoped MPS would agree to last-minute changes before the bill passed instead of leaving it to health officials to create the regulatory framework that would determine who could prescribe medicinal cannabis and who could use it.

Manning said there was overwhelming support for changes similar to those contained in National MP Shane Reti's member's bill on medicinal cannabis.

Health Minister David Clark said today that Reti's proposals had been considered and rejected on the advice of health officials and clinicians.

"Our bill strikes the right balance to ensure access to cannabis-based medicines based on patient need. I expect our bill to pass its third reading on Tuesday, the legislative schedule allowing," he said in a statement.

Reti has been frustrated by Clark's rejection of aspects of his member's bill in the government legislation.

National supported the Government's bill at first reading but then pulled its support in July with its own bill which it said set out a more comprehensive and well-researched regime.

At the bill's second reading last month, National withdrew its opposition to the bill in the hope that the Government would look more kindly on the changes it was seeking.

Manning said Helius supported many aspects of Reti's member's bill but said they were not working together.

"He wasn't involved in the actual survey itself. It's just that we felt that the Government's bill just did not have enough detail in it and it was leaving too much for these unnamed officials to pick up down the track.

"We liked a lot of the concepts in his alternative bill. The poll did test a bunch of ideas in Shane's bill but that was largely because we thought they were good ideas," Manning said.

Reti, who also said they were not working together, said it was not yet too late for the Government to include aspects of his own bill.

"There must always be room for collaboration, and we've been ready and waiting right from July when we came forward with the work that we've done … we've been ready."

Reti said medicinal cannabis producers were "crying out" for details so they could make plans.

The Government bill requires regulations for a medicinal cannabis scheme to be made no later than a year after the law comes into effect. There will be further consultation on those.

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