By Nina Hindmarsh
Sick New Zealanders might not need to jump through so many hoops to obtain some cannabis-based medicines if a Nelson lawyer wins her battle against the Government.
Sue Grey says she has the backing of a leading government scientist who says CBD based medicines should not be restricted because CBD isn't covered under the Misuse of Drugs Act
Grey intends to challenge the Government in the High Court if it doesn't change its legal classification of cannabidiol, or CBD.
CBD occurs in industrial hemp products known for their health and medical benefits and is not psychoactive. Currently, any drug containing CBD is restricted in New Zealand and can only be obtained through a lengthly and expensive process by ministerial approval.
If Grey is successful, people seeking to obtain the drug would only need a doctor's prescription.
It would also have meant Alex Renton, the Nelson teenager who suffered from a prolonged seizure, in 2015, wouldn't have needed approval from Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne to be treated by his doctors with Elixinol.
Alex Renton's mother and medicinal cannabis campaigner Rose Renton said CBD was a safe and non-psychoactive medicine that should be made available to anyone.
"We shouldn't have had to wait eight weeks for Alex to get approved – that could have been a case of life-and-death," she said.
Grey said the Ministry of Health's claim that CBD was of the same property as the psychoactive constituent of cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) was incorrect.
Grey said the Ministry's interpretation was also rejected by numerous leading government scientists, including ESR chief advisor Dr Keith Bedford. Bedford has written an affidavit in support of Grey's case.
"The Ministry of Health want CBD to be covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act, but they can't get any experts that will say that it is," Grey said.
"Under the law they can't restrict access. It looks like they are going to eventually agree with what the rest of the world is saying, but they have been looking it since April last year and meanwhile, people are suffering."
Grey said there were sick patients in incredibly stressful situations "being put through bureaucratic hoops and hurdles" and then often being denied the medicine they need.
She also said it wasn't only sick patients being affected.
"People licensed to grow hemp are allowed to sell it as hemp seed oil but there's a restriction on selling hemp seed foods and hemp medicines because of this interpretation," she said.
Bedford said he rejected the Ministry's interpretation and has written an affidavit as an individual – not on behalf of ESR or his membership of the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs, which advises the Ministry of Health.
Bedford said there was a disagreement within the committee on the lawful status of CBD and how it should be clarified.
He said the classification of CBD involves consideration of both chemical and legal perspectives and was not necessarily straightforward given the complexity of the relevant legislation.
"That said, I have not changed my expert opinion as set out in the affidavit and disagree with the Ministry of Health's interpretation of the Act on this particular point," he said.
Bedford has overseen forensic evidence in virtually every high-profile court case in New Zealand in recent decades
MOH's Medsafe General Manager Chris James said ESR had provided the Ministry with its scientific opinion on the classification of CBD.
"We respect that ESR has formed a scientific opinion that differs from our opinion. We continue to work closely with ESR on matters such as this," he said.
James said the ministry had advised Grey further information was soon to be released in response to Grey's earlier requests under the Official Information Act.
The Ministry began reviewing the legal status of CBD in response to a referral from the Medicines Classification Committee.
"The committee was asked to consider rescheduling CBD following a change in the scheduling in Australia from a controlled drug to a prescription medicine only.
"As CBD is already a prescription medicine in New Zealand, the committee referred it to the EACD to consider whether it would be appropriate to advise the Minister that CBD could be removed from the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975."
He said the EACD is in the final stages of preparing advice to the Associate Minister of Health.'