Radio NZ News 5 March 2017
Rose Renton sparked a nationwide debate after she fought for her 19-year-old son, Alex, to become the first person to get approval to use medicinal cannabis.
Alex died of severe epilepsy in 2015, but today Mrs Renton took her battle to Parliament, imploring MPs to legalise medicinal cannabis.
Mrs Renton and medical marijuana supporters appeared before the health select committee, to speak to her 17,000-signature petition calling for easier, cheaper access.
She said medicinal cannabis was only granted to her son after a long battle with medical staff for backing, and after 43 other drugs had failed.
Those suffering from chronic or terminal illness deserved urgent access to good-quality, safe, affordable cannabis, she said.
Mrs Renton told the committee she was contacted every day by people who were desperate, dying and terrified because of the current laws.
She said it was time for MPs to show some empathy and stand up for the people they represented.
“These people are all adults, they are not young people. They are people that have educated themselves.
“You are here to look after your people and I’m asking you to take the pressure off me as a mum with six kids. My children would like me back,” Mrs Renton said.
When a sick person used cannabis they did not get high, she said.
“When a well person uses cannabis they get high – their system doesn’t need it. That’s a recreational issue, it’s not a medical issue.
“When you’ve got a very sick person, the side effects of cannabis – an appetite, a great night’s sleep and a bit of hilarity – they’re the side effects of cannabis as a medicine for sick people.”
‘There is evidence that it’s relatively safe’
This year the government said ministerial sign-off for the use of medicinal cannabis-based products was no longer required.
Instead, approval was delegated to the Health Ministry.
There is one product registered for use here – it is imported and costs $1200 for one month’s supply.
Ministry of Health director of regulation Stewart Jessamine said there was a lack of meaningful research on cannabis products and whether they caused harm.
He said all things were poisonous – it was just a matter of dosage.
The Green Party member on the committee, Julie-Ann Genter, questioned Dr Jessamine on how cannabis compared with the use of legal products.
“Irrespective of the lack of clinic trials establishing whether or not it’s effective at pain relief, there is evidence that it’s relatively safe compared to other things that are legal like alcohol,” Ms Genter asked.
Dr Jessamine replied it was because there were other more effective pain relievers available that could be prescribed by a doctor.
Ms Genter asked how they were less harmful.
“It seems a little odd that this is being treated with such caution,” she said.
Dr Jessamine said the ministry treated all new drugs with the same caution.
Sue Grey, a lawyer who appeared alongside Rose Renton, told MPs the health system was spending $130 million a year on opioid drugs that cannabis could potentially replace.
Some caused serious side effects “yet they’re part of the system so we’re just accepting that let’s just carry on using them”, Ms Grey said.
“Why not look for better, safer alternatives that the rest of the world are turning to?”
Mrs Renton said chronically ill people should have the right to choose what drugs they took, with the support of their doctor.
She said their health was in MPs’ hands.