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MCANZ Press Release: MCANZ Joins Health Not Handcuffs to Campaign for the Yes Vote in the Cannabis Referendum

Medical Cannabis Awareness New Zealand (MCANZ) is proud to announce that it is joining forces with Health Not Handcuffs in advance of the 2020 referendum in September.

MCANZ is the only registered charity in New Zealand focused on helping real patients get access to medical cannabis through legal means.  Our mission is to facilitate and promote the re-introduction of medicinal cannabis (MC) products as prescription medicines. We promote and educate the general public and particularly, the medical fraternity, and work towards MC products being more widely available.

Health Not Handcuffs was launched in April 2019 by a group of health and social justice organisations united by a desire for compassionate approaches to drug and alcohol use, informed by the evidence.  The Health Not Handcuffs founding organisations are Hapai Te Hauora – Maori Public Health; Just Speak – a youth-led movement for criminal justice; the NZ Drug Foundation, NZ Needle Exchange and Maori health organisation Te Rau Ora.

Together we are advocating for a drug policy with heart, and from our perspective at MCANZ, the slow process of normalising medical use hasn't caught up to the reality of many patients using cannabis medically.

"I am being contacted daily by kiwis who are desperate to be well. The current law puts medical cannabis products out of reach of most people because of cost, availability and the reluctance of GPs to prescribe. People want to live their best lives, and cannabis allows many to do that. The despair I hear from these patients is heartbreaking, and often we can't do much to help them" says MCANZ Medical Liaison Nichola Smith.

Alongside treating all drug use as a health and social issue, cannabis is the most- commonly used illegal drug in New Zealand, and around 4000 Kiwis receive criminal charges for cannabis offences every year. Medical use of cannabis, in particular, has lead to "decriminalisation by stealth" with patients in rare instances not prosecuted for possession and cultivation of large quantities, albeit at the variable discretion of the local police prosecutor and District Judges.

**"**This legislation will permit people to grow their own medicine, and will also allow for people to be able to purchase cannabis from licensed premises. The cannabis they buy will be grown under strict controls and will have to be tested for its cannabinoid makeup (THC and CBD) - unlike the current 'black market weed'. It is also worth noting that these controls and testing do not need to be as stringent and as costly as pharmaceutical grade products. This will allow for what we call 'near-pharmaceutical' grade products to enter the market at a lower price point, forgoing things like trial production runs, and six-figure shelf life testing" Says MCANZ Spokesperson Mark Crotty.

By legalising cannabis, we can minimise the health and social problems it can cause. There will be controls on packaging, potency, portion size and advertising, and strict age limits for who can purchase it, and how much.

"As a registered nurse practicing in NZ, I see that there is an increasing need for medications with fewer side effects. Poly-pharmacy with conventional medications has resulted in unwanted side effects. Cannabis as a medication has been proven anecdotally and in overseas studies as an effective stand-alone medication. It can also be used as an adjunct to other conventional medications, for example, it has opioid-sparing properties."

"The current status in NZ limits access for patients due to the reluctance to prescribe by some doctors, the cost and the lack of variety of products."

"We need to create a better system that normalises cannabis as a medication in mainstream society, and mitigates the harms from cannabis, which most often are associated with a criminal conviction, and not the use of the drug itself. " Says MCANZ medical Liaison Jacinta Newport.

Taxes will go towards health and education. From our perspective at MCANZ, two of the main barriers to legal access are reduced, product cost and prescriber hesitancy.

"I never thought I would be delving into advocating for broader drug law reform, but after having fought for medical access for the last five years, it's apparent that legalisation solves two key issues, cost and choice. Our pharmaceutical model of medical cannabis will likely follow Australia, where a medical ounce costs over $600, a 20-25% markup on typical illicit prices, which is hardly going to convince patients to seek legal access."

"I am also very concerned about the quality of the debate so far, where the loudest campaign for the no vote is the 'fact resistant' Family First. This organisation has clung to outdated opinions, going so far as to sponsor a tour by the Drug Policy equivalent of a flat earther, Alex Berenson, a widely discredited author" Says MCANZ Founder and Coordinator Shane Le Brun.

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