THC News February 2017 - Page 13

How did you come to be one of the few New Zealanders to successfully bring legal cannabis back into the country?

It was a combination of being in the right place at the right time. While I was on business in California in September I read online of Rebecca Reider's trailblazing trip to Hawaii, when she became the first person to allowed back into NZ with medical cannabis obtained from overseas. Rebecca not only did this, she wrote down exactly how she'd done it and explained how it would be legal provided certain conditions were met. I read her article a few times and I thought: "This is clearly possible, and I should do it."

So I followed those steps. I made an online appointment with a doctor, I think I paid the equivalent of about $100 and the following day I had a 15-minute Skype consultation with Dr Lee. She issued me with a "recommendation" to obtain medical cannabis, and the following day I went by bus to one of the many dispensaries in that city and bought a number of cannabis products - none of it was bud, so that was the main difference with Rebecca's situation (and it was from a different US state), but my experience in terms of bringing it back into New Zealand were as Rebecca had described.

What kind of products did you bring back?

I brought back chocolate beans that contained THC. They are widely sold, and the dosage of THC in them is always consistent so you know how much you are taking, you can always gauge it very accurately with edibles, unlike if you smoke cannabis as a plant.

Did you have any fear that you would, in fact (as I imagine you'd supposed before reading Rebecca's story) be arrested by customs when you came back into New Zealand with the edibles?

It did cross my mind that there might be some lengthy explaining to do. And I believe that of the eight or so people who did bring back medical cannabis before the government closed the "loophole", some of them were taken aside for questioning. I seriously considered contacting Sue Grey, who had done so much to help Rebecca Reider, to see if she might agree to be "on standby" for me if NZ Customs did indeed arrest me.

But I re-read Rebecca's article and it set out clearly what the law was and that you could bring back medical cannabis into NZ just the same as you could bring back any other medicine you'd been prescribed overseas.

There wasn't any exception made for cannabis, and it wasn't singled out, so legally it wasn't an issue. I thought: "They can't arrest you for following the law," and as I say, in the end I had no problems.

I wouldn't say I felt nervous when I was in the queue for customs, but I didn't know how the conversation would go.

And how did it go? You say you weren't subject to lengthy questioning by NZ Customs, but what exactly happened?

I had filled out the customs form that ticked a couple of the boxes that were relevant. One of them was "are you bringing any medicines into the country?", and the other was "are you bringing any food into the country?" because what I had was chocolate.

The customs officer looked at the card, and asked me about the nature of what I'd ticked and I said "I've got some medical cannabis", and honestly she didn't bat an eyelid. She pointed me over in one direction - I think it's the second stage for anyone declaring food - and told me to tell the person who was supervising the x-ray machine, and from the time I encountered that first person to me being through into the arrivals hall it was no more than a minute.

In a sense it was anti-climactic, it just felt routine really. Which was good in a way, if the alternative was going to be spending hours being interrogated! I was aware that it was an experience very few people had had (I think I was the third, after Rebecca), but it also felt like: "Well, this is going to be the new normal, because if I can do it, anyone can do it."

As it turned out, very few people did get that experience as in December the government stopped people from doing it. What's your view on that?

I feel really bad that the kind of people who no doubt would have been going on that trip - probably those with life-threatening conditions - must remain without the medication they need because the government are so utterly determined to stay loyal to their friends in the alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical industries that to seriously look into the medical benefits of cannabis would be unthinkable.

The government's position is that you can't bring back medical cannabis from the USA because though it's legal in quite a few states the drug is not legal federally over there still.

I would imagine that, having done so much work in this area, that's something Sue Grey would be looking into at the moment to see whether there might be a challenge possible.

If Donald Trump decided to make cannabis legal in the USA, presumably NZ Customs would then again allow people like you and Rebecca to bring medical cannabis in from there?

Americans certainly aren't expecting that to happen, though. Yes, it's possible - on the same day he was elected President, eight states passed pro-cannabis laws so he knows what the mood of the nation is. It's hard to predict what he's going to do because he's such a maverick, but he's also (theoretically) a Republican and would need to keep that party onside to be able to get any such legislation passed.

It's a reasonably hopeful situation, because you've got that tantalising possibility and you've also got pressure from within Canada for Trudeau to get those laws passed asap. And some moves towards legalisation have been made in Australia, so there's three possibilities it just needs one of them to happen.

It's not "the answer", necessarily, though, is it? Because one of the other restrictions in NZ law is that you can only bring in one month's supply of medical cannabis so people would keep having to go overseas, wouldn't they?

I was listening to (Cannabis Party president) Abe Gray on his radio show talking about this issue recently, and the gist of his argument was that there's no such thing as a standard one-month supply. A lot of work probably needs to be done long-term to study medically-optimal dosages of THC. At the moment, the question of "how much is one month's supply?" is like asking "how long is a piece of string?" It would, I'd suggest, be unenforcable by NZ Customs in terms of a strict amount. What are they going to say to someone bringing back something like three ounces, "that's more than a month's supply?" The best they could hope for is to be guided by whatever the medical professional who recommended that person use cannabis regarded as the right dose.

Those doctors who are recommending cannabis for patients, they are quite thorough - the one I had asked a lot of relevant questions about my medical history and current situation - but they themselves don't have any real idea of what the optimum dose is. Does a person like me who has chronic pain need a higher dosage or lower dosage than someone with Multiple Sclerosis? Do I need to medicate myself more often or less often than someone with epilepsy? Nobody knows right know, so as I say a lot of research is needed in this area.

In September, company director Laurenz Kaplan came through Auckland International Airport with cannabis. Following the trail of Rebecca Reider just a few weeks earlier, Sammi was prescribed in the USA with medical cannabis and was able to bring it back into New Zealand without any issues, declaring it on his customs form and being waved through.

The Hemp & Cannabis News MY STORY

February 2017 13

'I brought legal

weed back into

New Zealand'