THC News February 2017 - Page 9

"Perception is reality" - the words of Prime Minister John Key on Radio NZ in June 2012.

Translation: "If we can get people to believe something, it becomes the truth."

The government stretched the limits of that late last year when they denied that closing the "loophole" that allowed New Zealanders to bring medical cannabis in from overseas had anything to do with The Hemp & Cannabis News.

To be specific, with our Reader's Trip - advertised in the last issue published on December 1 - to escort a party to the USA to legally purchase cannabis and get it through NZ customs.

Around eight people are known to have taken advantage of the law that allows people to bring in from overseas one month's supply of any medication that has been prescribed for them.

Cannabis was neither specified as being included nor was it excluded from the all-encompassing policy.

Last March, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne confirmed that people could bring medical cannabis products prescribed overseas for their own use.

"That has been in the law for over 40 years, and applies to all medicinal products, not just cannabis related products," he said.

Given that its medical benefits are proven beyond any doubt, and that New Zealanders are suffering and in some cases dying through being denied access to cannabis, the existing laws allowed Rebecca Reider to bring back cannabis flowers from Hawaii last August.

With the help of Nelson lawyer Sue Grey, she tested out whether NZ Customs officers would obey the law of the land, and allow her into the country.

Along with the others who followed her trail, she declared the medical cannabis on her customs form and to officers at Auckland airport and was allowed to enter the country. She was not arrested, and neither was the cannabis she and the others brought into the country confiscated.

When our story broke in the December issue of The Hemp & Cannabis News, plans had already been put in place for the tour to happen and dates were being finalised.

A few days after the magazine hit the virtual newsstand the Cannabis Party, who were organising the trip in conjunction with The Hemp & Cannabis News, issued a statement to the media publicising it.

It was picked up straight away by two leading radio stations and the following day both party leader Julian Crawford and Brandon Stronge - their candidate at the Mt Albert By-Election in early November - spoke about the upcoming trip live on the air.

Presenters and commentators essentially wrote off the idea as something that could never happen - despite both Crawford and Stronge describing how it had already been happening on an individual basis for several months.

The suggestion was made on one station that the government would "close the loophole" that we and the party intended to exploit.

And so it proved when, within just three days, both the Ministry of Health and NZ Customs took action

The Ministry of Health and the New Zealand Customs Service are providing updated information which may be of interest to travellers arriving from the United States," said their statement published on December 7.

"This information will impact on travellers possessing cannabis-based products which have been lawfully supplied in the United States, and are intended for medical use.

"Cannabis-based products for medical use supplied in the United States cannot be carried with you when entering or leaving New Zealand.

"A number of US states permit the medical use of cannabis. However cannabis-based products for medical use from the United States are not considered lawfully supplied under federal law, unless the product has US Food and Drug Administration approval. To date, no drug product containing or derived from botanical cannabis (the cannabis plant) has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration."

Customs staff, it was reported, would be "working to the updated information" immediately.

It was clear that the "updated information" had been released in direct response to the trip being organised.

However, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Charlotte Gendall did her level best to follow John Key's "perception is reality" routine by denying it completely.

"It's part of ongoing progress about keeping the public well informed. It's not as a result of any outside influence," Gendall told the NZ Herald.

The story continued: "Gendall added that if the Cannabis Party attributed the new update in rules as a response to their California plans, that would be "untrue"."

The "ongoing process" argument holds as much water as a sieve. The Ministry of Health had only previously issued two media releases about cannabis in the previous three years, yet "coincidentally" one appeared within days of the media publicising the planned Reader's Trip.

The customs policy means that, for now, the tour to the USA is on hold.

Rebecca Reider described the government's blocking of medical cannabis imports as a "barbaric and deliberate attempt to stop sick people in pain from getting their medicine."

Rebecca said the crackdown would affect her in a "very real way".

She added: "My dad is coming to visit me soon and could have brought my next supply of medicine, because he is classed as one of my caregivers. But now the Ministry of Health is actively taking people's access to health away."

Sue Grey snd the health ministry was an "incredibly mean spirited attack" on sick New Zealanders.

"It is bizarre that the New Zealand government is trying to enforce US Federal laws that the US government does not enforce," she added.

She told Stuff she was considering filing a legal challenge in the High Court and had already made an urgent Official Information Request to Peter Dunne.

Grey said: "[I want] to try to understand why he and his officials have changed from their earlier publicly stated position that they did not intend to block use of the loophole clause."

The options for sourcing medical cannabis from overseas have been blocked off for now, but they can't be stopped indefinitely.

Canada has elected a new Prime Minister, Justin Trudea, who has promised to legalise the drug in the country. At that point, New Zealanders - according to the current law - will be able to bring in medical cannabis from the likes of Vancouver which is reachable by direct flight from New Zealand.

If the USA changed its laws to allow cannabis on a federal level, the NZ government would have to allow the medicine to be brought back from there - unless they moved the goalposts once again.

Donald Trump only took office last month, but already he is making big and bold decisions about the future of the USA.

The signs coming out of the White House are mixed as far as cannabis is concerned.

Trump has appointed as Attorney General a man, Senator Jeff Sessions, who has been public in his opposition to cannabis in the past.

However, a Bloomberg News report in December suggested he was considering appointing Jim O'Neil to head the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

O'Neil is a supporter of legalizing cannabis, and has actively worked towards it; he previously served on the Board of Directors for the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, which worked to legalized cannabis in California.

So far, Trump has been relatively quiet on his plans for the FDA, though his website does say that his administration will; "reform the Food and Drug Administration, to put greater focus on the need of patients for new and innovative medical products" and to advance research.

Depending how quickly Canada is able to push through its legalisation of cannabis, the Reader's Trip could be rescheduled for later this year to Vancouver instead of California.

The package - direct flights via Air New Zealand from Auckland, eight nights' accommodation, medical appointments to receive cannabis recommendation and trips to dispensaries - is expected to cost around $5,000 per person.

Social media: How we broke the news that the loophole had been closed.

Proposed tour: How we announced the Readers' Trip in our last issue in December.

February 2017 9

Government prevent medical

cannabis trip to United States

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