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Cannabis 'should Be Assessed'

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Cannabis should be assessed for its benefits and risks like any
potential medicine, says Marlborough's medical officer of drug and
alcohol services.

Blenheim GP Rod Bird was commenting in response to a Green Party
national survey showing one third of doctors believe they should be
able to prescribe cannabis for medical purposes.

The survey of 500 registered doctors, 45 percent of whom responded,
showed 10 percent of doctors had patients they felt could benefit from
medicinal cannabis, 20 percent had patients they knew used cannabis
medicinally and 32 percent would consider prescribing cannabis if it
were legal to do so.

Dr Bird said doctors carefully weighed up the benefits and risks of
any potential medicine and cannabis should be assessed in the same

"The problem is it is caught up in a whole moral issue. The whole
debate is distorted by those moralist considerations."

At the moment there was not enough clear evidence on the medicinal
advantages of cannabis, he said.

"There have been some studies published and there has been some
conflicting evidence. The evidence is not solid but we keep an open
mind about it."

Green MP Nandor Tanczos said there was a significant number of
chronically ill people forced to go to gang houses to get their
medicine "who risk arrest simply for trying to improve the quality of
their life".

He said the Government had to realise the consequences of cannabis
prohibition and help minimise the dangers those people faced.

Blenheim man Michael Barr used cannabis to ease the chest pain
associated with his heart condition until 2001 when police busted him
for cultivating cannabis.

He conceded his cannabis use was recreational as well as medicinal,
but he would have preferred cannabis prescribed to him in a spray form
from his doctor.

"That is what I would like to see. It should be available to those who
need it. It relieved the chest pain and it made me more relaxed around
the house. Stress is a big factor in heart problems."

Prior to a heart operation in Dunedin two years ago he went to his
doctor to ask about the advisability of using cannabis for pain relief.

He said his doctor told him he could not advise him to use cannabis,
but could not discourage him either because there was too little
information on the benefits and risks.

Green health spokesperson Sue Kedgley questioned the logic of banning
the medicinal use of cannabis while permitting the routine use of
morphine, a class B drug with serious side effects and a high risk of

Dr Bird agreed that was a bizarre twist. He said cannabis was not a
huge health breakthrough but "I think there is some evidence that it
is going to have a place".

Green co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons has a private member's bill before
Parliament to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act to allow the medicinal use
of cannabis.

A parliamentary committee, after a three-year investigation into
cannabis, in August urged the Government to consider allowing doctors
to prescribe it.

At the time, Ms King said she would wait for the results of British
trials due later this year before making any decisions.

Her spokesman said the survey did not change that.

United Future's health spokeswoman Judy Turner said the issue was one
for scientists and pharmacists, "not politicians and drug aficionados
desperate to promote their favourite substance by any means possible".

Pubdate: Fri, 03 Oct 2003
Source: Marlborough Express (New Zealand)
Copyright: Independent Newspapers Limited 2003
Contact: laurab@marlexpress.co.nz
Website: Marlborough Express News | Stuff.co.nz