The Green Party is pushing its case for legalising the medicinal use of cannabis with a survey showing a third of doctors would consider prescribing it.

MP Nandor Tanczos, a cannabis law reform campaigner, said it was the first such survey ever carried out.

"It is a reality check for those cannabis prohibitionists who seem indifferent to the suffering of sick people and a wake-up call for the Government," he said.

The survey was sent to 500 doctors selected at random and 45 per cent responded, giving a 6.5 per cent margin of error.

The key findings included:

* One in five doctors currently have patients whom they know are using cannabis medicinally;

* 47 per cent reported knowing of patients who had discussed the option of using cannabis;

* 32 per cent would consider prescribing medicinal cannabis products if they were legal;

* 10 per cent felt they had patients who would benefit from it;

* 30 per cent indicated they should be able to prescribe it;

* the more knowledge a doctor holds, the more likely they are to support the use of medicinal cannabis;

* there is a general lack of knowledge among doctors about it.

Mr Tanczos, who smokes cannabis for religious reasons, said the decision on whether to use it as a medicine should be between a patient and their doctor.

"The problem is that doctors who now believe it is the best medicine can't prescribe it," he said.

"The results show that doctors who have a high level of knowledge about it are much more supportive of its use. Many are simply ignorant of its value - why would they bother to inform themselves if it's not in their arsenal?"

The party's health spokeswoman, Sue Kedgley, said it was "cruel and hypocritical" to deny sick people the use of cannabis.

"What is the logic of banning a herbal drug like cannabis while we happily tolerate the use of morphine, a highly addictive class B drug with significant side effects?"

With the MPs at a press conference was HIV sufferer Greg Soar, co-ordinator of the patient support group GreenCross (CRRCT).

He said cannabis was the most effective medicine for his condition, far better than the drugs he was taking which had horrendous side-effects.

"I hear many horror stories about people being so terribly sick, and there's a mistaken impression that there is such a glut of cannabis that they can use it when they want to," he said.

"The truth is that the sick, such as myself, are usually on benefits and can't afford to buy it at market prices."

A parliamentary committee which spent three years investigating cannabis reported in August and said the Government should consider allowing doctors to prescribe it.

Health Minister Annette King said she would wait for the results of British trials, due later this year. A spokesman for Ms King said that the situation was unchanged.

The Government cannot change criminal cannabis laws because of a deal it signed with United Future after the election.

The party is strongly anti-drugs and its health spokeswoman, Judy Turner, said the Greens' survey was a back-door approach to changing the drug's legal status.

"I'm not aware of the Green Party having surveyed doctors to gain their opinion on the possible introduction of other potential medicines," she said.

"It is an issue 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: New Zealand Press Association (New Zealand Wire)
Copyright: 2003 New Zealand Press Association