The death of a Nelson teenager whose family advocated for the use of medical cannabis has sparked a national debate and will lead to a change in the law, say advocates.
Nineteen-year-old Alex Renton died on July 1 after being in Wellington Hospital for three months, sedated with a range of drugs to stop him having mysterious seizures. His mother Rose campaigned to have medical cannabis used in his treatment, the treatment was eventually granted by Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne.
Nelson lawyer Mark Dollimore said Renton’s story had “reactivated” the debate around medical marijuana. He saw that even through the courts there was more legitimacy and understanding around using cannabis as pain relief.
Doctors often would give certificates saying the drug seemed to work and judges also seemed to have softened in their stance.
“But their hands are tied by parliament and the law,” he said. “It’s only a matter of time.”
Dollimore said he was “totally convinced” by cannabis’ efficacy in treating pain and that he saw more devastation caused by alcohol.
“But that’s legal.”
Cannabis legalisation activist Steven Wilkinson, who lives in Takaka, said he thought the minister granting Renton use of the drug was a “great step forward”.
“Whatever Dunne says it is a precedent that he has set.”
However, Wilkinson said he believed that it would not be until Dunne left Parliament that any meaningful change would be made.
“It’s sad that one person can stop a plant with so many benefits.”
Nelson GP Graham Loveridge said it was still not clear whether cannabis had any meaningful benefits in the medical world.
“I think that if the research goes on that it’s possible we will find a place for it. We use morphine and methadone and opium derivatives, it would be silly to look over cannabis if there was a potential use for it.”
He did not think there would be any “flood gates opening” especially considering that the drug did not appear to have worked in Renton’s case.
“There will be another one off situations and I presume that permission will be given as in this case.”
Nelson MP Nick Smith said the debate around whether medicinal marijuana needed to have the science to back it up. So far there had been no clear evidence that it was effective, he said.
“I am a strong supporter of the the clinical trials-based analysis of pharmaceuticals and other treatments. This would need a strong steer from the medical profession.”
He also wanted to remind people that cannabis also did an “enormous amount of harm” which was why it was illegal in the first place.