A Golden Bay woman who won a legal victory for medicinal cannabis says suffering patients are being treated like criminals, and it’s time Parliament caught up.
Rebecca Reider, 37, appeared in Nelson District Court on Monday facing a raft of criminal charges including importing medicinal cannabis products and another five charges relating to possession.
The maximum sentence for importing is eight years imprisonment.
The Californian-born Collingwood resident was cleared of all six charges and received a discharge without conviction, meaning she will have no criminal record.
Under the Sentencing Act, a judge may grant this sentence under circumstances where “the direct and indirect consequences of a conviction would be out of all proportion to the gravity of the offence.”
Reider argued a conviction would significantly affect her ability to travel abroad and to be able to visit her family in her country of birth.
Her lawyer, Sue Grey of Nelson said this is a huge “common sense” and humanitarian step forward for the medicinal cannabis reform movement.
“A doctor prescribed [her] medical marijuana for relief from chronic pain from a well documented and complex medical condition,” said Grey. “The medical marijuana worked when no other drugs were effective.”
She said New Zealand law already allows exemptions where a person coming into New Zealand brings with them medication that was prescribed overseas.
“Whether that medication is medical marijuana, or some other drug, is irrelevant under the law. The judge recognised that it should not matter whether the medication is carried into New New Zealand by the patient or posted to them. Either way there was no good reason to criminal sanction a person who was using prescribed pain relief for good reason.”
Reider said she was hugely relieved, and said it felt like a significant win for the right to medicinal cannabis.
But despite the victory, Reider said she still feels like she lost.
“The police entered my home with no warning,” she said. “Violated my privacy and took away an essential pain medication that was helping me deal with a very challenging health condition.”
The environmental researcher and activist has suffered from an undiagnosed, debilitating full-body chronic pain condition for nearly a decade.
In 2013 Reider began treatment with doctors in the US who prescribed medicinal cannabis for her chronic pain.
She said for her family doctor to prescribe medicinal cannabis for the condition was a “no-brainer”, which authorised her to legally purchase cannabis and cannabis-derived products.
On a trip back to California last year she obtained another medical cannabis prescription while visiting her doctor.
In November, New Zealand Customs intercepted two legally manufactured medicinal cannabis chocolate bars that Reider had posted to herself from the US. The product is legally manufactured in the US by a company called Kiva. Each bar contains 180mg of THC.
When three Takaka Police officers subsequently searched Reider’s home in Collingwood, they found four more cannabis chocolate bars, cannabis oil, cannabis plant material and cannabis seed.
Reider said it’s distressing to be treated like a criminal while trying to deal with a health condition that the medical establishment has been mostly unable to treat.
“Prescription drugs have failed to solve my pain issues, while cannabis has been instrumental in relieving my muscle spasms,” she said.
In February the Australian Parliament passed a bill legalising medicinal marijuana, adding to the growing list of countries that are moving forward on the medicinal marijuana reform, including some states in the US.
“But New Zealand is still in the dark ages,” said Reider. “I’m grateful to the judge for his compassion, but this legal process has been long, stressful and expensive for me.”
She said in California, getting cannabis products appropriate for her pain condition is safe, secure and simple.
“Since it’s legal there, I’m able to ascertain that I’m getting top quality plant medicines, whereas in New Zealand on the black market it’s impossible to know.”
She said it’s pertinent New Zealand catch up to other countries recognising the need for medicinal cannabis legalisation, or patients around the country will continue to suffer.
Another Takaka woman, Fiona Porter, 45, was fined $500 on Monday at Nelson District Court for cultivating marijuana to treat her multiple sclerosis.
Reider came to New Zealand in 2005 on a Fullbright scholarship to research organic agriculture and has been living and working here since. She has worked as a freelance journalist for the New Zealand Herald, is an environmental activist and works as the National Coordinator for Organic Winegrowers NZ
Article written by Nina Hindmarsh and originally posted on Stuff.co.nz