Customs gave the all-clear to a woman who subsequently brought an ounce of cannabis into the country.
Golden Bay woman Rebecca Reider confirmed to the Herald that she travelled through Customs at Auckland Airport on Friday with an ounce of medicinal cannabis that had been prescribed to her during a visit to Hawaii.
Documentary maker and drug reform campaigner Arik Reiss has put photos on Facebook of Reider holding a jar of cannabis after being let through Customs.
New Zealand law allows anyone who is prescribed a medicine overseas to bring one month’s supply into the country for their own use – including cannabis products.
The Cannabis Party in March issued a press release saying the “massive” loophole could “open the floodgates” for raw cannabis to be brought to New Zealand from countries like the Netherlands, Canada, the United States, and Australia.
In response, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said it was possible for a person to bring in a prescribed medicine, but the number of conditions on that allowance meant it was unlikely cannabis would be brought in to New Zealand.
Only a month’s supply was allowed, and it was not clear that medical cannabis could be legally taken out of the United States. It was possible somebody could bring a prescription from another country, but that was unlikely, Dunne said at the time.
“The reality of the fact that you can only get 31 days’ supply, and New Zealand law does not allow you to renew that prescription, plus the practicality of going back and forward to get it, I think makes it extremely unlikely.”
The Cannabis Party’s release came after Reider was cleared of all charges at the Nelson District Court relating to the earlier importation of a medicinal cannabis product.
Judge Peter Hobbs determined under the Sentencing Act that the consequences of conviction were out of proportion with the gravity of the offence.
Her lawyer, Sue Grey, said a doctor in Reider’s home state of California had prescribed the medical cannabis for relief from chronic pain, and New Zealand law allowed a person arriving in the country to bring prescribed medication.
“Whether that medication is medical marijuana or some other drug is irrelevant under the law,” Grey told Fairfax after the ruling.
“There was no good reason to criminal sanction a person who was using prescribed pain relief for good reason.”
This afternoon Grey told the Herald that after the court case she checked with Customs and was told they would seize all cannabis, whether it had been prescribed or not.
She subsequently wrote to Customs Minister Nicky Wagner, and was eventually advised by a lawyer at Customs that the agency would allow medicinal cannabis to be brought into New Zealand with appropriate documentation.
Customs and Dunne have been approached for comment.
Cannabis Party president Abe Gray, who runs Dunedin’s Cannabis Museum, said Reider’s success would open the way for others to bring in cannabis.
“Everybody has just been waiting for the first person to actually have the guts to do it…a round trip ticket to Hawaii is under $1000.
“The way the law is written it is only per entry at the border. She could travel back and forward multiple times in a few weeks and accumulate a stash of many months [supply].”
Debate about cannabis reform has been stirred by former union leader Helen Kelly and the late Martin Crowe using the drug for medicinal pain relief, and new approaches taken overseas including in Australia.
On Monday the NZ Drug Foundation released new polling that showed almost 65 per cent of New Zealanders want personal possession of cannabis decriminalised or made legal.
There is even stronger support to let people use cannabis for pain relief – only 16 per cent of New Zealanders want that to be criminal.
People polled were asked if an activity should be legal, illegal and subject to criminal penalties, or illegal but decriminalised – an offence punishable by a fine, with no criminal record.
Sixty-four per cent thought personal possession of a small amount of cannabis should be either be legal or decriminalised.
That fell to 52 per cent on personal growing of cannabis, 30 per cent for selling from a store, and just 21 per cent for growing for friends.
The strongest support was for reform in relation to cannabis use for pain relief (79 per cent either legalise or decriminalise) and terminal pain relief (82 per cent).
The mouth spray Sativex is currently the only form of medicinal cannabis currently available in New Zealand, but is not funded by Pharmac and costs about $1300 a month.
Prescriptions are approved by the Ministry of Health. Other products must be approved by Dunne.
Last year, 19-year-old Alex Renton’s family campaigned for him to be given medicinal cannabis and in June he was prescribed Elixinol, a cannabidiol made from hemp. Renton died on July 1 at Wellington Hospital after suffering an acute prolonged seizure in April.
Article written by Nicholas Jones for the Herald.