Journalist and environmental researcher Rebecca Reider was released from all criminal charges relating to medicinal cannabis use. Reider, who suffers from a complex chronic pain syndrome, was facing a raft of criminal charges relating to the importation of a medicinal cannabis product, and possession of cannabis oil, plant material and seeds.
Reider received a discharge without conviction on all charges, 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.”
“I feel hugely relieved,” Reider said. “It feels like a significant win for the right to medicinal cannabis. The judge considered my medical situation and my overseas cannabis prescription, and decided that I shouldn’t face a criminal conviction. That’s a great victory.
“But the fact is, I still feel like I’ve lost. The police entered my home with no warning, violated my privacy and took away an essential pain medication that was helping me deal with a very challenging health condition.”
Reider has suffered from an undiagnosed, debilitating full-body chronic pain condition for nearly a decade. While visiting family in California (her birthplace), she obtained a medical cannabis prescription from her family doctor. The prescription authorised her to legally purchase cannabis and cannabis-derived products.
In November 2015, New Zealand Customs intercepted two chocolate bars that Reider had posted to herself from the US. The chocolate bars turned out to be edible medical cannabis products, legally manufactured by a company called Kiva in the US.
When NZ Police subsequently searched Reider’s home in Collingwood, they found more cannabis chocolate bars, cannabis oil, cannabis plant material and cannabis seeds.
Born and raised in the US, Reider has lived and worked in New Zealand for ten years. She originally came to this country on a Fulbright research fellowship in 2005.
“It’s been distressing to be treated like a criminal when I’ve simply been trying to deal with a health condition that the medical profession 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.
“Australia, the US and numerous other countries have moved forward on the medical cannabis issue, but New Zealand is still in the dark ages. I’m grateful to the judge for his compassion, but this legal process has been long, stressful and expensive for me.
“In California, getting cannabis products appropriate for my 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.
“It’s time for the law to change, so no other patients have to go through this nightmare of being treated like a criminal.
“Neither the judge nor the majority of the police officers who searched my home believed that I should be punished. It's time for Parliament to catch up.”
The charges Reider faced were serious; the maximum sentence for importation of a cannabis product is eight years in prison.
Reider was represented by attorney Sue Grey of Nelson.