A West Coast man has been discharged without conviction for supplying medicinal cannabis to thousands of sick people.
John Robert Patrick was elated after his appearance in the Greymouth District Court on Friday.
Patrick is known as a "green fairy", a term used to describe cannabis growers and suppliers who network to help patients on compassionate grounds.
Judge Jane Farish said she would discharge Patrick without conviction and wished him well to become a registered supplier of medicinal cannabis.
Patrick was charged with cultivating cannabis, producing cannabis, possession of cannabis and a representative charge of supplying cannabis.
The police summary of facts says Patrick went to the Greymouth Post Shop and posted two packages on July 2017.
The packages contained three 50-gram tubs of a balm made with cannabis and coconut oil.
Post Shop staff noticed the distinct smell of cannabis emanating from the packages and contacted police.
Patrick posted four more packages on August 8, 2017.
All of the packages were seized by police, who then searched Patrick's Barrytown home in October 2017 and found 931g of dried cannabis, 53 plants and 14 tubs of cannabis balm.
Patrick showed police a cupboard in his bedroom where he kept "mother plants and clones", and a room that was dedicated to growing cannabis.
"The defendant stated that he had used alcohol and drugs a lot in his younger days but in 1994 became sober and trained as a drug and alcohol counsellor. After struggling with pain from a broken back he researched into the use of marijuana and started using it for pain relief," the summary of facts says.
"He felt the need to help other people as cannabis had helped him. He has been productive at this level for about two years and is doing it to help people as he believes it is his purpose in life."
Some of the plants found had low THC content. Others had high THC content and were used for cancer sufferers.
"He doesn't sell it but does accept a koha, which pays for the power and for the plant food. He believes it is God's will because of the way it balances out and it all works out," the summary says.
He told police patients rubbed the balm on their skin or took it as a suppository. It was useful for treating arthritis and did not make people high.
Outside court, Patrick was supported by his lawyer, Sue Grey, and Nelson medicinal cannabis campaigner Rose Renton.
Renton said Patrick had helped thousands of New Zealanders.
Patrick said he was relieved with the outcome.
Grey said Patrick intended to become a registered medicinal cannabis supplier, but could not have done that with a conviction.
Westport woman Linda Fenn, who suffers from a rare chronic kidney disease, said Patrick was a "selfless, compassionate" man.
"I was being left to inhumanely suffer bedridden and in a wheelchair. His balm gave me an appetite so I could eat, helped me sleep and made my pain more bearable.
"He spent hours with me on the phone when I was feeling anxious and travelled to talk, educate and help me as much as he could. I offered to pay him for his medicinal products ... he refused to take any money," she said.
The Government has passed its medicinal cannabis bill, which will establish a regulated scheme within a year and give those close to death a legal defence before then.
Community managed and non-commercial approaches to cannabis law reform are gaining support from the public compared to fully commercial models, according to a pilot study by Massey University that looked at potential options for regulating recreational cannabis.
It comes as the country is set to see a referendum on the legalisation of cannabis at the 2020 election.
The research analysed the potential of applying a community alcohol trust model in the regulation of cannabis.
It surveyed people from Invercargill and West Auckland, two areas in New Zealand where Licensing Trusts "have a near-monopoly right to operate off-license alcohol retail outlets and taverns in their districts", the study reads.
Sixty-two per cent of those surveyed chose combined approaches for grow-your-own, not-for-profit and community trusts, government monopoly and restricted sale through pharmacies, 23 per cent chose a commercial profit-driven market and 15 per cent preferred prohibition regimes.
Of those in the combined approach, home growing and production of cannabis for personal use gained the highest support when asked the preferred policy approach to recreational cannabis, with 27 per cent.
It was followed by restricted availability via pharmacies or under doctor supervision at 17 per cent, commercial profit-driven market similar to alcohol at 12 per cent and a community trust model at 11 per cent.
Dr Marta Rychert said there is a range of options for cannabis regulation, however there was little evidence of public preference on reform models.
"Our findings indicate significant support for non-commercial and community-managed approaches to cannabis regulation, as opposed to profit-driven commercial markets," she said.
"The distribution of profits from cannabis sales back to local communities was the most valued element of applying the trust model for legal cannabis, followed by the increased ability to restrict cannabis sales and availability, and control of the cannabis industry.
"Application of the community trust model for legal cannabis should take into account public opposition to monopoly market regimes."
Dr Rychert said allowing multiple trusts to work in the same district could address the issue of monopoly markets.
The survey was contacted through a targeted Facebook campaign last year in September and October, with 2,379 people completing the survey.
The researchers tested the effects of synthetic cannabinoid compounds on colon cancer cells in an experiment in test tubes. While the compounds most commonly associated with cannabis -- THC and CBD -- showed little to no effect, 10 other compounds were effective at inhibiting cancer cell growth.
Kent Vrana, chair of the Department of Pharmacology at Penn State College of Medicine, said the study -- recently published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research -- helped identify compounds that could be tested further to understand their anti-cancer properties.
"Now that we've identified the compounds that we think have this activity, we can take these compounds and start trying to alter them to make them more potent against cancer cells," Vrana said. "And then eventually, we can explore the potential for using these compounds to develop drugs for treating cancer."
Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute, with an estimated 140,250 newly diagnosed cases and 50,630 deaths in 2018. While medical cannabis has largely been used in recent years for palliative care, the researchers said some previous studies suggested that certain cannabinoid compounds may have the potential to inhibit or prevent the growth of tumors.
To explore how effective cannabinoids were at reducing the viability of colon cancer cells specifically, the researchers tested how 370 different synthetic cannabinoid compounds affected seven types of human colon cancer cells.
"There are many different ways cells can become cancerous," Vrana said. "Each of the seven cells we tested had a different cause or mutation that led to the cancer, even though they were all colon cells. We didn't want to test these compounds on just one mutation or pathway to cancer."
The researchers incubated the cancer cells in a lab for eight hours before treating them with the cannabinoid compounds for 48 hours. Any compounds that showed signs of reducing the viability of one kind of cancer cell was then used to treat all seven kinds of cells.
After further screening and analysis, the researchers identified 10 compounds that inhibited the growth of almost all seven types of colon cancer types tested. But while the researchers were able to identify these compounds, Vrana said they are still unsure about how exactly the compounds worked to reduce the viability of the cancer cells.
"The 10 compounds we found to be effective fall into three classes, so they're similar to each other but with small changes," Vrana said. "We know how one of them works, which is by inhibiting the division of cells in general. We also found that the most potent and effective compounds don't seem to work through traditional marijuana receptors, although we're not sure of the exact mechanism yet."
Vrana said certain types of cells, like skin and colon cells, are more susceptible to cancers because they divide very frequently: "Every time a cell divides, there's the chance that it will mutate and keep dividing when it shouldn't, which is how cancers can start. So if we block that signal that's telling cancer cells to continue to divide, that could be a way to stop that cancer."
Vrana said that because the other compounds did not seem to be working through traditional cannabinoid signaling pathways, future research will focus on better understanding how the compounds interact with cancer cells and whether researchers can make the compounds more potent and effective.
A mother who gives her son medicinal cannabis to treat his violent seizures is terrified they will be without medicine, following what growers call a massive aerial cull of the crop.
Advocates and growers say upwards of 1000 plants were poisoned in a Northland drop last month, cutting the medicinal supply to hundreds of people.
For Auckland mother Kirstin McKendry and her eight year old son Charlie, every day is tough.
"My son at a very young age had a brain tumour removed. From the brain tumour, he has a lot of disabilities ... he's like a very small baby.
"We have a lot of seizures per day - anywhere from 10, to 100, depending on what kind of day it is," she said.
Two weeks ago, frustrated by a lack of options, Ms McKendry started - illegally - treating her son with cannabis oil.
To buy cannabis-based medicine legally would cost her $800 a month, which she said she cannot afford.
Charlie's seizures had already reduced, she said.
"Charlie doesn't smile a lot. I've noticed Charlie has a smile back, which is really lovely to see."
But Charlie's medicine could soon run out.
Medicinal cannabis advocates said recent aerial sprays in Northland devastated the crop, cutting supply to hundreds around the country.
Pearl Schomberg, the convener of medicinal cannabis support group Auckland Patients' Group, said 1200 plants were destroyed.
"We estimate that probably 300 to 400 of those plants were going directly to very unwell patients," she said.
"That's quite a lot to take out."
Pearl Schomberg said providers now had to prioritise patients - those who are most sick would get the little that is left.
"The rest will have to go scrambling around in a black market that's incredibly dangerous in a prohibition environment," he said.
"There's a lot of nefarious characters out there that take advantage of naive folk that have no idea what they're looking for or where they're going."
Police refused to comment on the drop.
"Police will not be commenting on the matter, which is currently before the court."
They also refused to answer general questions on the use of aerial drops.
"We are not in a position to discuss operational matters such as this in detail."
Medicinal grower Maki Herbert said the annual drops were an ongoing threat to those who relied on cannabis-based medication.
"While we've still got a black market, there's still going to be the police doing what they have to do.
"Unfortunately, people like myself - we call ourselves 'green fairies' - get caught up in that grey area.
She wanted the law changed immediately to protect those who grew and sold medicinal cannabis, so patients had a consistent supply they could afford.
Kirstin McKendry was worried about that dwindling supply.
"If that supply is gone, then my son doesn't have medicine," she said.
"If that's not available to me, to give to Charlie, what am I meant to do?"
A law change late last year relaxed medicinal cannabis laws slightly, giving amnesty to palliative patients.
A binding referendum on cannabis legalisation will be held at next year's general election.
Medicinal cannabis activist Rose Renton told Morning Report she had a lot of sympathy for Kirstin and Charlie's situation.
"I really feel for Kirstin, I was in a similar situation obviously 18 months ago," she said.
"There is more than one crop, obviously, in the black market that's grown and I think if it's organically grown - it's outdoor or naturally grown - then you can diversify.
"It's something that I've had to learn when my crops have been taken or destroyed because of the law, that I've had to work with other growers."
Ms Renton was discharged without conviction on a charge of cannabis cultivation yesterday.
"Because of what I was doing with the cannabis and who's using the cannabis for medical purpose - some are in palliation, some are like charlie - then the judge said the world trends, medical evidence show that I wasn't doing it to blatantly break the law and make lots of money, I was doing it to help people that were suffering."
She said the cannabis she was growing had very low levels of THC.
"Right from the beginning that was my statement, is that CBD was the cannabinoid I was most focused on. With Cannabis, all cannabis, there is a trace of THC, some up to 18 percent for the really strong stuff and mine was quite minimal."
Ms Renton's son Alex was the first New Zealander granted permission to use cannabidiol a month before his death in 2015. In 2016 she presented a petition with over 15,000 signatures to parliament, urging the government to make medicinal cannabis more readily available.
"It's frustrating that we haven't got the politicians moving the law and doing their most," she said.
"The police are obviously doing what they do as part of their job."
In the meantime, she's working on applying for a cannabis licence.
"Ultimately with the amount of patient inquiry and people I work with now I need a large growing facility and partners that are able to do that here in Nelson, again focusing on the particular strands that are most suitable, with a rich CBD and a low THC."
"In palliation you need a much higher THC so I'm still gonna have to be working in a black market because I require a high-THC strand for pain in that palliation world.
"Until we legalise the plant and the THC is understood as the pain point I'm still going to be outside the law. I personally won't be growing it because it's totally unsafe for me, otherwise I'll be back in hot water."
"It's not going to be until after the referendum that there's going to be some sort of weight come off my shoulders.
Police Minister Stuart Nash is backing police aerial drops to destroy cannabis crops, which medicinal cannabis advocates say is denying hundreds of sick people vital relief.
Advocates and growers say more than 1000 plants were poisoned in drops over Northland and west Auckland last month.
The Government passed a law last year that gave people in palliative care a legal defence to use cannabis for medical reasons.
It has until the end of the year to put in place a regulatory regime for medicinal cannabis, but in the meantime it is still illegal to supply cannabis for medicinal use without Ministry of Health approval.
Medicinal Cannabis Awareness co-ordinator Shane Le Brun said the new legal defence has helped 25,000 patients, but legal products cost about $800 a month and patients often relied on cheaper - but illegal - means of supply.
He said police were destroying outdoor crops of anything more than half a dozen plants, but those were not all for commercial purposes.
"With the referendum [on legalising recreational cannabis use next year], it feels like police are having a last hurrah. But this is affecting real people with real needs."
But Nash backed the police.
"At the moment, if you're growing cannabis in a quantity that the police think is commercial, then you are breaking the law."
He said medicinal cannabis advocates who said medicinal crops were being destroyed were being "a little bit disingenuous".
"My understanding is that police are going after crops that are of a commercial scale, and I would expect them to."
He said police would use discretion when it came to medicinal cannabis use until the Government's regulatory regime was in place.
Auckland Patients Group leader Pearl Schomburg, who has long advocated for medicinal cannabis, said Nash was "completely out of touch".
"How would he know they are commercial crops? Are they flagged in the backyard? These are primarily small grows being used for medicinal purposes.
"The Police Minister is being disingenuous if he thinks he has the knowledge that those were all commercial grows. He's dreaming."
Asked if she knew anyone whose supply of medicinal cannabis had been cut off after the police aerial drops, she said: "Yes. I cannot have any more medicinal cannabis from my grower because of that raid."
She listed a range of issues she suffered from including rheumatoid arthritis, peptic ulcers, and surgical injuries to her shoulders and feet.
"I'm in chronic pain on a daily basis."
Schomburg has posted photos on Facebook of a grower - known as Gandalf - who had lost 50 plants that would have helped several patients, including 8-year-old Charlie McKendry, who had a brain tumour when he was very young.
"For children like Charlie, when you take away that primary medicine to help them settle and be stable, you're going to potentially send them into a nosedive," Schomburg said.
A police spokesperson did not answer whether police distinguished between commercial and non-commercial grows for aerial drops.
The only legal way to supply medicinal cannabis was through a licence issued by the Ministry of Health.
"All other cultivation of cannabis, at either a personal or commercial scale, is not legally permitted," the spokesperson said in a statement.
"Organised criminals continue to make money off supplying cannabis to our communities. Therefore, police will continue to target and disrupt the supply chain to prevent them profiting. This includes the use of aircraft to identify illegal cannabis grows."
A total number of plants destroyed was not available at this stage as the aerial operation was ongoing, the spokesperson said.
Nelson medicinal cannabis campaigner Rose Renton has been discharged without conviction on a charge of cultivating cannabis after a judge found her offending was 'altruistic'.
Last November, Renton was discharged without conviction on three charges of possession, processing and supplying cannabis. That decision was suppressed until Monday when Renton appeared in the Nelson District Court on the cultivation charge.
She had earlier pleaded guilty to the charges.
Judge David Ruth said Renton's offending was "altruistic" in nature and was motivated by wanting to help others which brought her into conflict with the Misuse of Drugs Act.
The charge related to 58 cannabis plants found in Renton's Nelson home in various stages of growth.
Judge Ruth said he accepted that the vast proportion of the plants cultivated were very low in the active ingredient THC.
Lawyer Sue Grey said a drug conviction would prevent Renton from getting a licence to cultivate or process hemp products, from which medicinal cannabis was manufactured.
It would also cause difficulties for Renton as it would inhibit her ability to travel overseas, particularly to the United States and Canada.
He said the court had no political motive and the discharge without conviction was not an endorsement of anyone breaking the law.
Judge Ruth said charges for cannabis cultivation had historically been subject to serious sentences but that Renton's offending was at the bottom end of the scale.
"This was effectively an altruistic endeavour on your behalf to help those for whom that help wasn't otherwise possible.
The public gallery in the courtroom was full of supporters who broke into loud applause when the verdict was announced.
Outside court, Renton was enveloped in hugs and congratulations.
She said it felt quite emotional to be discharged of the conviction and thanked the community for their ongoing support.
"I've never felt alone and it's thanks to you guys.
"Alex would be so proud today ... he chose the right person because he knew I would never give up."
Renton said she felt like she had gained a new community with the loss of her son Alex, who died in January 2015, three months after he began experiencing mysterious seizures.
He was sedated with a range of drugs to stop him having mysterious seizures and his treatment included groundbreaking use of medicinal cannabis oil, Elixinol, after a campaign by his family after conventional treatments did not work.
Since Alex's passing, Renton has campaigned strongly for the government to make cannabis-based medications available in New Zealand.
She said police visited her home in September 2017 after an incident that involved Renton rubbing rat poison on former Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith.
Her mother had placed one of the cannabis plants outside to get some sun and it was noticed by the prosecuting officer.
"I had them as mother plants so they never got to bud, I was cloning CBD plants for patients.
"When he said 58 plants it sounded like this massive growing operation but literally some of them were seedlings."
Renton said she took the police officers downstairs to her flat and showed them the what she was doing and why.
She said it had been a "gruelling" 18 months since the charges were first laid and when the verdict was announced she felt a massive relief for every single patient who benefited from medicinal cannabis.
People were desperate to access medicinal cannabis and there was a lack of safety in the black market and Renton said the decision was a step towards better access for those in need.
Her vision was to support a legal medicinal cannabis growing industry in Nelson.
"I can now apply for a legal license and that's what I will encourage other green fairies to do.
"My biggest focus for this year is to be able to establish an industry in Nelson that I am able to rely on with great growers so I can continue to help those people I support currently, because I know for every one there is another twenty that would so something, but can't because of the current law."
Renton said she was currently in the process of looking for an indoor growing location with business partners.
Scarlett Carver was in court to support Renton. The Nelson woman was diagosed with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome at a young age which worsened around 2016. She was bedridden for a number of years and experiencing debilitating pain.
Carver was initially prescribed Tilray by her doctor, a cannabidiol (CBD) product, and she noticed a difference overnight.
The first prescription cost $700 and lasted two weeks, when she went to get a repeat and was told it was going to cost another $700.
"I thought, I can't walk away without it, it wasn't an option."
Unable to afford $700 a week, she contacted Renton. Since using her cannabidiol oil she had been living "a completely different life".
"The difference has been pretty dramatic, it's taken me from having absolutely no life whatsoever, not being able to look after my wee boy, shower myself, get out of bed and go to the toilet on my own to living a completely normal life."
Standing outside court she said she was very proud of Renton and what she had achieved.