An overwhelming number of New Zealanders support the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal use, the latest Herald-DigiPoll survey shows.
The issue has been in the spotlight this year after the high-profile case of Alex Renton, who was eventually prescribed Elixinol, a cannabidiol made from hemp, after approval from Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne.
Poll voters were asked which statement best fitted their view on the legalisation of cannabis. Seventy per cent said they wanted the drug legalised only for medicinal use under strict conditions.
Fifteen per cent wanted it kept illegal for all uses and 13 per cent wanted it legalised for all uses.
Mr Dunne said the results were not surprising. "The reason I've been interested in exploring the medicinal cannabis aspect is reflective of that type of feeling."
Despite signing off Mr Renton's medication, Mr Dunne said it did not create a precedent - rather, a long-available procedure to get approval for a restricted product had been used for the first time.
Any impression the floodgates have been opened were "wrong and naive", Mr Dunne said, but he has asked officials to watch medicinal cannabis product trials overseas, including in Australia and the United States.
If new medicinal cannabis products - likely to be sprays or oils - were introduced to the market they would go through the same assessment process led by Medsafe.
In March, Mr Dunne told the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna that evidence of the benefits of medicinal cannabis was underwhelming, and he stuck by that statement.
"There's not a great deal of evidence around, there are trials being undertaken ... but hard evidence as to beneficial impact is difficult to come by.
"But if it is beneficial and passes muster, then there's no reason why [certain products] shouldn't be made available."
Labour MP Damien O'Connor, who began drafting a private member's bill to allow better access to medicinal cannabis after Mr Renton's case, said he still hoped to put a bill forward, but was encouraged by Mr Dunne's approach. "Ensuring we get the legislation right, that it does just open the door for medicinal purposes, is absolutely crucial."
Green Party health spokesman Kevin Hague said the party supported the use of medicinal cannabis.
Last month Mr Dunne released the 2015-2020 National Drug Policy, and announced officials would re-examine the prescribing process for Sativex, New Zealand's only medicinal cannabis product.
The mouth spray is the only form of medicinal cannabis available, It's available only as a mouth spray, but is not funded by Pharmac and costs about $1300 a month.
The poll of 750 eligible voters was taken on August 14-24 and has a margin of error of 3.6 per cent.
- NZ Herald