The administrators of Health Select Committee wrote to some submitters on the medicinal cannabis bill, giving them the option to change their submission, as many had admitted to breaking the law.
The Government's medicinal cannabis bill, which would amend the Drugs Act, aimed to introduce an exception and a statutory defence for terminally ill people to possess and use cannabis. It would also provide a regulation-making power to set standards for manufacturing, importing, and supplying.
The committee received about 2000 submissions and about 300 submitters included information that either admitted to criminal wrongdoing, or included sensitive medical information about themselves or someone else.
Health Select Committee clerk Ciara Lee said there was the potential for those submissions to have a negative effect on the submitters in the future.
While all submitters are protected by Parliamentary privilege, and what they said in their submission could not be used as evidence for a police investigation, there was nothing to stop police launching a separate investigation into the person.
The transparent Parliamentary process also required all submissions to remain public, which meant they would remain on the Parliamentary website, and would be available through a web search.
This had been an issue in the past when submitters were applying for a job, and wanted their submission to be removed, Lee said.
The secretariat thought it was important to reiterate to people that their full submission would be publicly available.
When the secretariat wrote to the 300 people, they told them their submission either contained an admission to criminal wrongdoing, or sensitive health information about themselves, or someone else.
They gave them four options: anonymise their submission, remove certain parts of the submission, leave it as it was, or withdraw their submission.
The decision to write to people came after consulting internal lawyers, and the clerk.
Lee said while some people appreciated the extra information, others felt pressured to not say what they wanted to say.
"We're definitely not trying to silence people at all."
It was important everybody felt empowered to have their say, but they needed to be aware of how the system worked, eh said.
The secretariat has also put in place provisions for people to give their submission via teleconference so they could have their say, without being identified.
Health Select Committee chair Louisa Wall said the committee was not trying to exclude anyone from having their say about an issue that's of great interest to a lot of people.
COMMITTEE NOT TRAVELLING
Medicinal cannabis campaigners have also said they were disappointed many people wouldn't be able to be heard in person.
The committee has decided not to travel to different regions to hear submissions in person. There would be a full day for oral submissions on April 30, but that would take place in Wellington.
Medical Cannabis Awareness coordinator Shane Le Brun said many of those who wished to speak to their submissions were "severely ill, on benefits and face an arduous and often painful journey to get to Wellington".
"A range of organisations had wanted the health select committee to travel to the major centres, so that those disabled patients would have less of an effort, both physically and financially, to say their piece on medical cannabis.
"It is now an impossible task for some patients to have their say, while there is the option of phoning in a submission, patients wish to front up and look the MPs in the eye," Le Brun said.
"Essentially the people with most at stake, have their democratic rights severely degraded by the refusal of the select committee to travel. They held hearings on alcohol reform in the regions, why not Medical Cannabis?"
Of the almost 2000 submissions, 22 per cent were from Auckland, 12 per cent were from Canterbury, and 20 per cent were from Wellington.
Early onset multiple sclerosis patient Campbell Patterson lives in Hamilton, and said it was impossible for him to travel to Wellington.
"Most of the time I am wheelchair bound, I was looking forward to the opportunity to speak, as we had hoped that we could be heard in Auckland."
Travel to Wellington was unfeasible for Patterson, and many others, with his disabilities, he said.
"I really hope that the health select committee would reconsider at least arranging for hearings in Auckland.
"It's wrong to expect us all to come to Wellington at personal expense, while they are able-bodied with a budget to boot and could easily run a day in Auckland."
Wall said given the timeframes around the bill, the committee could not justify the travel for the amount of time it would listen to submissions in each centre.
People would be able to phone in, or allow one of the interest groups - like Medical Cannabis Awareness NZ - to speak on their behalf, during their allotted 15-minute slot.
"We're not doing this to exclude people. We want as many people t participate as possible," she said.