New Zealand’s 100 Day Action Plan on Medical Cannabis - What Does It Mean For Me?
Unlike the often turgid and piecemeal approach to medicinal marijuana legislation in other countries, regulators in New Zealand have displayed comparative speed and foresight.
Following a loosening of regulations in September last year, doctors in the country no longer need the
official stamp of approval from the Ministry of Health for prescribing products with CBD. As a quick recap, CBD, or cannabidiol, is the chemical where the therapeutic benefits of the cannabis plant lie, and contains little or no psychoactive properties. That is, no high. CBD is considered a class B1 controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, but GPs and specialists can prescribe medical cannabis (not dry leaf products, just to be clear) for any condition they deem appropriate, with a maximum of 3 months’ supply on prescription. Those medical practitioners and pharmacies are allowed to import CBD products, but no such luck for individual patients wanting to bring in their own product from overseas. So be careful and go through official channels such as Cannabis Access Clinics!
Now, there is a headline in big letters on the MOH website stating, “Medicinal Cannabis: 100 day action”. How will that change things? It states that the Government has a 100-day commitment to introduce legislation to enable access to medicinal cannabis for people with a terminal illness or chronic pain. Sounds great, but isn’t that what we have already?
Not quite. The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill loosens the reins one step further, by proposing three clear things:
- Remove criminal liability for “terminally ill people to possess and use illicit cannabis”. In other words, they don’t need a prescription. This sounds good in theory, but there are 2 catches. The first carries criminal risk for the family or friends who may be sourcing the CBD for the patient. They will not be offered the same legal protection. The second catch is that, while terminally ill patients wouldn’t have to go through a doctor to get their cannabis, it does leave them at the risk of accessing “bad” product that may not benefit them, or in the worst case scenario, harms them. Which is where the second proposal in the Bill comes in...
- Quality control! The introduction of regulations for a “medicinal cannabis scheme that enables access to products made to a quality standard in a timely way”, either made in New Zealand, or imported.
- Remove CBD from the controlled drug list. This will help streamline the CBD supply chain.
As with any proposals, there are arguments for and against the Amendment Bill. For example, on the more lenient side, patient advocate groups say the proposed protection for the terminally ill should be extended to a wider array of conditions. This becomes a grey area.
On the stricter side, objections generally focus on “losing control” of the medicinal market - ie: leakage of cultivation and product into the recreational sector.
Bottomline, patients have enough to worry about without also worrying about the quality and efficacy of their medicinal cannabis product, and medical practitioners should also have confidence that what they are prescribing is of the highest available quality and reliable supply.