Medical cannabis related legislation tabled in New Zealand’s Parliament on Wednesday may not be ideal, but it’s a start.
Health Minister Dr David Clark introduced the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill, which seeks to implement a scheme to enable access to cannabis medicines via prescription and remove cannabidiol (CBD) from the nation’s schedule of controlled drugs.
Additionally, it provides a statutory defence for terminally ill patients to possess and use cannabis sourced via illicit channels.
“Many New Zealanders will have watched a loved one struggling with a terminal illness. Medicinal cannabis gives them another option to find relief and make the most of the time left to them,” stated Minister Clark. “New Zealanders are a compassionate people. Medicinal cannabis products can help ease suffering and we should make it easier for people to get them.”
Ahead of the legislation’s introduction, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was confident it will pass muster.
“What we will be producing is what will have enough support in the house to pass,” said Ms. Ardern. NZ Labour was brought to power in part due to Ms. Ardern’s stance on medical marijuana.
The Green Party welcomed the Bill – but wants more to be done.
“We will vote to improve access to medicinal cannabis, but we are disappointed the Bill does not provide coverage to all people suffering from conditions who could benefit from its use, limiting access to a legal defence to only those with a terminal illness,” stated Green Party drug law reform spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick.
The party is urging the public to use the select committee process to push for improvements to expand the law.
The NZ Drug Foundation also welcomed the proposed legislation, but expressed concerns about how long it will take to implement the associated program, which could be up to two years.
“We need a better stop-gap measure than the bill currently provides,” said Ross Bell, Drug Foundation Executive Director.
The Foundation also wants medical cannabis patients to be part of the advisory committee overseeing the scheme and disagrees that the statutory defence element will only apply to patients in the final year of their life.
“A one year window simply does not go far enough to cover people with chronic pain and any terminal illness and needs to be reconsidered by the select committee,” said Mr. Bell.