New Zealand’s Associate Health Minister has announced all decision-making for the prescribing of cannabis-based products in the country will be delegated to the Ministry of Health.
Up until now, the buck has stopped with Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne. He states he has approved every application that landed on his desk – but first these applications had to get there, and that’s been part of the complexity in New Zealand.
“Last week I wrote to the Director-General of Health, advising him that as of 8 February 2017, applications from specialists to the Ministry to prescribe non-pharmaceutical cannabis-based products will no longer need Ministerial approval,” he said.
“It is my intention to write (this week) to the New Zealand Medical Association and the Pharmacy Society of New Zealand outlining my decision and my ongoing expectation that medical professionals consider the prescribing of cannabis-based products with an open mind.”
Mr. Dunne says he will also include a list of cannabis-based products that are internationally available and are either pharmaceutical grade or Good Manufacturing Practice certified.
While the decision will speed up application processes somewhat and has been called a small but positive step, many challenges remain for those seeking cannabis based medicines.
“With the advice and support of their doctor, New Zealanders should be able to access medical cannabis as easily and as cheaply as they do any other prescription drug – the announcement today doesn’t allow that to happen,” said Green Party health spokesperson Julie Anne Genter.
Campaigner Rose Renton also saw the decision as a positive announcement, but said wait times would still be too long and the government needed to be educated that whole plant remedies provide the most benefit, not pharmaceuticals.
In New Zealand, cannabis-based products are considered those containing extracts of the cannabis plant. The New Zealand government does not support the medicinal use of unprocessed or partially processed cannabis leaf or flowers. However, that hasn’t stopped some patients bring medical marijuana through customs via a legal loophole; but it’s a costly and time-consuming strategy.
Medicinal cannabis is strongly supported by New Zealanders. A poll carried out last year indicated 72 percent of respondents would support a program and another survey carried out a few months later had similar results.