The New Zealand Medical Cannabis Council claims the country’s government scheme is being undermined by unregulated medical cannabis imports.
The NZMCC says some medical practitioners are importing products and selling directly to patients, taking advantage of a loophole in Section 25 of NZ’s Medicines Act.
That section provides an exemption allowing all authorised prescribers to “procure the supply of any medicine”; including approved and unapproved medicines. Among other things, it allows an authorised prescriber to obtain a medicine by direct importation.
The Council claims currently there is less regulatory oversight of Section 25 imports than vitamins sold in supermarkets.
While benefiting patients through lower cost products being available, the situation is impacting on the viability of local producers and distributors who cannot compete on price at this point. Among some of NZMCC’s other concerns is that some of these imported products are of “unknown quality and consistency”.
“The Ministry of Health doesn’t seem to be able to do much about doctors circumventing the Scheme,” said Manu Caddie, Chair of the NZMCC. “Unlicensed sellers of other cannabis products are really a matter for the Police; but they probably regard it as a low priority compared to more serious crime”.
One of the solutions offered by NZMCC is the descheduling or regulating lower dose CBD via Natural Health Products legislation that it says will increase access and lower prices.
“The Ministry would also greatly improve oversight and better protect patients,” said Mr. Caddie.
Under New Zealand’s Medicinal Cannabis Scheme, compliance requirements and the costs that result from pharmaceutical-grade GMP manufacturing are putting local producers at a disadvantage. NZMCC says to make local and legally prescribed products more accessible, ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation) or WINZ (Work and Income New Zealand) could automatically approve funding to subsidise medicines.
Just four claims for prescription medical cannabis have been successful in securing ACC subsidy since last year, and over the last 5 years the majority of claims have involved a complex appeal and independent review process.
The New Zealand Medical Cannabis Council is an industry association representing approximately 30 licensed companies.