Here’s what the Bill will do:
- The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill will enable cannabis-based products to be manufactured under licence in New Zealand, and sold in pharmacies, and sets standards they must meet. This is expected to take two years to set up. Details remain unclear;
- In the mean time, the Bill creates a statutory defence for terminally ill patients to possess and use illicit cannabis and to possess a cannabis utensil;
- Cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD products will no longer be classed as controlled drugs.
It is great that the Government recognises a compassionate approach to terminally ill patients is needed, and full credit to them for that. But what about non-terminal patients? Labour campaigned to “legalise medicinal cannabis” for people with terminal conditions or in chronic pain – so why can’t the Government now show that amnesty to everyone who has a doctor recommend cannabis?
There will be no legal way for terminal patients to obtain their medicine, and without a patient register the cops could still take a terminal person’s meds. They just couldn’t convict them. While many terminally ill patients will benefit from the proposed legal defence, it still exposes them to arrest and prosecution, and gives no protection to their providers, who are often family members. The 12-month limit also seems arbitrary.
Removing the ban on domestic production is also a potential game changer. Cannabis meds made in NZ are likely to be cheaper, but this is not certain, and will take several years. Will it be a corporate pharmaceutical-style scheme like Australia is getting, which has not yet benefited patients, or a more compassionate regime that allows small-scale production and allows patients to produce our own medicine?
Current pharma-grade cannabis products are ten times the cost of illicit cannabis, which is itself ten times the cost of growing your own. If we are serious about affordability we should also allow self-provision of natural forms of cannabis, which is common overseas.
Many patients using cannabis medicinally do not smoke it, but prefer to vape or use balms, tinctures, juices or smoothies. These should all be allowed as homegrown herbal remedies.
Such an approach would be possible under the Green Party medicinal cannabis Bill, which better provides for patient access. Certainly it is more closely alinged to NORML’s four-point model for good medicinal cannabis law reform:
- Patient focused: safe affordable access to botanical cannabis;
- Immediate effect(not just a long-term development pathway);
- Domestic production: via licenced providers, including small scale providers (families & individuals);
- Self provision: choice to grow/make your own herbal remedy.
Both Bills are now before the House. The Government Bill will be whipped and is sure to pass – we will have an opportunity to improve it during the select committee process.
The Greens’ Bill, now in the name of drug policy spokesperson Chloe Swarbrick, will be a conscience vote. Not all Labour or NZ First MPs will vote for it. But National may allow enough of their MPs to vote for it to pass at least the first reading, where it could join the Government Bill before the Health Select Committee.
After being excluded from the policy making process to date, patients and providers should be represented on the proposed Advisory Committee.
At the forefront of our minds as we assess the two Bills and seek ways to improve them is to ask: What would Helen Kelly do? I think she would say we have to push for more.