Blending the bills – how NZ could get the world’s best medicinal cannabis law


MPs head back to Parliament this week, with the Government’s medicinal cannabis bill high on the agenda, and another medicinal cannabis bill from the National opposition simmering in the pot. So what is the path forward, and how can New Zealand get the world’s best medicinal cannabis law?

Back in January of this year, National MPs block voted against the Green Party bill that would have legalised medicinal cannabis and let patients grow their own or obtain it from pharmacies. They told Parliament they would instead work with Labour to make their bill better, and both Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister David Clark gave clear signals to parliament that amendments would be welcome. In defending the relative conservatism of their bill, Labour pointed the finger at New Zealand First, claiming it was all they could get agreement on.

The intent of the bill was widely supported, but it was criticised for providing immediate relief only for terminal patients, and for not protecting their family or caregivers. Cannabis is already used medicinally by one in twenty New Zealanders, and aware making it legal was supported by 89 per cent of respondents in a recent poll by the New Zealand Drug Foundation.

Labour and National each have four MPs on the health select committee. They heard testimony from hundreds of patients and dozens of experts. Although the committee was unable to reach consensus, the bill will proceed with some important changes:

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  • All non-psychoactive cannabinoids will be de-scheduled, potentially broadening the variety of products that can be more easily obtained by patients;
  • Limited communications will be allowed with health practitioners about non-consented medicinal cannabis products;
  • Crucially, the bill will now change the licencing provisions to allow commercial production, although it also now bizarrely prohibits non-commercial production of medicinal cannabis;

The committee’s report confirms regulations will allow non-pharmaceutical product standards, with an exemption from expensive multi-year clinical trials to prove efficacy for this traditional herb. This puts us on a par with the rest of the world and will greatly reduce costs and the time to get products to market.

While these changes are welcome – and the Government has the numbers to pass them – they don’t go far enough. It remains unclear what local production of medicinal cannabis products will look like, because the bill leaves that up to regulations that are yet to be developed.

National want more detail in the bill, but instead of working with Labour, National has crafted its own. The 33-page bill from Shane Reti, Whangarei MP and deputy of the health committee, would create a different scheme. ID Cards would be issued by doctors for patients to obtain medicinal cannabis products from pharmacies.

It’s close to what they do in Europe and North America. It also represents a sea change moment. National has never – ever – promoted any form of cannabis law reform other than ratcheting up prohibition.

National and Shane Reti should be commended for developing their model in such detail – although they have rightly been criticised for not working to make the Government bill better during the committee process.

In contrast to the Government bill, National’s bill won’t allow what they call “loose leaf” cannabis, and they Just Say No to a temporary compassionate exemption for the terminally ill.

In addition, while Reti’s bill would streamline the dispensing process, their ‘pharma-lite’ approach would not change the availability of products that can be prescribed. Clearly this has not worked out: there are very few products available and they are prohibitively expensive.

We need different rules, so medicinal cannabis products are more accessible and affordable. That’s what the Government is trying to do, but whatever the merits of their approach the Government has been left looking slow and unimaginative. David Clark has been criticised for being led by officials and not putting the work in. There has been little stakeholder engagement so far. And they’ve opened room for National to seize the advantage.

With Parliament due to vote on the Government bill in September, MPs now have an opportunity to regain the initiative and the confidence of patients. Some are working out what to do now – and appear open to suggestions.

There are good parts to both bills – and they’re not incompatible.

Here’s how MPs could take the best of both bills and make a medicinal cannabis scheme that puts patients before politics – in ten steps.

  1. Get on with it. Pass reforms with a sense of urgency. This is, literally, a matter of life and death.
  2. Show compassion. Provide an exemption for “severe and debilitating” conditions, consistent with existing non-pharma prescribing. Let patients who qualify provide for themselves or obtain it from licenced producers (as in Canada).
  3. Streamline the front end. Use National’s Patient ID Card approach to simplify the dispensing process. It will reduce prescriber reluctance while still retaining patient oversight through the pharmacy system.
  4. Regulate the back end. Get cheaper products quickly to market with Labour’s regulation-based approach for product standards. These should include whole plant extracts and be available in a range of dosages and delivery methods including pharmaceuticals and herbal remedies.
  5. Keep it green. Production should be sustainable and include those previously disadvantaged by previous policies. Investigate ways to avoid animal testing.
  6. Make it affordable. Recognising many patients are financially challenged, investigate ways to make access more affordable, including subsidies through Pharmac.
  7. A level playing field. Kiwi producers should be able to incorporate local genetics (including from hemp), just like they did in Europe, Israel, Canada and US states.
  8. Promote jobs and regional growth opportunities. Encourage exports to allow local producers to reach the scale needed to lower costs for patients.
  9. Learn as we go. Support ways to increase knowledge of medicinal cannabis, cannabinoids, the ECS, and available cannabis products, including unconsented products. Form a standing committee of patients, prescribers, producers and officials to promote regular updates to regulations, and review the entire scheme in 5 years.
  10. Do it right. Properly resource the Ministry of Health to enable these reforms and empower them to work to targets based on patient need. Bring in international expertise and properly engage with stakeholders throughout this process.

This isn’t rocket science, and we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. To get a good medicinal cannabis law, we just need to focus on patients.   


Chris Fowlie is the CEO of PharmaCann New Zealand, a medicinal cannabis producer, and president of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws NZ Inc, co-founder of The Hempstore Aotearoa, co-host of Marijuana Media on 95bFM, and court-recognised expert witness for cannabis.



  1. The Natz wont give up on The big Pharma schemes to enrich themselves, thats the mistake, Total legalization is the ticket including the B class oils, which are where the real health benefits come from, Google yourself for the patent US20130059018 or look here:
    Dont be fooled bye the government and the pharma industries anyone can make this at home without chemicals, theres vids on utube, its proven to kill cancer and treat many other sickness and disease,s. They just wanna keep locking folks up for smoking pot, which has Never killed anyone, unlike the pills they push endlessly. Dont except any compromise read for your self’s info online, education is the key not more Prohibition, which has never worked on anything.
    Watch the doco Running from the Cure on U tube. Everyone who has every died from cancer might have been saved with ingested oil, just think about that for a minute, think about the chemicals in every thing that replaced Marijuana, a terrible crime against humanity has been committed here, whole generations have been criminalized by this shit law and many more poisoned by its replacements and it must end.
    Think about what will happen to you when you get cancer, which i woundnt even wish on those fuks.
    Save yourself, Save the future generations, Save the planet, stand up and tell any government that trys to ban this again if you do, its your last term.
    Id like to see them all, Ministers, Police and Chemical Companys prosecuted for their crimes and for 50 years of bullshit propaganda, but they are so vast it beggers be-leaf, and so corrupt it numbs the brain. Mass Murder bye poisoning, Mass False Imprisonment, Crimes against humanity the list goes on.

    • repeat after me, Fuck 1080, possums are tasty, dont forget they eat pot as well are are easy to catch when they are wasted, just like the rest of us i suppose.

  2. Just having the debate demonstrates the stupidity of it all. Arguing against laws based on corruption and fake news. Its been proven that all the stories to generate fear were manufactured.
    Large scale research, the LaGuardia Report and Marijuana Papers were burnt and dismissed, now we have have a planet that’s fucked because of this scam by the powerful to enrich themselves and still waste of space polys sit about and debate known bullshit. We should be working out how to hold the corrupt bunch to account for the destruction they have wrought.

  3. Personally I support full legalization for recreational use despite never having touched the stuff provided they put in place safeguards as there are for alcohol (i.e. breath testing etc).
    However I don’t put it past any of them to stuff it up like they did with prostitution where the women are free to ply their trade where children can see.

    • that brings up a whole nother can of worms Jay, our girls being prostituted
      by the rich to indulge their sick fantasies just to feed their kids anit nuthin to be proud of, and has nuthin to do with freedom of choice and availability of homeopathic medicines and everything to do with welfare underpayments and poverty

      • Not every public ill can or should be fixed with money Rick.
        The truth is that some people will end up in that position regardless of what is done for them.
        However, to my original point – prostitution is far better legalized where the opportunity for harm to the sex workers is reduced as it is not driven into the murky underground of organised crime.
        The same can be said for legalizing cannabis IMO.

        • What’s really interesting is to compare countries like Aotearoa, where sex work is legal, with countries where it isn’t. I haven’t collective statistics, but I’ve had a lot of discussions with people who have done sex work in both the US and NZ, and there are so many ways both the sex workers and the johns are safer under the legalized model.

          > “However I don’t put it past any of them to stuff it up like they did with prostitution where the women are free to ply their trade where children can see.”

          It seems obvious to me that sex workers are safer working out of their own premises than on the street. You’ll find that the majority of street walkers live on the streets, so technically they are working from home 🙁 They are working, so in theory they ought to be able to afford rent. My guess is that they face discrimination from landlords who know what they do for a living, and refuse to rent to them (I know people who have experienced this).

          As you say, money is not always the fix. But maybe these people (not always “girls”) would have it easier if rental property were owned by a wider range of people, not just an elite of prudes, or if it was easier for freelance workers to rent-to-buy.

  4. So true Chris Fowlie, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel to get a great law happening for medicalisation and then legalisation. Plus hemp production ramped up to take over from the plastic and cotton etc. Finally, we may get what we need.

  5. I’ve always regarded the pot politicians with the same hairy eyeball that anyone with a whit of commonsense considers any competitor in the let’s find the worst sociopath contest, aka an election.
    In my own case it was back in the days of the Kirk government, when I discovered that Joe Walding was the major shareholder in the company who had the contract for selling lamb to the USSR. We were all stoked that a labour administration had found a minister who the farmers rated higher than the usual federated farmers alumni the Natz always picked. Even better he developed a new market in an allegedly socialist state. Then it transpired that A) Walding’s act was up there in the Duncan McIntyre stakes for perfidy & petty corruption and B) even worse, Norm musta known about it and yet he did nothing.

    Anyway when the pot pols began their mumbling about pot and epilepsy, I consigned that claim to the same mental refuse bin where all statements by the vote seducers belong, that was despite the fact that my youngest bloke who had already been stuck behind the 8 ball with an ‘on the spectrum learning disabilty’ label, began having tonic-clonic seizures (used to be called grand mal) in his final year of high school. If anything the claims by the pot pols angered me because now they were messing with something personal I felt strongly about. Big seizures are no joke and apart from the fact they can kill of their own accord, they also cause the person fitting to drop like a stone no matter where they are, most often hitting their head. My young bloke always seemed to be carrying scars and bruises on his face which is not conducive to a 17 year old bloke who wants to be like other 17 yo blokes and appear as attractive as possible to 17 yo females.

    We saw a quack who offered medication which failed on 2 fronts 1) all medications seemed to be addictive and 2) they frequently didn’t work, the youngfella still had massive seizures a few times a month.
    When I checked out the state of play vis a vis epilepsy research I saw that the last reliably effective meds were Sodium Valproate first discovered in 1881.
    There are many issues associated with this valproate stuff not least of which is fetal abnormality, but for me the kicker was that whilst it did (mostly) stop his seizures, my young bloke who already struggled cognitively was reduced to a walking zombie by the muck.
    When he came to me talking about a tv news item a family member had made extolling the virtues of pot for treating epilepsy I was skeptical and rebuffed him, not least of all because at that point he was the only family member going back generations who hadn’t spent their teenage outta their tree. Eventually I relented after his godfather offered to get us a whack of local hash oil. Since that time more than 4 years ago, this youngfella has had one fit and that was right at commencement of his ‘treatment’. Before pot he was having more than 20 a year.
    I’m more surprised than anyone since afaik, pot isn’t even recommended for his type of epilepsy, but I’m not gonna argue about it now, it works and works at minuscule doses which do not appear to effect his cognition.
    Such anecdotal evidence is useless of course. Useless except for one thing, that is it shouldn’t matter how many wowsers or wannabe pols (e.g.Noel Holmes the old Auckland star columnist who IMO is responsible for the deaths of myriad young kiwis when after he won pre-selection from the Natz for a North Shore seat, he campaigned and won support for a bill which prohibited Injecting Drug Users from obtaining syringes – yet another example of pols damaging those who they claim to be acting for), none of this is any business of anyone outside of the person wanting to consume whatever substance. People choose what THEY want – all outsiders should do is help make that choice informed.
    The people least qualified to make such calls are the lowlifes who of their own volition have decided to reduce everything to some stark black & white issue communicated as emotively as possible. aka politicians and their sleazebag enablers.

    • we need more real opinions and storys like yours out there, like the old guy in his nintys down the road, who sparks up to releave pain for his busted bones, he says “im over 90 what they gonna do”, i just think of all the folks ive known and loved over the years who died of cancer, it makes me real mad cause ive seen how effective the oil is in treating it. Cuts off the blood supply to tumors, then wipes them out.
      but as a country we cant admit that all these years of prejudice and propaganda have been a complete waste of lives

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