News that the Government’s books are better off, to the tune of several billion dollars, means access to medicinal cannabis can now be made quicker.
Labour promised it would introduce legislation to make medicinal cannabis legal within their first 100 days of forming a government. They did that – successfully! – but then took their foot off the gas.
Patients have been left wondering what is happening and why, almost a year later, they are still waiting for improved access.
It all comes down to resourcing.
There was nothing in this year’s budget for advancing medicinal cannabis – surprising given it was one of only two health-related lines in the Coalition agreement – and that’s meant officials have had to advance the bill within existing resource constraints.
Every time there is a change or amendment, no matter how small, the process starts again. Within existing resource constraints.
When the Health committee reported back in July, the medicinal cannabis bill was expected to be law by November. Now, having apparently agreed to some changes, it’s due to become law next March. Those pesky resource constraints again.
This is simply not good enough.
Not good enough for the patients who are suffering – especially those terminal patients who will not survive to see this Bill become law.
Not good enough for the local industry, which needs to immediately start producing at the scale needed to compete internationally and bring down prices so we can make a meaningful difference to New Zealand patients.
And not good enough for a Government sitting on billions of dollars in surplus while officials struggle to complete their workload.
This could all be fixed, this side of Christmas, by allocating a very small portion of that multi-billion dollar surplus.
While throwing a hundred people at it still wouldn’t make the scheme ready overnight, just a few strategic hires could be all we need.
I’d go for someone who has implemented similar schemes overseas, and a few experienced consultants to rapidly bridge knowledge gaps and provide regulators, policy makers and MPs assurance their scheme will deliver the benefits New Zealanders expect.
Chris Fowlie is the CEO of Zeacann Limited, a medicinal cannabis producer; co-founder of the New Zealand Medical Cannabis Council; 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.