The Government’s Medicinal Cannabis bill is set to pass its final reading on Tuesday afternoon – a momentous and complicated day for medicinal cannabis patients.
“This is a historic day. From Helen Kelly onward, brave people coming forward and sharing their stories around medicinal cannabis have provoked a law change. Compassion is winning,” said Rebecca Reider, a medicinal cannabis patient and NORML NZ board member. “Let’s celebrate.”
“However, a lot of us also have mixed feelings at the moment. New Zealand is catching up with the rest of the world, but this new law has only delivered part of what we hoped for,” Reider said.
The new law will make prescribing cannabidiol (CBD) more straightforward, and mandates the regulations for a medicinal cannabis scheme to be set within 12 months, including access to local genetics. Until then, some patients will be given a legal defence against charges of procuring, possessing or using cannabis.
As soon as the Medicinal Cannabis Amendment Bill becomes law, dying people who use medicinal cannabis will have a defence in court. But other patients will still be subject to prosecution until the national medicinal cannabis scheme comes online – the details of which are still unclear.
“The legal defence should cover more patients, but it is good that an estimated 25,000 patients will be immediately protected,” said Chris Fowlie, president of NORML New Zealand Inc.
“Allowing varieties that are already established in New Zealand will help support a thriving Kiwi cannabis industry, with a role for genuine breeders and pioneers,” added Mr Fowlie.
One of the biggest disappointments of the Government bill, for many medicinal cannabis advocates, is the ongoing ban on home growing by patients.
“Home cultivation is legal for all medicinal cannabis patients in Canada, as well as the majority of patients in US medicinal cannabis states,” said Reider. “Why are New Zealand’s MPs being so timid? This Government is willing to let big companies grow cannabis for us, but won’t let us continue to do it for ourselves and each other. This is upsetting for many patients, as chronically ill people often don’t have spare cash to buy commercial cannabis.”
Many medicinal cannabis users will be watching the upcoming cannabis referendum process with hope. “New Zealanders on the whole have much more relaxed attitudes about cannabis than our MPs do,” Reider said. “So we hope that in the referendum our fellow citizens will grant everyone the simple right to grow and possess this helpful plant.”