A smart approach to the cannabis referendum, and medicinal cannabis


The ongoing controversy over edibles shows a smart approach is needed for the cannabis referendum and for medicinal cannabis.

We need a well-funded public education campaign ahead of the cannabis referendum, and a model based on social equity, social retail enterprises and social clubs.

It’s important the public can base their vote on clear factual information, not hysteria about evil gummy bears spread by the likes of Family First.

The government needs to start spending some of the $13.4 million set aside for the referendum in the Budget on a public education campaign.

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It doesn’t need to take sides, but it does need to promote factual discourse with the likes of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Officer.

In a recent blog post, I said that a model based on social equity, social enterprises and social clubs could be what it takes to win the cannabis referendum.

We need a rational nationwide discussion over what what policy would best resolve the most concerns, be the most broadly supported, and would have the best chance of passing.

Banning gummy bears seems like a no-brainer. Let’s move on.

Public consultation on the Government’s medicinal cannabis scheme is expected to begin today.

The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Act was passed into law last December. It:

•    creates a statutory defence for palliative care patients to obtain, possess and use illicit cannabis and cannabis utensils;
•    allows any GP to prescribe CBD Products;
•    allows new standards to be set for domestic cultivation and manufacture of medicinal cannabis products;
•    directs regulations be “recommended” within 12 months (ie, by this December), and a review of the scheme in two years.

The consultation document proposes several options and asks for feedback. Newshub is claiming an exclusive, with some details of the scheme.

How to assess what they’re proposing?

Existing products are too expensive, difficult to prescribe, and changes are taking too long for patients who are suffering.

So, we need to support ways to make products more affordable, easier to prescribe and dispense, and make it happen as soon as possible. We should assess what is proposed against these outcomes.

Here are some ways to lower costs and increase affordability for patients:

  • Allow “near-pharma” products, also known as GPP, in addition to the existing pharmaceutical-grade (GMP) medicines;
  • Don’t require clinical trials to prove efficacy, on the basis cannabis is a traditional remedy with established use. However, trials could still be required if claims are made.
  • Promote local production and exports to produce at large scale.
  • Encourage innovative artisanal and craft producers not just large corporates

The existing process requires highly trained doctors to ask politicians for approval; prevents communications with doctors about products that haven’t gone through clinical trials and the full approval process; and puts several barriers in the way of manufacturing and distributing medicinal cannabis products in New Zealand.

There must be changes to the prescription process.

Should any GP be allowed to prescribe any cannabis product, or should a specialist be required for some product forms, dosages or conditions?

Similarly, could a nurse or other trained medical professional dispense certain product forms or dosages or for certain conditions?

There should also be an exemption for all medicinal cannabis products authorised under the scheme so they can be discussed with prescribers.

Doctors are desperate for product information and clinical guidance, and current rules greatly inhibit this.

One in twenty New Zealanders currently uses cannabis for medicinal reasons. Only a few hundred have managed to obtain legal prescriptions. Many others are running out of time or are left in constant pain and suffering.

We successfully lobbied for the medicinal cannabis scheme to be implemented within 12 months of the law passing.

This will apparently be a world record for implementing such a scheme, but for many New Zealanders every day without relief is another day in pain and suffering.

The medicinal cannabis scheme can’t come quickly enough.


Chris Fowlie is the CEO of Zeacann Limited, a medicinal cannabis producer; serves on the executive of the New Zealand Medical Cannabis Council; is president of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws NZ Inc; co-founder of The Hempstore Aotearoa; resident expert for Marijuana Media on 95bFM; blogger for The Daily Blog, and court-recognised independent expert witness for cannabis. The opinions expressed here are his own.


  1. The Drug War was stupid in the 1920s. It’s even stupider in the 2020’s when we know better.

    The Drug War won’t end until either Europe as a whole, or the US legalize marijuana, until then, we’ll be force the rest of the world to keep medicinal.

    Asia will probably not reform for a long bloody time, even after the west does, because they love their capital punishment of drug dealers, and China is still traumatized from that time the British introduced them to “free” trade.

      • As a non-smoker there is only one reason to legalize weed:

        There isn’t a reason to keep its illegal status.

        As a prescription medicine is just a secondary benefit to the scores of people dying from synthetics.

        Legalizing weed is just a desperate attempt for us to get the cheap chemicals out of the system.

        • Colombia & Thailand can produce high-quality cured medical cannabis flower at a COGS of 5 US cents per gram. This is a tiny fraction of the cost of producing medical cannabis Down Under.

          It is a waste of New Zealand’s limited funds to invest in developing a domestic industry that will, inevitably, be out-competed by higher-quality, lower-cost foreign imports.

          New Zealand should, instead, focus its investment on the microbial biosynthesis of cannabinoids. This would leverage New Zealand’s educated workforce and industrial infrastructure. (Note that this microbial biosynthesis produces exactly the same cannabinoids found naturally in the cannabis plant, NOT the deadly ‘synthetic cannabinoids” that are never found in nature, which can be deadly. See Ginkgo Bioworks and Demetrix, among others, for more information.)

        • Well I think the marijuana debate needs a certain kind of honesty. So I think it would be better if we spent a day or two so that people got comfortable with legalizing weed. AND then they say okay now tell me what cannabinoids is again. Instead of focusing on chemistry and the medical industry we’d actually be seeding marijuana visually. Y’know maybe we should just take some time to understand all of the tripey pictures.

          So visually I’m saying marijuana is better than synthetics but synthetics is better than jail. Then of course marijuana will land you in jail. Eventually society goes around and around so hard we now end up at a point where marijuana is better than marijuana.

          But there’s no way (in my understanding) to linguistically understand legalizing weed because all the stuff that’s being said is this PHD levels of jargon. Or let me tell you what marijuana is on a cellular level.

          Meanwhile there’s this silent majority, probably only 10%-20% of people are truley wanting to legalize weed and there’s this vast majority just trying to figure out what the tripey pictures are, and there’s a reason it’s confusing them because legalizing weed doesn’t make any sense to the silent majority. So, Y’know. In this instance marijuana is better than marijuana.

  2. How can one have an open and fair debate about legalising marijuana when everyone who publicly says it should be legal is immediately assumed to be using it, thereby putting a bullseye on their back for the police and their employer, especially if it doesn’t actually get legalised in the end.

  3. Yes the folks who use it should be the folks growing it for their own use, that why it wont be doctored up with chemicals and “additives” added bye big Farma.
    Heres a clue for the unlearned,
    Mari wanna is a weed and needs to grow like one, no agricultural chemicals required, shove that in yer pipe and smoke it Monsanto

  4. Medicinal Marijuana under GP prescription is a no brainer to me.
    I also support recreational use (despite never having used the stuff) provided the appropriate controls are in place.
    My two biggest concerns are:

    1. Ensuring testing alongside alcohol for drivers.
    2. Keeping it out of the hands of under 25s as there seems to be strong evidence that it has severely detrimental effects on developing brains.

    Do I trust either party to put the necessary controls? Not bloody likely but I think it is still better to legalize it than not.

    For me, this is the same as prostitution . It doesn’t matter whether or not I like prostitution as a concept. The fact is it will happen regardless of legality so better to legalize it and try to mitigatell some of the negative effects.

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