Does the New Zealand Medical Marijuana Bill Fall Short?

At Medicine Man Technologies, we applaud any legislation advancing marijuana legalization. But, does the recent New Zealand medical marijuana bill fall short? In late December of 2017, federal lawmakers introduced the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act. While the proposed bill is certainly a step forward, there are a number of areas that have been criticized.

If passed, New Zealand will build a framework for domestic cultivation, manufacturing, and dispensing of medical marijuana via pharmacies. This includes establishing an advisory board that would develop and implement rules for product quality and patient safety. Medical practitioners will also be better educated on prescribing cannabis to patients in need. As for those suffering from terminal illnesses, it will no longer be illegal if the patient, “procures, possesses, consumes, smokes, or otherwise uses any plant or plant material of the genus Cannabis, any cannabis preparation, or any cannabis fruit or seed.”

Limitations of the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act

While this might sound good and even parallel the legal medical marijuana efforts in other countries, including the United States, there are points of contention. And this has many people wondering if the New Zealand medical marijuana bill goes far enough to address the medical needs of every citizen.

The most glaring of its shortcomings, the medical marijuana bill would only protect those patients with a terminal illness. Similar programs around the world typically apply to a wide variety of ailments, from Alzheimer’s to PTSD, chronic pain, anxiety disorders, cancer, HIV/AIDS and epilepsy. New Zealanders living with these conditions will be forced to continue using unreliable black-market suppliers or covertly growing cannabis at home, putting themselves at risk for legal prosecution.

Timing is another issue that will need to be addressed. Currently, the government has been upfront in regard to just how long it will take to develop the required infrastructure. They’re indicating that a fully operational scheme will take up to 2 years to develop. Even then, medical cannabis products will need to be imported until New Zealand’s cultivators are able to produce their own crops. Not only does this present price concerns down the road, but leaves currently terminal patients in the lurch.

To combat the timing issue, the government plans to provide a legal grace period for medical marijuana possession. According to the country’s Health Minister, David Clark, “There will be people who can’t wait. As an interim measure, the legislation will create a legal defense for possession and use of illicit cannabis for people who are expected by their doctors to be in their last year of life. This does not make it legal for the terminally ill to use cannabis, but it means that they will not be criminalized for doing so.”

The Fight for Bill Improvements is Far from Over

Many see the New Zealand medical marijuana bill as a big step in the right direction, despite its current limitations. With no further debate occurring since its introduction or timeline for a vote, advocates and proponents feel there is still a possibility that lawmakers may expand the language to include patients living with other medical issues that could be alleviated through the use of cannabis.

In related news, legalization of recreational cannabis may also be on the horizon. After a special general meeting and agreement between the country’s Green and Labour parties, New Zealand plans to hold a public referendum in the next three years, possibly sooner. Legalization even has the support of Prime Minister, Jacinda Arden, who just took office in October of 2017.

It’s possible that with so much activity surrounding both medical and recreational cannabis, a national conversation could lead to more broad-reaching laws as things unfold in the coming years. You can rely on our team at Medicine Man Technologies to provide updates on the progress of New Zealand medical marijuana as the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act moves forward.

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