On December 11, 2018, nearly a year after it was first introduced, New Zealand’s Parliament passed the Misuse of Drugs (Medical Cannabis) Amendment Bill on its third and final reading. With a vote of 63 in favor and 53 against, the bill was backed by the Labour, New Zealand First and Green Party. It received royal assent and became an official Act on December 18.
Chloe Swarbrick, Green Party drug law reform spokesperson, had this to say about the passed bill, “This is a huge day for New Zealanders in pain and suffering who’ve been denied the only medicine that works for them. Too many New Zealanders are going into debt to access expensive big pharma products, or being turned into criminals in having to access an unregulated black market for cannabis.”
Welcome Changes to the Original Draft
Here at Medicine Man Technologies, we have been watching New Zealand’s progress since the bill was announced last year. We’re pleased to see that changes have been made to alleviate certain limitations regarding patient access and the timeline for implementation.
While the original bill only provided medical cannabis for terminally ill patients expected to live less than a year, the final legislation gives access to patients requiring palliation. The goal is to “alleviate pain and suffering for a person with an advanced progressive life limiting condition, who is nearing end of life.”
In addition, there will be “an exception and statutory defence” for patients who possess and use illicit cannabis. This will enable people who have or acquire a doctor’s certificate to be fully protected from prosecution in court. Around 25,000 New Zealanders are expected to benefit from this change.
New Zealand will now move forward in establishing a legal medical cannabis system to provide patients with quality cannabis products. And while the original draft indicated that it would take up to two years to implement regulations for licensing the cultivation, manufacture and production of medical cannabis, the final bill will require the scheme to be put into place no more than a year after its passing.
In order to meet this timeline, a channel will be opened to allow cannabis strains currently being grown by illicit operations to join the regulated domestic market. This will enable New Zealand to jumpstart its program without relying on imported cannabis products.
To create and implement the framework, a Medicinal Cannabis Oversight Panel will be brought together to ensure all points of view are represented. Medical professionals, including doctors and pharmacists, along with industry experts, consumers and Māori leadership will be able to weigh-in on processes. The group will also consult with the public later next year to gauge their concerns and share information.
Another noteworthy update is the removal of cannabidiol (CBD) as a controlled substance and making it a medicine that may be prescribed by a doctor without Ministry of Health approval. Products containing CBD will only be restricted if tetrahydrocannabinols (THC) or other psychoactive substances are present.
What’s Next for Cannabis in New Zealand
A week after the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill was passed by Parliament, Justice Minister Andrew Little also announced that a binding referendum ending cannabis prohibition will be held during New Zealand’s general election in 2020. If passed, it would legalize personal, adult use cannabis. Medicine Man Technologies will provide updates as the vote approaches.
If you wish to start your own legal enterprise in the U.S. or anywhere across the globe, please contact us for private consulting, as well as help with licensing, cultivating, dispensary operations and more.