Medicinal Cannabis Bill falls short - NZ Drug Foundation

By Talisa Kupenga

The Drug Foundation says proposed changes to legislation around the use of medicinal cannabis will disappoint many because the legal defence does not extend to include a wider range of illnesses and caregivers.  However, the Health Minister is happy with government’s progress.

NZ Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell welcomes a medicinal cannabis scheme within a year but says some patients have been let down.

"We saw in the house yesterday, MPs saying that police aren't arresting medical cannabis patients, that simply isn't true.  Medical cannabis patients are being arrested, people who are growing cannabis for patients are being arrested and so are the carers so we need to make sure that they have legal protections until the government's scheme is up and running."

Health Minister David Clark says, "We've walked a careful line to make sure we're making- on compassionate grounds- what is illegal drug or illicit drug use...more possible."

New Zealand First promoted the proposed changes to extend medicinal cannabis use from only the terminally ill with a year or less to live to also include those needing palliative relief.

New Zealand First health spokesperson Jenny Marcroft says, "We feel that's right at this time.  I am aware of others that wanted it extended further but this is a short term move as we build the industry that will provide cheaper product."

Bell says, "What illnesses are envisaged to be covered by this new definition?  If it's broader illnesses including people in pain then I think that could be a good thing but this is a new concept to many of us and we really need to see the detail."

Bell says allowing for a domestic medicinal cannabis industry is a good step but has concerns that only one of the four licenced groups to grow the product is Māori.

"The other licences are given to people who have come in with a whole lot of money who don't have a background in cannabis but see the dollar signs flashing in their eyes.  That makes me nervous.  I don't think we want an industry that is focused on profits, we want a medicinal cannabis industry that is focused on patients."

Bell says the Hikurangi Enterprises model is a good example for the industry as its primary focus is on the community and patients.