Restrictions to come off cannabis-based medicines - Dunne

Kiwi doctors will soon be able to prescribe cannabis-based medicines without needing approval from the Ministry of Health.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne says the removal of restrictions on cannabidiol (CBD) will put new Zealand "in line with international developments".

"At present CBD products for therapeutic use are only available if approval is given by the Ministry of Health.

"I have taken advice from the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs (EACD) that CBD should not be a controlled drug, and am pleased Cabinet has now accepted my recommendation to make this change. 

"Therefore, I am now taking steps to remove restrictions accordingly."

CBD will be able to be prescribed just like any other medicine once the changes are in place. Pharmacies and other providers will no longer need an import license to bring CBD products into the country.

Up to three months' supply will be able to be prescribed at once - presently it's one month.

"Australia has already taken a similar step, while other countries are also responding to emerging evidence that CBD has a low risk of harm when used therapeutically," says Mr Dunne.

The floodgates are unlikely to open however, with few CBD products available, particularly at a medical grade standard.

"Currently there is a limited range of CBD products made to a standard where prescribers can be sure the products contains what is claimed - and strict import and export restrictions on products sourced from other countries, which will continue to impact the supply of CBD products in New Zealand," says Mr Dunne.

"However, we do know of at least one CBD product in development made to high manufacturing standards that will contain 2 percent or less of the other cannabinoids found in cannabis."

'Decades behind other countries'

The Green Party has praised the move, saying it's "fantastic to see the Government finally accepting expert advice that CBD should be exempted from the Misuse of Drugs Act".

"It's good seeing policy change that will help some of the people who are currently suffering, but the high cost of importing these medicinal products continues to be a barrier," says health spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter.

She has introduced a Member's Bill which would allow cannabis to be grown in New Zealand, making it cheaper to turn into medicine.

"My Bill would ensure that sick people have affordable access. Why should people have to pay thousands of dollars a month for imported medicinal cannabis products, when the plant is very cheap to grow here?

"We are decades behind other countries on this. It's time to ensure we can produce our own cannabis-based medicines here in Aotearoa."