Medicinal cannabis: Government's new proposal for faster, easier access

Changes have been proposed for the medicinal cannabis legislation moving through Parliament on Thursday - including making access to it wider and faster. 

The changes have been proposed by Health Minister Dr David Clark who, during the second reading of the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill, said the legislation will "greatly increase availability". 

The planned amendments will be introduced via a Supplementary Order Paper (SOP) during the Committee Stage before its third reading, Dr Clark said on Thursday. After its third reading, the Bill will go for Royal assent approval. 

"This legislation will greatly increase availability of quality medicinal cannabis products, and will allow for their domestic manufacture," Dr Clark said. "It will mean many New Zealanders living in pain will have another option to find relief."

The eligibility of medicinal cannabis use will be altered to cover people in palliation (people with life-limiting illnesses), rather than limiting it to the terminally ill in their last 12 months. 

In addition, regulations for the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme must be completed no later than a year after the law comes into effect. 

"The statutory defence for people who are nearing the end of their live to possess or use illicit cannabis is a compassionate measure to ease suffering and improve quality of life," said Dr Clark.

"I want to acknowledge New Zealand First for advocating strongly for the defence to be extended to cover anyone in palliation. To put that in perspective, each year about 25,000 New Zealanders could benefit from palliative care."

Dr Clark also acknowledged the Greens for pushing for a requirement to finalise the requirements for the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme. 

He said it will "speed up access to a greater range of quality medicinal cannabis products", and give those companies looking to develop those products "certainty and a clear timeframe". 

Changes to the Bill also include making it clear those varieties of cannabis that are already in New Zealand can be used for medicinal cannabis, and technical changes will be made to the description of allowable THV thresholds in CBD medicinal products. 

"These changes strengthen the law and will make it easier for people to get the relief they need. I want to thank both New Zealand First and the Green Party for their constructive approach on this legislation," said Dr Clark. 

The proposed changes have been welcomed by the Greens, with the party hailing the announcement on Twitter as having "huge potential for our local industry and innovators with native strains of cannabis to be included".

Green Party spokesperson for Sensible Drug Law Reform Chloe Swarbrick said she looks forward to "seeing the bill progress through the house". 

"Through negotiation with governing parties we've managed to guarantee certainty for patients and their whānau that a local licencing, production, prescription and consumption regime will be established by the end of next year."

Talk of the Government planning to broaden its medicinal cannabis Bill to make the drug available to more people who need it circulated late last month

It's not known exactly how many people are defined as terminally ill, but every year around 9000 people die from cancer. A lot more - 25,000 - benefit from palliative care, but around 379,000 people report they suffer from chronic pain. 

The Government's original medicinal cannabis Bill was apparently lacking, which was evident when National released a comprehensive alternative.

The amendments to the legislation could be viewed as a response to that.