Medicinal cannabis: Easier prescriptions proposed, edibles ruled out

The Government is suggesting making it easier for doctors to prescribe medicinal marijuana and is asking the public for feedback on a range of proposals. 

It suggests that doctors will not need Ministry of Health approval to prescribe any medicinal cannabis products that meet minimum quality standards. 

 "We are proposing that Ministry of Health approval to prescribe is not required for any medicinal cannabis products that meet the minimum quality standards," a discussion document reads. 

"As medicinal cannabis products are prescription medicines, the medical practitioner (doctor) is best placed to advise patients on the risks and benefits of their use. The Ministry of Health will provide medical practitioners with information on the use of medicinal cannabis."

The discussion document also suggests ruling out food containing medicinal cannabis as part of the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme, while products "intended for administration by vaporisation, which meet the quality standards", are welcomed. 

Quality standards will be set for unapproved products supplied under the scheme, including those products manufactured in New Zealand and imported.

As it currently stands for doctors, prescribing medicinal cannabis products - except for cannabidiol (CBD) - requires additional approval from a specialist. 

For example, approval from a paediatrician or neurologist may be needed for medicinal cannabis products to treat complex epilepsy in a child. The Ministry of Health also needs to approve it. But that could all change. 

Products made from CBD - one of the many chemical compounds found in marijuana and hemp - currently only require a prescription from a medical practitioner and do not require additional approvals.

Unlike Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - the principal psychoactive ingredient of cannabis - CBD is not psychoactive. The only approved medicinal cannabis product currently allowed is Sativex, which contains the cannabis extract nabiximols. 

You can read the discussion document and provide feedback before 7 August here

A Medicinal Cannabis Agency will be established within the Ministry of Health to oversee the licensing of growers, processors, manufacturers, importers, exporters and wholesale distributors of medicinal cannabis products. 

The new licences proposed in the discussion document include one for cultivating, as well as manufacturing, packing, and supplying medicinal cannabis. 

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, a range of licences already exist, including one for low-THC cannabis for industrial purposes but not for medicinal purposes. 

The proposed new licences

  • Licence to Cultivate Medicinal Cannabis
  • Licence to Manufacture Medicinal Cannabis Products
  • Licence to Pack Medicinal Cannabis Products
  • Licence to Supply Medicinal Cannabis Products

What happens next? 

The consultation is part of the Ministry of Health's preparation for establishing the Medicinal Cannabis Agency and implementing the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme in the first quarter of 2020.

After receiving feedback, the ministry will then seek approval from Cabinet on the regulatory proposals and will draft the proposed Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Regulations.

"We are aiming to have the above regulations made by 18 December 2019 and to have the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme operational in the first quarter of 2020."

The Government passed medicinal cannabis legislation in December 2018, which allows a legal defence for terminally ill people and those in palliative care to consume illicit marijuana without fear of prosecution.

National's Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said many of the questions in the discussions document were answered in the party's own medicinal cannabis Bill

"Under us, those eligible Kiwis in pain could be receiving affordable medicinal cannabis by now; instead they are forced to wait while the Government goes through its consultation process."