Revealed: The medicinal cannabis scheme health officials want

The Ministry of Health has recommended GPs be able to prescribe medicinal cannabis, but a lack of subsidy for the products could mean they are still too expensive for many patients.

The Government is expected to release the details of its medicinal cannabis scheme on Wednesday. 

Ahead of the release, documents published on the Treasury website reveal the medicinal cannabis scheme Ministry of Health officials wanted Cabinet to sign off on.

The medicinal cannabis scheme will only allow cannabis products to be obtained with a prescription. Health practitioners will be able to prescribe products with known levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), within a quality standard.

The Ministry of Health recommended Cabinet allow all doctors to prescribe CBD and THC products, saying it was the prefered option for health practitioners and stakeholders. Medicinal cannabis campaigners have fought hard for prescription at GP-level, and are pleased to see that's the Ministry of Health's preferred option.

Official documents acknowledge health practitioners may be reluctant to prescribe medicinal cannabis. Documents show the Ministry of Health is seeking $650,000 of Government funding to set up a prescriber education programme.

Rua Bioscience head grower Brandon Veevers.
Rua Bioscience head grower Brandon Veevers. Photo credit: Supplied

A constant concern from medicinal cannabis campaigners has been the lack of subsidy of cannabis medicines. Currently, despite having a prescription, users are paying full market price for medicinal cannabis products. 

The Ministry of Health's bid to Cabinet doesn't include any reference to a subsidy or ring-fenced Pharmac fund.

Rua Bioscience CEO Manu Caddie is concerned a lack of subsidy will "restrict access to the majority of patients". 

Caddie says "the Ministry of Health clearly acknowledges the tension between prescriber confidence and better patient access to these medicines. 

"On one side they have prescribers unwilling to supply untested products and on the other they have patients desperate for legal access to safe and affordable cannabis medicine."

Rua Bioscience co-founders Panapa Ehau and Manu Caddie.
Rua Bioscience co-founders Panapa Ehau and Manu Caddie. Photo credit: Supplied

Caddie said industry has been working with Medsafe to reclassify some low-dose CBD products to make them available in pharmacies without a prescription but that "the regulations do not go this far yet".

Rua Bioscience is growing 10,000 cannabis plants near Ruatoria and is due to open a manufacturing facility in February.

MBIE estimates the scheme will enable a potential domestic market of up to $70 million, and an export market worth up to $250 million.

Documents also warn a 'yes' result in the referendum on legalising recreational cannabis could impact demand for medicinal cannabis as medical users may prefer the recreational market.

The cultivation and manufacture of cannabis will require a license. Officials are planning a fully self-funding licencing scheme.

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