Relief for some of New Zealand's sickest people as medicinal cannabis patients granted another six months access

Some of New Zealand's sickest people will be sighing with relief after Health Minister Andrew Little stepped in to grant an extra six months for medicinal cannabis companies to meet a stiff quality standard imposed by the Government.

The six-month extension was granted five days after anxious patients shared fears on Newshub Nation they would lose access to prescribed medicinal cannabis once the standard is introduced. 

Just two products from one company, Tilray, have met the standard for medicinal cannabis, both approved on Friday 5 March.

Without the extension to the deadline, all products except two Tilray cannabidiol (CBD) products and Sativex (which has gone through Medsafe approval rather than the standard specific to medicinal cannabis) would have been taken off the market on March 31st.

Once products are approved, under legislation introduced under the previous Labour-led Government, they can be prescribed by any doctor for any condition. But the hurdle for products to pass the standard has been criticised as too high to meet in the short-term. 

Patients, including Gareth Duff, who uses medicinal cannabis to help control his seizures and pain, expressed concern to Newshub Nation that they wouldn't be able to afford the approved products, and that those few approved products would have a monopoly.

Duff is "extremely relieved" by the extension.

Health Minister Andrew Little.
Health Minister Andrew Little. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"For me and many others, medicinal cannabis has replaced medication that most of us cannot go back to, and we need it recognised as being just as important as other medication.

Announcing the extension, Little said, "the Government wants to see multiple suppliers for price competitiveness."

"By extending the deadline, patients will be still able to access products, while suppliers have the additional time they need to apply to the Medicinal Cannabis Agency for verification."

Shane Le Brun of Medleaf told Newshub Nation, "An extension is the right move, as there is a flood of applications in play, and suppliers are confident of meeting the standards".

Le Brun anticipates the market will "pick up near Christmas time", and new, cheaper products will be approved.

Doctor Mark Hotu at Green Doctors described being inundated with queries from concerned patients, who were desperate to know whether they would need to find a substitute medication by April.

Dr Hotu told Newshub Nation the extension is "great news for our patients" as not knowing what would happen in April "caused a tremendous amount of anxiety".