Updated on January 30, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
The medical use of cannabis is a hotly debated subject in the island nation of New Zealand. The country has made little headway — today, physicians can only prescribe certain cannabis-based medications, and the cost and restrictions make it very difficult to even receive them. However, in 2017, the Labor Party was elected to form a government. Working with the Green Party, they vowed to eventually introduce a new cannabis referendum.
True to their word, the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill reached Parliament in December 2017. Experts believe that in the next two years, a workable medical marijuana program will be in place.
Although New Zealand doesn’t currently have a medical marijuana program, physicians can prescribe certain approved cannabis-based products, including:
If a physician believes patients would benefit from other forms of cannabis, specialists can apply to the Ministry of Health for exclusive permission to source these medications from other nations. To date, no patient applications have been approved.
Although the new legislation is still in its infancy, it would provide easier access to patients if voted into effect. Not only would imported cannabis be more affordable, but the country could also manufacture its cannabis medications domestically to cut costs.
Although cannabis, or “Indian hemp” has been considered an illegal drug in New Zealand since the 1927 Dangerous Drugs Act, the people continued to use it as prescription medication for decades after that. This all changed in 1961, when the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs listed marijuana as a banned substance. Both in 1965 and 1975, New Zealand’s laws reflected this ban, even for medicinal purposes.
In 2016, New Zealand made a huge leap forward. The Ministry of Health approved both Sativex and CBD products, meaning doctors could write prescriptions for these forms of medications. With the 2017 Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill, officials hope a workable medical marijuana program will be in place within 24 months.
Marijuana is still illegal in New Zealand — medical or otherwise. This means those caught in possession of any amount can be tried. Despite these restrictions, one in 20 New Zealanders are self-medicating with cannabis. One of the first implementations of the new medicinal cannabis amendment would be decriminalizing illicit cannabis for terminally ill patients with less than two years to live.
The cultivation of marijuana is also illegal in New Zealand — in fact, law enforcement actively conducts raids to seek out and confiscate the products of cannabis growers within the country. Under the new law, cultivation would continue to be illegal, but the government would establish approved medical cannabis manufacturers who would create a cannabis industry in New Zealand.
Under the current guidelines, it’s challenging for patients to qualify for the only legal cannabis-based medications. Cannabidiol (CBD) can be prescribed at the doctor’s discretion for any ailment they see fit, but Sativex is only approved for multiple sclerosis. It can be recommended for other conditions, but these must be approved by New Zealand’s medicines regulatory Agency, Medsafe.
The new legislation would allow physicians to prescribe cannabis medications to terminally ill patients, as well as those in chronic pain. However, a Medicinal Cannabis Advisory Committee will likely set specific guidelines later.
Even though doctors in New Zealand are authorized to prescribe cannabidiol (CBD) products or Sativex, many patients can’t afford it after the cost of shipping and the actual price of the medication. Patients must obtain all their prescriptions from their physician, too.
Specialists treating patients who are not responding to traditional treatments can apply to the Ministry of Health for cannabis medications. But, to date, every application has been denied.
When the new law passes, a Medicinal Cannabis Advisory Committee will review the current system and make improvements to:
Because of how impractical and inconvenient the current medical marijuana system in New Zealand is, many patients choose to purchase their cannabis on the street, even though the possession of any amount of marijuana is illegal.
Although officials have advised police officers to be lenient to medical patients caught with cannabis, these individuals still put themselves at risk of receiving penalties, such as:
At MarijuanaDoctors.com, we strive to be your number one source for medical cannabis news both here in the U.S. and abroad. As New Zealand’s program continues to develop, check back for updated international medical marijuana news. We also have an informative blog, where you can learn interesting facts about marijuana’s incredible, healthful benefits.