New Zealand legalizes medical cannabis for domestic, export markets

A bill to legalize medical marijuana on Tuesday won the approval of New Zealand’s parliamentarians on its third and final vote, paving the way for companies to manufacture MMJ products for domestic and international markets.

The law will come into force the day after it receives Royal Assent – a formality in most Commonwealth countries.

Rules to regulate licensing and quality standards will be established in the next 12 months.

The bill also removes cannabidiol as a controlled drug, instead making it a prescription medicine.

The initial bill would have allowed for cannabis use by anyone with a diagnosed terminal illness – which would have greatly limited its application. That was broadened in the final months of debate to include any patient requiring palliation.

The expansion allows patients to “procure, possess, consume, smoke or otherwise use any plant or plant material of the genus cannabis or any cannabis preparation,” according to the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill.

Health Minister Dr. David Clark said that will open the door to medical marijuana use for approximately 25,000 New Zealanders.

A certificate from a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner will be required.

Legal route for illicit cannabis

According to the law, the regulations “must not require that the variety of cannabis contained in the product was brought into New Zealand with authorization, if the variety is established in New Zealand at the time the product is manufactured or produced.”

In other words, medical cannabis strains currently used in New Zealand illicitly will have a path to be brought into the legal market.

“People nearing the end of their lives should not have to worry about being arrested or imprisoned for trying to manage their pain,” Clark said. “So as a compassionate measure we are also creating a statutory defense for people eligible to receive palliation so that they can use illicit cannabis without fear of prosecution.

“These medicinal products will be available on prescription. This will be particularly welcome as another option for people who live with chronic pain.”

In 2019, the Ministry of Health plans to consult the public on the quality standards, licensing system and regulations required as part of New Zealand’s medical cannabis plan.

Matt Lamers can be reached at [email protected]

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