By Emily Ledger
Patients could face fewer barriers to access medicinal cannabis products in New Zealand as new rules launch today. The new rules should make it easier for doctors to prescribe products and for cultivator and manufacturer licenses to be granted.
The Ministry of Health’s Medicinal Cannabis Agency will open its new process for cultivators and manufacturers of medicinal cannabis. It is hoped that the new rules will provide some relief to medical cannabis patients, even amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The new rules includes quality standards for both domestic and imported medicinal cannabis and a licensing framework. It also allows doctors to prescribe the medicines more freely without the need for specialist visits. However, they will only be able to prescribe products that have been approved by the Ministry of Health’s quality standards.
According to Mark Lucas, CEO of licensed New Zealand research company CannaSouth, this is no easy feat:
“There’s a massive amount of work to get in a position where you’re going to be able to produce medicines that make the New Zealand quality standards.”
Medicinal cannabis products must meet Good Manufacturing Practises (GMP) standards. This process requires the completion of extensive documentation, testing, and fees. In addition, the type of products available to patients will be limited. Patients will only be able to access ‘dose form’ medications such as oils, tablets, and creams.
New Zealand introduced laws in December 2018 which protected patients requiring palliation – often those with terminal illnesses – from prosecution for use of medical cannabis. In December 2019, the government committed to passing the new framework that comes into action today.
The Medicinal Cannabis Agency yesterday sent out an email to reassure applicants. It claimed that applications would continue to be processed, despite the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic.
Nevertheless, it is expected that meaningful change will take a lot longer to come into effect.
Shane Le Brun, founder of Medical Cannabis Awareness New Zealand, claims:
“Patients are expecting April 1, it’s gonna be all sunshine and rainbows, but really it’s going to be another six months plus.”
A referendum on the legalisation of recreational cannabis will also take place in New Zealand in 2020. Citizens will vote on legalisation alongside the general election, currently scheduled to take place in September.