On Wednesday, New Zealand was the latest country to realize the medicinal benefits of cannabis by introducing legislation for a medical marijuana program.
In what is called the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill, the Kiwi nation has vowed to make medical marijuana available to citizens with chronic pain or terminal illness. If passed, the legislation would allow for the domestic cultivation of cannabis products.
An advisory committee would also be assembled to establish the rules for prescribing the medicine and to ensure minimum product quality standards. The government stated the committee is necessary to both improve patient safety and boost confidence in doctors to prescribe the herb.
In an interesting twist not seen in many countries, the government of New Zealand has recognized that this legislation and framework will be a process that may take up to two years. In the meantime, the government has agreed to essentially decriminalize the possession and use of illegal cannabis for those who are in their last year of life.
“There will be people who can’t wait,” said Health Minister David Clark. “As an interim measure, the legislation will create a legal defense for possession and use of illicit cannabis for people who are expected by their doctors to be in their last year of life. This does not make it legal for the terminally ill to use cannabis, but it means that they will not be criminalized for doing so.”
Under the planned changes, medicinal cannabis would be imported until the country can grow its own marijuana crops. Once the medical marijuana system is fully up and running, patients would be able to access their medicine through pharmacies.
Although the New Zealand Drug Foundation (NZDF) welcomed the news, it was not satisfied with the measure. “The bill simply does not go far enough to cover people with chronic pain and any terminal illness, and needs to be fixed by the select committee,” said NZDF executive director, Ross Bell.
The statement from the NZDF added that immediate decriminalization was needed for all patients who use medicinal cannabis and not just those who are terminally ill.
— NZ Drug Foundation (@nzdrug) December 20, 2017
New Zealand’s medicinal cannabis industry is expected to be fully operational within 24 months.