A look at major marijuana milestones achieved by New Zealand in 2018
The year 2018 was a pivotal one for cannabis in New Zealand. It began with the New Zealand Government’s medical cannabis law reform bill passing its first reading and ended with the legalisation of medical marijuana nationwide.
Here’s a look back at New Zealand’s journey with marijuana throughout the year 2018.
January 30: The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill, introduced by the New Zealand Government, passed its first reading.
The Government’s proposed law sought to make changes to the current medical cannabis law to decriminalise the use of approved pharmaceutical-graded cannabis products and provide a criminal defence to anyone terminally ill.
January 31: Green MP Chloe Swarbrick's medicinal cannabis bill failed at first reading in Parliament.
Swarbrick's member’s bill goes further the government’s medical cannabis bill, allowing terminally ill and debilitated patients to use, possess and legally grow marijuana if prescribed it by their doctor.
Green’s cannabis bill failed its first reading
The Government’s bill had been criticised for excluding those who suffer from chronic pain, while Green’s bill had been criticised as a license to “grow your own marijuana” but also admired as a way to drop the price of medical cannabis.
February 8: Submissions opened on Government’s Medicinal Cannabis Bill
The Government bill, after passing its first reading, had been widely criticised for being weak, vague and not including all patients who urgently needed affordable legal marijuana. The Health Select Committee opened submissions from the public to hear their opinions and amend their submission accordingly. Submissions were being accepted until March 21.
February 12: Medical Cannabis Awareness New Zealand (MCANZ) released a health policy document which it wants the government to pass into medical cannabis law.
The policy contained elements of recent bills proposed by Labour and Chloe Swarbrick but was more detailed than both. It included decriminalisation of medical use, allowing eligible patients to grow their own marijuana, allowed for domestic cannabis production, and appealed for a reduction in prescription barriers, among other changes.
March 27: The Bay of Plenty was found to have most cannabis dependence in New Zealand.
A Massey University survey found the region had the highest number of cannabis users and that people in the region had a higher need for help for substance abuse than in other parts of New Zealand.
April 4: New Zealand Drug Foundation (NZDF) asked the Government to widen the provision of their medical cannabis bill.
Under the Government bill, only terminally ill patients who had twelve months or less than to live would get a legal defence against prosecution for illicit marijuana use. The Drug Foundation director, Ross Bell, argued that the Bill should extend to provide statutory protection also to those with severe and debilitating conditions.
April 11: NORML’s submission on the Government’s medicinal cannabis bill
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) delivered a submission on behalf of dissatisfied patients on the Government’s medical cannabis law reform bill. NORML’s submission advocated broadening the statutory defence for patients with terminal, chronic or debilitating medical conditions, and making local products available in the country. Rebecca Reidera, a Golden Bay patient, said with one in twenty New Zealanders using cannabis medicinally, it was time to bring this issue into the light of day.
NORML’s submission to the government’s medical bill
May 23: Bring cannabis referendum on, said NORML.
Chris Fowlie, president of NORML New Zealand Inc., said that the government should bring forward the binding referendum on legalising cannabis to next year, 2019, rather than during the 2020 general election.
Cannabis legalisation is a part of a confidence and supply agreement between the Labour Party, and the Green Party focused on legalising the personal use of marijuana. Fowlie said people could not wait any longer to access medical cannabis legally.
June 28: Auckland University of Technology and PharmaCann to research medicinal cannabis for clinical trials in New Zealand.
The Auckland University of Technology (AUT) entered into a partnership with a medicinal cannabis company called PharmaCann to research medicinal cannabis, in order to make quality products affordable and easily accessible. Although doctors in New Zealand could prescribe medical CBD, it could only be sourced from overseas and is not eligible for Pharmac funding, which made it very expensive and inaccessible for most New Zealanders.
The parties aim to develop therapeutic formulations of marijuana in clinical trials by the time new government regulations for cultivation and manufacture of medicinal cannabis-based products in New Zealand come into force.
July 25: National Party pulled support for the Government’s medical cannabis bill and proposed their own member’s bill.
The National Party withdrew its support for the Government medical cannabis law reform bill. National Party leader Simon Bridges said the current bill failed to create the right regulatory and legislative controls for offering nationals greater access to medical cannabis to ease suffering.
Mr. Bridges said National's member's bill was the result of intensive research and work done by MPs, and reflected an amalgamation of international best practice evidence, tailored to New Zealand. It proposed a licensing regime and approval for medical marijuana in the way medicine is approved by Medsafe, the New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority.
August 14: Cannabis Referendum Coalition launched a Givealittle.
The Cannabis Referendum Coalition, a network of individuals and organisations campaigning for cannabis law reform, campaigned around the government referendum on legalising cannabis for personal use. The Coalition launched a Givealittle page to raise funds to educate New Zealanders, promote a good turnout and change the existing law.
August 26: Medicinal cannabis cultivation licence granted to Hikurangi Cannabis for research.
Ruatoria-based company Hikurangi Cannabis became one of the first to secure a licence for cultivating medicinal marijuana for research purposes. The company started building high tech greenhouses and processing facilities around Ruatoria to meet domestic and global demand. Hikurangi co-founder Manu Caddie said Hikurangi was aiming to provide safe and effective medical cannabis products to nationals at affordable prices.
September 2: Helen Clark supported a binding referendum on cannabis law reform.
Helen Clark, the 37th Prime Minister of New Zealand, said the country should look to other nations that had rolled out cannabis drug law reforms. She supported the Drug Foundation's view that there should be a simple binding referendum in 2020 on cannabis laws.
October 17: First NZ conference on cannabis referendum was announced.
The Cannabis Referendum Coalition announced the first “NZ Conference on Cannabis Referendum” that would feature panel discussions around the upcoming referendum. Panellists include Chlöe Swarbrick MP, Manu Caddie, Shane Le Brun and Rebecca Reider.
The conference would start with a panel discussion on the lessons learned from last year’s debate on medicinal cannabis. It would focus on identifying legalising options, including “Grow Your Own” and allowing legal, licensed growers and licensed sellers. A panel of MPs would discuss the mechanism of the referendum and the education process that will precede the vote.
October 26: New Zealand Issued Cannabis Cultivation Licence to Helius Therapeutics
The Ministry of Health issued a licence to cultivate marijuana to Helius Therapeutics - a biotechnology company focused on medicinal cannabis research and development in Auckland. The company became the most expensive cultivation site in New Zealand. The licence allowed the company to establish a cannabis breeding programme and develop new cannabis plant varieties for research and development purposes.
November 29: Medicinal cannabis bill expanded and passed second reading.
The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill passed its second reading by gaining support from coalition parties and the National Party, which reversed its earlier opposition. The extended bill allowed medical cannabis to all people needing palliative relief, rather than just terminally ill patients with a year or less to live.
December 11: New Zealand passed the medical cannabis bill.
On December 11, the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill was presented in the Parliament for its third reading, where it was passed following the support of the Greens, Labour and NZ First parties.
The bill commits to opening a regulated medical cannabis policy within a year and giving a legal defence to those suffering from terminal diseases or in palliative care for using medicinal marijuana. The bill also includes a clause for declassifying cannabidiol (CBD) as a controlled substance.
Other patients seeking medicinal cannabis for conditions such as chronic pain or epilepsy, will have to wait until the launch of the proposed Medicinal Cannabis Scheme before they are allowed to access marijuana legally.
Events relating to marijuana that took place in New Zealand in 2018 show that the country is following in the footsteps of other nations that have already fully legalised cannabis. While they have some way to go, New Zealand is clearly taking steps to ensure that citizens will have access to legal marijuana in the near future.