Recent trends in New Zealand’s medical cannabis space
To further promote legal access to medical cannabis for patients, New Zealand is rolling out a scheme that allows patients to bypass Ministry of Health approval in getting a doctor’s prescription. This follows a recommendation put forward last July to the national cabinet by the Ministry of Health, to allow doctors prescribe CBD and THC products.
The recommendation only echoes the growing consensus among the country’s health practitioners. The move is believed to be the result of pressure mounted on the government by medical cannabis activists to create a leeway to the drug at the GP-level.
Dubbed the “Medicinal Cannabis Scheme”, the new policy also gives the green-light to domestic cultivation of medical cannabis for research and usage. An official statement from the ministry notes that “enabling domestic cultivation and manufacture is expected to make quality medicinal cannabis products more readily available. This will remove a barrier for patients accessing medicinal cannabis, as health practitioners will be able to prescribe these products with confidence.”
According to the statement, the new scheme paves the way to a new era of medical cannabis by “enabling the domestic cultivation and manufacture of medicinal cannabis products, enabling the setting of minimum quality standards for products and all stages of production, and reviewing […] how cannabis is prescribed.”
Scientific research into medical cannabis in New Zealand
Prior to the introduction of the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme, no more than 20 companies were licensed to carry out medical marijuana research nationwide. These companies were given a nod to cultivate medicinal cannabis strains for research and development purposes.
So far, these companies have injected millions of dollars into research to develop high grade, safe medical cannabis products. They have incorporated the most advanced technologies in the world into their research, but with a primary focus on the unique pointers of New Zealand’s medical cannabis market. Many of them are also working closely with researchers from the academia as well as leading practitioners in the field.
Away from the lab research, other types of studies have also been going on to access the social impact of cannabis regulations. One study was conducted by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). The preliminary results of the research, which is the first surveying medical cannabis patients in New Zealand, indicate increasing positive public sentiments about medical marijuana use.
Licensing for companies who want to grow cannabis for research in New Zealand
The crop of regulations accompanying the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme will give rise to a rapid proliferation of licenses for research-related cannabis cultivation. The new regulations stipulate quality and licensing requirements companies must meet to manufacture and distribute medical cannabis products legally.
The scheme permits licensed companies to produce dried products, various tablets and liquids, but not smokable products. Companies who meet these requirements will also be given the green-light to manufacture for international markets.
As the aim of the new scheme is to help ease access to medical cannabis for patients, the new licensing acts will increase the availability of high-quality medical cannabis products in New Zealand’s legal market. According to health minister Dr. David Clark, “There is already considerable expertise in this area with 20 companies currently licensed to grow cannabis for research purposes and another 238 growing industrial hemp.”
He further revealed that, “These regulations put in place the infrastructure that allows us to locally grow, manufacture and provide quality medicinal cannabis products that are intended to make a real difference to people living in pain.”
The new legislation also establishes a medicinal cannabis agency under the auspices of the Ministry of Heath to monitor the new scheme and provide frameworks for health practitioners and stakeholders. The agency will also be responsible for inspecting the security and quality of cannabis grooming facilities and their products.
Final words – Looking to the future of medical cannabis
New Zealand has taken a leadership role in the era of global cannabis reforms. New Zealand will be the first country ever to put the issue of legalization to the ballot. These developments are the result of the growing approval of medicinal cannabis by the public in NZ. People have generally become more receptive to the emerging results of scientific studies that add weight to the credibility of medical cannabis health benefits.
According to the results of a recent poll conducted by the New Zealand Drug Foundation in 2018, 87% of New Zealanders support the use of medical cannabis for pain relief and 89% support medicinal cannabis for treatment of terminal illnesses. The future looks like one of much easier access to and increasing public support for medical cannabis.