New Zealand’s government has passed a bill that would make medical cannabis accessible to thousands of chronically ill patients. The legislation has passed its third reading in Parliament yesterday after years of campaigning.
The Misuse of Drugs (Medical Cannabis) Amendment Bill allows broader use of medical pot, which was a highly restricted drug and was subject to a special approval by the health minister.
The bill promises to establish a regulated scheme within a year and provide the terminally ill patients a legal defence before then.
For one, the medical cannabis bill will allow New Zealanders who are terminally ill to smoke pot immediately without facing the risk of prosecution.
The new law would also pave the way for Kiwi companies to manufacture medical marijuana products for both the domestic and international markets.
What the Health Ministry has to say
According to Health Minister David Clark, this is the most progressive medicinal cannabis legislation to ever pass through the Parliament. Thousands of people in the country live with chronic and end-of-life pain, and there is sound evidence that cannabis could ease their suffering in a safe way, he said.
Clark added that people who are nearing the end of their lives should no longer be worrying about being arrested or being jailed just because they tried to manage their pain. The new legislation, he said, is a compassionate and caring one that will have a real impact on the people.
Clark assures that they are doing things in order to make sure that cannabis supply will be more available, as well as more affordable over time, and that, in the meantime, they are taking a compassionate measure to give a defence to those who are in the final stages of life and who use illegal cannabis.
Clark said that early next year, the Ministry of Health is going to release a paper on the planned medicinal scheme and that this would be open to public consultation.
According to him, the ministry thinks it is important that players in the cannabis industry, as well as those who use the drug, those who consume cannabis products, and those with a wider interest are able to submit their views as the medical cannabis regulations are established. This way, he pointed out, they can get the highest quality scheme.
Potential game changer
The medical cannabis industry is being touted as a potential game-changer for the destitute Māori communities living on the east coast of North Island. People in these deprived communities hope to turn the thriving illegal pot industry into a legal one.
Ahead of a recreational pot referendum
The passing of the new law comes ahead of a referendum on recreational cannabis that is currently being planned. The government has pledged to hold this referendum within two years. This is part of the government’s confidence and supply agreement with Greens, which is their coalition partner.
The use of cannabis is already common in New Zealand and the police turn a blind eye to the matter.
The tough road to approval
The road to the passing of the medical cannabis bill was a long and winding one. The new bill has been criticized by cannabis advocates for “not going far enough.”
The National Party, meanwhile, described it as “decriminalization by stealth.”
In fact, earlier this year, the National Party had presented its own medical cannabis bill. The National Party bill outlined a more detailed regulatory regime, which included the implementation of a photo ID system that would allow sick people to buy pot products from pharmacists. This bill, however, would not allow loose-leaf smoking.
The National Party voted for the Misuse of Drugs (Medical Cannabis) Amendment Bill at first reading, but voted against it at second and third readings.
Both NZ First and the Greens had won certain concessions to the bill.