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National Party deputy leader and health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti’s private member’s bill on medicinal cannabis, drafted in 2018 before the current scheme, is due to be debated in Parliament this evening.

Executive Director of the NZ Drug Foundation Sarah Helm said she applauded Dr Reti for putting the legislation forward.

“The current scheme has left patients with huge barriers to access, which are threefold: obtaining a prescription, price and limited product availability. It is hard to get a prescription because many doctors won’t or aren’t sure how to prescribe the products. The drugs aren’t funded and this means CBD oil for example can cost a patient $230-350/month. And there are some quality controls that are meaning the products on the market are extremely limited.”

“Technically, medicinal cannabis is legal, but thousands of New Zealanders are still forced to get their products from illicit suppliers. This puts people at risk of falling foul of the law to access medication that they know will work for them. From month to month they have no guarantee they’ll get the products they need.”

“Dr Reti’s bill was written before the current scheme and takes a different approach. It would not fix the lack of funding and therefore price barriers, which are significant. However he does propose a solution to the prescription barrier through funding an education campaign with doctors and pharmacies, which he outlined on Radio NZ this morning.”

“The current approach is not working and needs to be urgently fixed. Patients suffering from severe and debilitating conditions cannot access the products they need.”

“The bill Dr Reti introduced in 2018 highlights that all this time later patients continue to face huge obstacles. We need to urgently find solutions to these.”

“Decriminalising cannabis would go some way to addressing the problems by allowing ‘green fairies’ to operate without fear of prosecution.”

In December the Drug Foundation provided advice to MPs on what fixes need to be put in place. The recommendations included:

  • Align our product standards more closely with our lead export and import destinations to bring more products to market quickly.
  • Remove equity barriers created by high prices by subsidising products.
  • Provide a statutory defence from prosecution for those who grow plants for their or another’s medicinal use.
  • Fund education and prescribing information for doctors.
  • Down-classify CBD products from prescription medicines to reduce prices and make products more available.

“We need to get some breathing space for a review because it’s clear that the regulations are not delivering on the intent of the law. We also recommend the introduction of a statutory defence from prosecution to offer protection to people who use cannabis to treat chronic pain, illness or disability,” Ms Helm said.

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