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When the majority of MPs voted in favour of the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill they made an historic step forward for evidence-based drug policy in Aotearoa New Zealand. Executive Director Ross Bell pauses to acknowledge the significance of the change, and reflect what comes next.
I can’t pass comment on the government’s new medicinal cannabis law without acknowledging Helen Kelly.
Helen, the staunch trade union leader, held the torch for legal medicinal cannabis as she suffered in pain from her illness. She passed awaytwo years ago and didn’t see the Labour Party’s commitment to legalise medicinal cannabis in their first 100 days of government.
Helen became the public face for thousands of New Zealanders and their families unable to access legal medicinal cannabis products to alleviate their pain and suffering. Helen’s activism and her openness about the need for her and her carers to break the law to access medicine helped shift the public’s mood on medicinal cannabis, creating a safe political space for the Labour-NZ First-Green Coalition to pass their law. Arguably, she also caused the National Party to reflect on and shift its previous positions on medicinal cannabis.
Yesterday was a momentous day.
The government’s law isn’t perfect, and we remain critical about parts of it. But it is progress and we’re happy to celebrate that.
The law provides a statutory defence for people eligible to receive palliation so that they can use illicit cannabis without fear of prosecution. We will watch closely how this is applied. That this defence doesn’t cover carers and “green fairies” continues to frustrate us.
More importantly though, this law empowers a new medicinal cannabis scheme to be developed. When it’s in place in 12 months, the scheme will provide patients prescriptions to access a wider range of products and, because domestic cultivation and manufacturer is allowed, at a better price.
The law has the potential to bring wider economic benefits to communities currently involved in illicit cultivation. The licensing regime should be set to actively encourage community-based companies and cooperative enterprises into the legal market.
We are committed to maintaining our advocacy on a regulatory scheme that puts patients at the centre. This is something that cannot be allowed to slip behind schedule as the current arrangements mean many who could potentially benefit have a long wait to access safe and affordable medicinal products.
Public support for change remains overwhelmingly strong. We question if there is anything to gain from efforts to undermine or misrepresent this first step.
Congratulations to the government. But greater thanks and acknowledgement to those patients and their carers who got engaged in the difficult democratic processes. We are definitely better off now than we were two years ago. Helen would be proud of your activism.
NB The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill passed with 63 votes in support, with 56 against on 11 December 2019. The Bill will formally become law when it receives Royal Assent.