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Only a tiny percentage of New Zealanders who use cannabis for medicinal purposes are accessing the product through legal channels, new analysis by the NZ Drug Foundation shows.

The analysis, based on Official Information Act requests and patient estimates calculated from the NZ Health Survey, shows that while an estimated 266,700 New Zealanders use cannabis for medicinal purposes, only 6% – around 17,000 people – accessed cannabis using a prescription under the country’s medicinal cannabis regime in 2020.

NZ Drug Foundation Policy Director, Kali Mercier, says the numbers show that while the amount of people accessing cannabis legally has grown under the new regime, there are still significant barriers.

“Unfortunately the current medicinal cannabis regime is simply inaccessible for many people. It is hard to get a prescription because many doctors won’t prescribe or aren’t sure how to prescribe the products. And price is another huge barrier. The drugs aren’t funded, so CBD oil can cost a patient $150-350 per month, with other products costing even more.”

CBD-only products also remain much easier to source legally than those containing THC, even though some medical conditions respond better to products containing that compound.

Ms Mercier says strict quality control standards mean there is an extremely limited number of the products on the market, keeping prices higher.

“Patients suffering some really debilitating conditions continue to use illegally-sourced
products and live in fear of the law, and often their plants and medicines are destroyed by Police enforcing the law.”

Ms Mercier says the solution lies not just in improving the price and accessibility of prescription products, but in decriminalisation.

“Unless medicinal cannabis products start to be funded by Pharmac and doctors become more comfortable with prescribing it, tens of thousands of people will continue to turn to the black market. And even then, many people will continue to distrust the health system. We should not be criminalising any of them.”

The analysis is part of the NZ Drug Foundation’s 2022 State of the Nation report, released today.

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