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Improved access to high quality medicinal cannabis is a step closer with the release of proposed regulations for New Zealand’s medicinal cannabis scheme.

The consultation document on medicinal cannabis is open for public comment for four weeks. It provides a robust framework that should improve access for patients.

“It will be a relief to people who can benefit from cannabis medicines that these will be more easily available over time. The new scheme paves the way for tens of thousands of patients to access high quality medicines for a wide range of illnesses,” said Ross Bell, Executive Director.

“Having a robust framework for cannabis medicines means GPs can have the confidence to prescribe cannabis as a medicine.”

The new regulated approach to medicinal cannabis proposes:

  • A wider range of medicinal cannabis products be made available. This would include products that are both imported and manufactured locally.
  • Medical practitioners would not be restricted by a list of conditions for which they can prescribe medicinal cannabis. However, specialist sign-off will be required for most prescriptions.

Public consultation provides an important opportunity for patient voices to be heard. “Patients, carers and their whānau have a lot to gain from a well-thought out scheme, so it’s vital for people to comment on the proposal. The acid test will be if regulations actually deliver improved access to patients,” Mr Bell said.

“This is a brand new scheme with lots of detail to get our heads around. From what we have seen the regulations provide a good basis to move forward, though we do have some areas of concern.”

 “Price will continue to be a barrier for many people. The limited products currently available can cost patients more than $1000 per month. Although cannabis medicines are likely to become cheaper over time under this scheme, this may take some years. Where is the safety net for patients in the meantime? Without this, patients will be forced to continue turning to the black market.”

“Another concern is the prescribing process. The proposed model removes the need for Ministry sign off most prescriptions, which is welcomed. But most prescriptions will continue to need sign off from a specialist. This requirement is likely to impact access for patients, not all of whom have access to a specialist. We’d like to see a more streamlined process, with GPs trusted to prescribe without the need for sign off."

 “We’re also concerned about the likely time lag before products become easily and more cheaply available to patients. The scheme could realistically take a number of years to bed in properly. In the meantime, people who are legitimately using cannabis for their illness need to be protected from prosecution. This is a serious issue that the proposed model does not address.

The regulations will be finalised in December 2019 and the scheme should become operational within a few months. A new Medical Cannabis Agency is being established to administer the scheme.

Have your say on the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme: Public Consultation Document. 

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