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Access to Medical Marijuana Just Got Easier for New Zealanders

New Zealand’s government recently made getting approval for marijuana-based products for medical use easier for patients.

To simplify the process for New Zealand patients seeking medical cannabis, the government is no longer requiring ministerial sign off on approvals. Radio New Zealand reports that Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has delegated medical cannabis decisions to the Ministry of Health.

“When applications first began to be received it was my view that the final decision appropriately lay at the ministerial level, rather than exposing officials to risk, given the complicated and contentious nature of the issue – that is to say the buck stopped with me,” Dunne said, in a statement. “I have approved every application that has come before me with a positive recommendation – within a matter of minutes once the application came across my desk.”

Medicinal cannabis have been available in New Zealand for patients with serious, debilitating diseases, but the bureaucratic hoops patients had to jump through before being approved made access difficult. Cannabis-based products are Class B1 controlled drugs and as such required ministerial approval before they could be prescribed, supplied or administered.

“I am satisfied that with the development of these guidelines, and with a number of successful applications having been subsequently completed, any risk associated with the early processes has largely abated and I have confidence in the Ministry of Health to handle the process in its entirety from now on,” Dunne added.

The changes were made in an effort to simplify the process for patients desperately needing cannabis. Trade unionist Helen Kelly had sought approval for imported cannabis oil from the U.S. for her lung cancer, but the information required on the application proved too difficult for her oncologist to provide, according to Radio New Zealand. Kelly passed away in October of last year.

Medical Marijuana Research

Dunne had already removed the requirement for Ministry of Health approval for a single cannabis-based pharmaceutical. The new changes apply to non-pharmaceutical grade cannabis products.

Dunne has said he will provide a list of internationally available cannabis-based products that are pharmaceutical grade or are certified as Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) products for “additional clarity.” The list will help streamline the process for doctors to fill out and sign paperwork to send to the ministry, giving patients quicker access in cases where they need it.

Dunne had been carrying out a full-scale review of New Zealand’s medical cannabis rules. He has hinted that there could be more changes still to come. He also recently criticized New Zealand doctors as being too conservative about prescribing medical cannabis and has said he plans to write several organizations representing doctors and pharmacies to encourage members to look at the medical evidence.

“What I want to see from [our doctors] is an open approach, not one where I think to date has been based a little on their wariness and in some cases downright prejudices,” Dunne said. “And I want to see an end put to those things.”

U.S. Marijuana Laws

While cannabis activists in New Zealand are pleased with the progress, many believe the changes aren’t enough. Abe Gray, President of New Zealand’s political Cannabis Party and Vice President of NORML New Zealand, claim the changes fall short of what patients really need.

“Any movement is a step in the right direction, so it’s good to finally see some of our major political parties acknowledge that medicinal cannabis is useful,” Gray told The Marijuana Times. “Unfortunately, they’re overly fixated on pharmaceutical cannabis preparations and totally prejudiced against raw natural cannabis flower as medicine.”

Green Party spokesperson Julie Anne Genter shared similar sentiments regarding the change.

“Peter Dunne has removed one hoop New Zealanders have had to jump through to get access to medical cannabis, but there are still many more that need to go before people can get the medicine they need,” Genter said. “With the advice and support of their doctor, New Zealanders should be able to access medical cannabis as easily and as cheaply as they do any other prescription drug – the announcement today doesn’t allow that to happen.”

In an effort to make further legalization of medical cannabis an upcoming election issue, supporters last week held a rally at Parliament. The advocates are seeking greater access to cannabis for medical purposes and an end to arrests for cannabis use and possession.

Learn more about cannabis laws in New Zealand and elsewhere in the world by visiting our education page.