The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Act formally came into effect on the 18th December 2018, which means that medicinal cannabis, or medical marijuana, will soon be more readily available to New Zealanders. In this article, we look at what is meant by medicinal cannabis, how it differs from recreational cannabis, and what the new legislation means for medicinal cannabis use in New Zealand.
What is Medicinal Cannabis?
The term ‘Medicinal cannabis’ refers to the way in which cannabis is used – that is, for the treatment of various medical conditions rather than for recreational use.
Medicinal cannabis use could cover anything from the raw unprocessed cannabis product, to the cannabinoids within the cannabis plant, through to drugs manufactured to pharmaceutical standards.
Medicinal cannabis can be taken by patients in several different ways including by ingesting the raw product, smoking, inhaling of vapour, and oral administration via tinctures and cannabis oil.
Medicinal cannabis use for patients is concerned with maximising therapeutic effects and minimising side effects.
What Are Cannabinoids?
Cannabis produces more than one hundred known unique naturally-occurring compounds called cannabinoids. It is these cannabinoids that give the cannabis plant its medicinal properties.
Cannabinoids interact with a large system in the body called the endocannabinoid system, which is often described as a major system of receptors that maintains vital functions throughout the body.
Each cannabinoid has a different effect on the human body, however, the two main cannabinoids that have been studied and found to have medicinal benefits are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). There have been claims that a number of other cannabinoids have therapeutic properties, but these have not yet been proven.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is responsible for the psychoactive effect or ‘high’ that is associated with cannabis use. The psychoactive effects of THC, such as euphoria and feeling relaxed or sleepy, are well known, but THC has also been found to have analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties, as well as being able to prevent and reduce vomiting.
Cannabidiol (CBD) has anticonvulsant properties and there is good evidence that it can treat severe forms of childhood epilepsy. It does not have a psychoactive effect. CBD is thought to modulate the effects of THC which is why the ratio of THC to CBD can be important. Some of the most common chronic conditions patients combat with CBD include epilepsy, schizophrenia, and other psychotic disorders, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, some tumours, pain and inflammation, anxiety, PTSD, Crohn’s disease, and opioid withdrawal.
Is Medicinal Cannabis Legal In New Zealand?
Cannabis is currently classified as an illegal drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. However, when the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Act formally came into effect on the 18th December 2018, medicinal cannabis became legal, defined, and separately legislated for in New Zealand. There are three big changes arising from the new law, as follows:
1. Medicinal Cannabis Is Now Legal In New Zealand
The law lays the groundwork for a new medicinal cannabis industry to be established in New Zealand and requires regulations, licensing rules, and quality standards to be in place by the end of 2019. This will allow New Zealand companies to manufacture medicinal cannabis products for both local and international markets. As part of this process, the Ministry of Health will be establishing a medicinal cannabis agency to support doctors by broadening the range and availability of medicinal cannabis products, and to provide information on which products meet the new standards.
It is expected that this new regulatory framework will result in a greater supply of quality medicinal cannabis, including products made here in New Zealand. It should also discourage recreational cannabis use by tapping into the required medical application, and it should also ensure that the system can’t be circumvented with prescribed medical cannabis for recreational use.
2. The Establishment of Interim Compassionate Measures For Those Who Require Palliative Care
In the meantime, the Act recognises that there are sick people who just can’t wait for the new regulatory environment to be finalised. So, as an interim compassionate measure, the law creates a legal defense for possession and use of illicit cannabis for people who are expected by their doctors to be in their last year of life. This does not make it legal for the terminally ill to use cannabis, but it means that they will not be criminalised for doing so.
Patients will be required to hold evidence, such as a written statement from a medical (or nurse) practitioner that states they have been diagnosed as requiring palliation, to avoid prosecution and to defend any charges in court.
3. Easier Access To Cannabidiol (CBD) Products For Patients
The new law defines cannabidiol (CBD) products as containing less than 2% Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and/or other psychoactive related substances. It has also removed cannabidiol (CBD) from being a controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 – it is now a prescription medicine under the Medicines Act 1981.
What this means is that patients can now purchase CBD products with a prescription from an authorised prescriber – such as a doctor.
Additionally, the new law allows authorised prescribers and pharmacies to import CBD products into New Zealand, as can individual patients with an original letter or prescription from a doctor. At this time, patients may only import up to three months’ supply of CBD product.
Products that have greater than 2% Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and/or other psychoactive related substances are harder to access for patients as they are still considered a class B1 controlled drug, and whilst they can be prescribed by doctors, Ministerial Approval is required.
Unfortunately, at the moment, there is still a limited supply of CBD products available for patients in New Zealand, although this is expected to change once the new medicinal cannabis industry rules and regulations become locked in place by the end of 2019. The range of CBD products will then increase as domestic cultivation and manufacture becomes more established.
The law now allows for the establishment of a new medicinal cannabis industry in New Zealand with medical cannabis products to be manufactured here for both domestic and overseas markets. What this means is that patients will have much broader access to medical cannabis, including CBD products, which were previously highly restricted. But these things take time and most patients will have to wait at least a year until the required set of regulations, licensing rules, and quality standards are put in place. In the meantime, patients using cannabis for palliative care, whilst still not legal, have a legal defense in place.
As a separate note, these medicinal marijuana measures come ahead of a planned national referendum on recreational marijuana use. The New Zealand government has pledged to hold the referendum sometime over the next two years, but has not yet set a date, or finalised the wording.
Share This Post!
DOWNLOAD OUR FREE “ULTIMATE GUIDE TO CBD IN NEW ZEALAND”