Medicinal cannabis bill passes, with regulated market promised within a year and a legal defence until then

Stuff 11 December 2018
Family First Comment:  Far from perfect, but should definitely go no further.

The Government has passed its medicinal cannabis bill, which will establish a regulated scheme within a year and give those close to death a legal defence before then.

After a long road to third reading the bill passed on Tuesday afternoon with the support of Labour, the Greens, and NZ First.

Both the Greens and NZ First won some concessions to the bill, which has been criticised by medicinal marijuana advocates for not going far enough – and by National as “decriminalisation by stealth”.

The bill sets up a statutory defence which allows those close to death in palliative care to consume illicit marijuana with a legal defence if prosecuted.

This is intended as a bridging mechanism until the full Medicinal Cannabis Scheme is set up, which will make the process much more simple, likely by allowing pharmacies to sell regulated marijuana products.

The Green Party has pushed for this to happen no later than a year after the law comes into effect in a few days – and for that market to allow native strains of cannabis to be used, not just imported cannabis products.

NZ First won a concession to extend the legal defence to those in palliative care, not just those who were terminally ill and with less than 12 months to live.

Health Minister David Clark that he was “delighted”, ahead of passing the bill.

“This is the most progressive legislation on medicinal cannabis that has ever passed through the Parliament,” Clark said.

“We’re doing things to make sure supply will be more available and more affordable over time, and we’re taking a compassionate measure in the meantime to give a defence to those to use illicit cannabis who are in the final stages of life.”

Clark said the Ministry of Health would release a paper on the planned medicinal scheme early next year and that would be open to public consultation.

“We think it’s important that those who are in the industry, those who are users, those who are consumers of products, and those with a wider interest be able to submit their views as the regulations are established, so that we get the highest quality scheme,” Clark said.

“The ministry will develop the quality standards in consultation with experts, and we believe that’s the right way of doing things.”

The National Party, who voted against the bill, crafted its own medicinal marijuana bill early this year, after voting for the Government bill at first reading.

The National bill, designed by Shane Reti, set out a much more detailed regulatory regime with a photo ID system that would allow patients to buy cannabis products from pharmacists. It would not allow for any loose-leaf smoking.

National leader Simon Bridges spoke against the bill at third reading, saying it was “decriminalisation by stealth”.

“I fear, and there is nothing the Minister has said today that tells me otherwise, that what in fact this bill is is decriminalisation of cannabis by stealth in this Parliament today,” Bridges said.

“What will the police do when they’re outside a school and someone, under this legislation, is smoking cannabis? What will they do?”

He said National had compassion for those trying to access medicinal marijuana but this bill was not the way to do it.
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