New Zealand's medicinal cannabis scheme takes effect today - here is what it means.
Updated: Aug 6
New Zealand’s new medicinal cannabis scheme has now gone live, with regulations taking effect on 1 April 2020. Any doctor can now prescribe cannabis products to any patient, and local production is allowed, writes Zeacann CEO Chris Fowlie.
The new regulations
The New Zealand Government legalised medicinal cannabis in December 2018, and passed regulations to enable the scheme in December 2019. The regulations, which take effect today, are the third main plank of the scheme.
The other planks are:
Establishing a statutory defence for patients undergoing palliative care to let them legally obtain, possess and use illicit cannabis;
Descheduling CBD Products so they are no longer controlled drugs.
The Medicinal Cannabis Regulations define several important aspects of the scheme:
A new Medicinal Cannabis Agency to oversee the scheme, including establishing minimum quality standards for products, licensing local production, and assessing products for distribution;
Changing the requirements for prescribers so that they no longer require Ministerial consent to prescribe medicinal cannabis products. In short this means any doctor can prescribe cannabis products to any patient, for any reason;
Allowing the import and export of medicinal cannabis products;
Allowing hemp and illicit cannabis genetics to be transferred into the medicinal scheme.
Patients will get a better deal
Once the new scheme is fully up and running, we expect it will lower costs for patients and make access easier.
The minimum quality standards and requirement for batch testing and labeling will be reassuring for many patients, and will make doctors more likely to have the confidence to prescribe the products.
Local production is expected to lower costs and ensure a consistency of supply.
In addition, the new Misuse of Drugs Prohibition of Utensils) Notice 2020 says vaporisers for medicinal cannabis can now be legally imported and sold in New Zealand. This has been done because doctors are now allowed to prescribe herbal forms of cannabis that are intended to be vaped (not smoked).
Patients who are stuck at home or live in remote areas can still access cannabis products, because home delivery by online pharmacies is allowed.
However, growing their own won’t be allowed. For this to happen, New Zealand must vote Yes by a majority in the cannabis referendum to be held at the next general election.
Some of the changes took immediate effect, such as the prescriber requirements and allowing vaporisers. Licencing local production and assessing new products for distribution are likely to take several months.
This is to be expected, as the Ministry of Health is also leading New Zealand’s Covid-19 coronavirus response. Zeacann acknowledges the Medsafe team for making this possible, given the huge workload they are under right now.
While the regulations establish the Agency, it will take some time to actually get up and running. We expect licensing to begin soon, and we should have the first product assessments of imported products within the next few months. Local cultivation may take a bit longer to get started but we still expect to have thousands of flowering cannabis plants by the end of the year.
In the meantime, patients should familiarise themselves with the new rules and what you can do, then talk to your doctor. They will have an understanding of the new rules and can give you further guidance. If your doctor doesn’t seem up to date, point them to the Ministry of Health's website, our online knowledge portal, or ask them to do some Continuing Education in this area.
If that fails, go see a specialist cannabis doctor. Several are already operating cannabis clinics and we expect more to open this year. Finally, help spread the word about voting Yes in the cannabis referendum. This is the only way patients will be able to grow their own - and access will get easier and cheaper for everyone.
A local cannabis industry with huge potential
With one-in-twenty New Zealanders already using cannabis for medicinal reasons, there is huge potential for the legal industry to meet the needs of patients, export to other markets, and be a sustainable "clean, green" local employer.
Those who want to work in the industry need to hold a medicinal cannabis licence or work for a person or company that holds a licence. The licence will specify the types of activities that a licence holder may carry out, such as commercial cultivation of cannabis or manufacture and supply of medicinal cannabis products.
Zeacann already holds licenses to cultivate, research and import cannabis for medicinal purposes, and we expect to obtain more licences to cover the entire supply chain. We have also assisted our partners to obtain licences.
The Covid-19 shutdown won't have much effect on our plans, because we have made allowances for such contingencies in our timetable for rolling out our research, cultivation and manufacture facilities.
Zeacann is on the board of the New Zealand Medical Cannabis Council and regularly meets with the Ministry of Health. We advocated for, and secured, several exciting aspects of the scheme that will lower costs of entry into the industry, and make local production more viable. These include:
A new “Nursery” licence for seed merchants;
A new ability to transition illicit genetics, and hemp cultivars, into the medicinal cannabis scheme;
Lower fees than first proposed;
Multi-site and multi-activity licences;
A new “pre-vetting” process that allows tentative approval on paper before going further (this could also be used to raise finance or bring partners on board);
Lower security requirements for cannabis that is below 1% THC;
Applicants with drug convictions aren’t ruled out; they can be licensed with approval from the Minister.
Aspiring applicants should read the regulations and think about how you will operate while also being a viable business. The cultivation space is likely to be crowded and many people will need help and advice to ensure they have the right genetics, technical knowhow, and buyers lined up. For most, the biggest missing piece of the puzzle is manufacturers who can take plant material and turn it into products that meet the quality standard.
That's where Zeacann, with our genetics partnership with T.H.Seeds and our manufacturing partnerships, can help more people be involved in the industry.