New Zealand Launches its Medical Cannabis Program
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New Zealand’s medical cannabis scheme is officially open for patient access, less than four months after the government finalized its regulatory foundation in December.
Despite concerns of a delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, the scheme was launched as planned on April 1 by the government’s Ministry of Health.
Medicated down under
Unlike medical cannabis schemes in other countries, such as the UK, the New Zealand system gives all general practitioners the authority to prescribe medical cannabis products without any oversight from a specialist.
Patients will be able to access pharmaceutical cannabinoid medicines and dried products that can be vaporized; smokable and edible forms are still prohibited.
All products must meet good manufacturing practice standards (extensive documentation, safety testing, etc.), as set out by the country’s Medicinal Cannabis Agency.
While the New Zealand scheme allows for the domestic cultivation and distribution of medical cannabis, the first licences aren’t expected to be issued until midway through 2020. Products from local producers may hit the pharmacy shelves by the end of the year. Until then, the country will likely rely on imports to meet demand.
Under the rules set out by the Ministry of Health,a medicinal cannabis license for New Zealand companies authorize a holder to carry out one or more of the following activities:
- Nursery propagation
- Possession for manufacture
Although any cultivation facility is limited to 50 seeds and 20 plants. Cultivation applications also cost around 12,550 New Zealand dollars ($8,200) with an additional NZ$300 fee. If the application is to supply of a new product, a further NZ$13,400 in fees applies.
Compounded with the costs of setting up a cultivation facility, some New Zealanders, including Māori groups, have found the fees too high a barrier to transition into the legal sector. But, speaking to RNZ last month, Ministry of Health Māori service improvement manager Eugene Rewi said these fees were as small as they could be.
“There's no fat involved in the fees, it's actually about a fee for service because there is auditing requirements… administration that need to be adhered to.”
“Is this a hinderance for some - I think definitely - so maybe whānau need to look at other avenues, whether they join up as a group, or if their strength is in one particular area then maybe they concentrate on that.”