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What you need to know about Parliament’s medicinal cannabis debate

Wednesday 31st January 2018

Don’t spark up just yet.


With two cannabis-related bills floating around Parliament at the moment, I for one am a bit confused. Does this mean I can get stoned now? Why two bills? How are they different? 

The answer to the first question is no. It’s still illegal. 

So why are there two bills? And how are they different? 

Well, yesterday the Government’s version of the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill passed its first reading in Parliament, meaning it will now go to select committee.

A “watered down” version of Green MP Chloe Swarbrick’s members bill, is how RNZ political reporter Mei Heron described the bill. (Swarbrick’s bill will be read in Parliament today - more on that soon.) Heron also said the Government bill was weaker than what Labour campaigned on. 

The bill will allow terminally ill people to legally defend their therapeutic use of cannabis, will set up a body to oversee standards of medicinal cannabis products available in New Zealand, and will allow doctors to prescribe cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD products.

It’s been criticised by some as being "woefully inadequate”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told RNZ that compromise had to be made to get coalition partners NZ First on board with the bill, so that it could pass its first reading, which it did yesterday. 

"The government bill forms a consensus across three parties as to how far they are content for this issue to go, and we can guarantee the numbers for that bill.

"Chloe Swarbrick's goes a step further and we want to test whether there is an appetite in Parliament to do that," she said.

Swarbrick’s bill will allow sick people, or a nominated person to grow, possess and consume cannabis. It will also allow doctors to prescribe cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD products.

Here’s exactly what the Government’s bill proposes:

This bill will amend the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. This is the act that makes cannabis illegal. 

This bill passed its first reading yesterday, and has gone to the Health Committee. 

*The bill will introduce an exception and statutory defence for terminally ill people to possess and use illicit cannabis and to possess a cannabis utensil. This means that if they are charged with using or possessing cannabis, they have a defence, by law. In the first reading of the bill, Health Minister David Clark said people with terminal illnesses were self-medicating with illicit cannabis, and the bill would provide a defence for such people. “Giving the terminally ill a statutory defence for the possession and use of illicit cannabis will mean they are not criminalized in their final days. This is the compassionate thing to do while the medicinal cannabis scheme is established.”

*The bill will provide a regulation-making power to enable the setting of standards that products manufactured, imported, and supplied under licence must meet. The bill says that most cannabis products produced internationally don’t meet the quality and efficacy standards required for prescribed drugs used in New Zealand. Under the Government’s proposed regulation-making power, manufacturers will have to show that the composition is true to label and products are free from contaminants. As a result, there will be trustworthy quality standards.

*The bill will mean that cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD products are no longer classified as controlled drugs. This will make CBD a prescription-only medicine, as it is in  in Australia, meaning a doctor writes a prescription, and the drug is collected from a chemist. At present, to access to CBD based medicines, a specialist doctor must get peer approval, then apply to the Ministry of Health. The application must then be signed off by the Minister of Health, before an import licence is issued to bring the medicine into the country. 

The Green Party’s members bill goes a step further - here’s more on what it proposes: 

This bill would also amend the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.

It was first introduced to Parliament by Julie Anne Genter in June last year. Stewardship has now been taken over by Chloe Swarbrick. Its first reading is scheduled for today. 

If the bill passes its first reading, it will go to Select Committee (the Health Committee) for examination. 

*The Green Party’s bill allows anyone with a “qualifying medical condition” to grow, possess and use the cannabis plant and cannabis products for therapeutic purposes, as long as they’ve got support from a “registered medical practitioner” ie, a doctor. 

*The Green Party’s bill also allows a nominated person to grow and possess cannabis. This person needs to be an immediate relative, or someone nominated by the person with the “qualifying medical condition”. Cultivation and possession of the drug would be for the sole purpose of administering or supplying cannabis or its related products to that person.

*The Green Party’s bill will mean “non-psychoactive cannabis plants and products”, like cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD products, are no longer classed as controlled substances under the Act. This will make CBD a prescription-only medicine, as it is in  in Australia, meaning a doctor writes a prescription, and the drug is collected from a chemist. 



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Susan Strongman is an Auckland-based journalist at The Wireless. She is interested in social issues, human rights and people, but prefers to spend her spare time with her cats.
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