25 Jul 2018

National reveals details of medicinal cannabis bill

6:27 pm on 25 July 2018

The National Party insists it has put up a medicinal cannabis bill to help ease the pain of suffering New Zealanders and that it is not a political stunt.

The member's bill under National MP Shane Reti's name would allow for medicinal cannabis products to be approved in the same way a medicine is approved by Medsafe, with the exception of loose leaf cannabis products.

Medicinal cannabis products would be pharmacist-only medicine and doctors would decide who had access to an identification card that certified patients to buy the product.

Mr Bridges said the government's bill, currently before select committee, was totally silent on how a medicinal cannabis regime would operate in practice.

National supported the bill in its first reading but is now pulling that support and putting its own version up.

Simon Bridges reveals details of the National Party's cannabis bill.

Leader of the opposition Simon Bridges Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

"The government has said it will increase access now and leave it to officials to think through the controls and the consequences later. That's typical of this government but it's not acceptable. So we're putting forward a comprehensive alternative,'' Mr Bridges said.

Health Minister David Clark said it was a shame the National Party was playing politics over medicinal cannabis.

"If they really wanted to do this, the obvious thing is that they could have done it anytime in the last nine years," he said.

National had every opportunity to put amendments to the government bill forward to help improve it, he said.

Instead, once the select committee had heard all the submissions National turned produced its own bill, which was disappointing.

"It seems a shame they're playing politics with this.

"If they really wanted to do this the obvious thing is they could have done that anytime in the last nine years.''

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick said she was annoyed the National Party was suddenly putting up its own bill on medicinal cannabis, given it voted against her bill which was very similar.

"We're absolutely open to working across the house as we've always made clear, in a collaborative and transparent manner, to get the best outcome for patients and their whanau.''

National health spokesman Michael Woodhouse sat on the health select committee that heard submissions on the government's medicinal cannabis bill and said the government was "ambivalent" about proposals for change to the bill.

"The Minister of Health has over 1000 officials that he could have deployed had he been more interested in exploring the issues that we were very clear were important not only to us but to New Zealanders - and there was no energy around that."

Executive director of the Drug Foundation Ross Bell, speaks to the Health Committee about a petition to change cannabis law.

Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell wants the government to fix its medicinal cannabis bill by working with the opposition and including the best bits from National's member's bill.

Labour's bill allows terminally ill people to possess and use cannabis but not grow it.

As to how they would get a supply of cannabis in the first place without breaking the law is unclear.

Medicinal cannabis advocates including Mr Bell have been critical of how long the government has taken to progress legislation.

Mr Bell said he hoped the politics could be put to one side for the sake of those who are terminally ill.

"What we would hope could happen now is that Labour and National get a room and work this out and if there's good stuff in the National bill take it out of the National bill and put it in the government bill.''

National MP Shane Reti has been travelling overseas looking at preferred models for dealing with cannabis legalisation, which is the basis for the member's bill in his name.

Other aspects of the bill include cultivators and manufacturers not being able to be located within 5km of residential land, or 1km of sensitive sites such as schools and wahi tapu.

No advertising of medicinal cannabis products to the public will be permitted and the Ministry of Health will review the legislation in five years.

Mr Bell said the problem with the government's bill was it allowed a defence for people with terminal illness in terms of their possession but did not allow for a defence for how they get hold of it.

"That was a real weakness in the government bill.''

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Photo: AFP

Committee deadlocked

The parliamentary committee considering the medicinal cannabis legislation is deadlocked on whether or not the bill should proceed.

Despite that, the government still has the numbers to progress the bill giving the terminally ill access to medicinal cannabis.

Labour MPs supported a number of recommendations made by the Health Ministry, including establishing a regulatory regime for production quality standards and to allow information sharing about product availability.

In the committee report they also defended not extending the bill to people in chronic pain or with a severe or debilitating illness, and not giving legal protection to friends and family who may supply cannabis to the terminally ill.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Andrew Little is promoting the use of a citizens' jury to inform public debate on legalising cannabis.

The government is committed to a referendum on legalising personal use of cannabis by 2020 under an agreement between Labour and the Green Party.

A citizen's jury is a randomly selected group of civilians who listen to expert evidence before forming a judgement.

Richard Egan, the co-director of the social and behavioural research unit at Otago University, supported that process because, he said, a referendum relies on the public being fully informed, which is not always the case.

Dr Egan said ideally there would be a number of citizens' jury made up of people from different backgrounds and ethnicities.

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