Dr Shane Reti: Patients’ wellbeing suffering under Government’s mismanaged medicinal cannabis process

Opinion 12/07/2019

By Dr Shane Reti, National's Associate Health Spokesperson.

This week the Government announced it is now consulting with the public on proposed regulation and standards on medicinal cannabis.

This wouldn’t necessarily be out of the ordinary, except the Government passed its medicinal cannabis legislation last year and is only now sorting out the details.

It’s clearly mismanaged the process here.

This Government has made a name for itself for passing off the policy work it should have done in the nine years it was in Opposition to multiple working groups, summits, reviews and committees - the list goes on.

But in this case, it has rushed through a Bill, and is only now starting the discussion around it.

In this case, proper policy process has gone up in smoke.

The Government’s medicinal cannabis Bill essentially left the details of a medicinal cannabis scheme to officials with no further parliamentary oversight over the final form and function of the Bill.

That isn’t right. New Zealanders elect us to make the difficult decisions. We go back to our constituents, take on their feedback, hear their views, but at the end of the day we are the ones who have to ensure we’ve got the law right.

We shouldn’t be passing off the big calls to others.

The Government’s Bill is silent on how a medicinal cannabis regime would operate in practice.

We have grave concerns for what appears to be unrestricted workforce entry for medicinal cannabis employees that could include gang members and those currently addicted to cannabis.

National came up with a comprehensive scheme for medicinal cannabis a year ago using the very best parts of schemes throughout North America. It improves access and affordability for New Zealanders in need. We know Kiwis are suffering, and under our Bill those Kiwis would be able to use medicinal cannabis now.

We also must have the right regulatory and legislative controls in place.

Our Bill proposed that medicinal cannabis products be approved in the same way a medicine is approved by Medsafe and no loose leaf cannabis products would be approved. New Zealand is aiming for SmokeFree 2025 and allowing loose leaf products goes against this goal.

We also have proposed a licensing regime that will create a safe market for medicinal cannabis products. Cultivators and manufacturers will have buffer zones between residential land and a required 1km from sensitive sites such as schools and wahi tapu.

We have done the work.

Our Bill, which is in the Members’ Bill ballot, is the result of significant research including studies by MPs overseas, and reflects a blend of international best practice, tailored to New Zealand.

But the Government couldn’t swallow its pride and acknowledge what independent commentators said was a vast improvement on the Government’s inadequate offering.

The consultation proposal has come as no surprise, considering the light touch provided by the Government’s Bill last year. Many of the questions asked in this proposal were answered in National’s proposed amendments.

We could have been a year further down the track if the Government had taken on some of our proposed amendments.

Under National, those eligible Kiwis in pain and suffering could be receiving affordable medicinal cannabis by now.

Dr Shane Reti is National's Associate Health Spokesperson.