New cannabis law a half-baked cure

9:54 am on 27 December 2017

Opinion - The government's medicinal cannabis legislation is a cruel gimmick more designed to meet manifesto commitments made in the comfortable ignorance of opposition, than to make a real difference Peter Dunne writes.

Cannabis products with a high cannabidiol (CBD) content can be used without the psychoactive effects normally associated with marijuana

The legislation will fail to make a meaningful difference, Peter Dunne says. Photo: RNZ / Kate Newton

The government today unveiled its Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill to make medicinal cannabis more available to people with terminal illness or chronic pain.

Labour's superficial diagnosis in opposition was that more medicinal cannabis products needed to be made available and the price to the patient needed to come down. But the Bill addresses neither of those points.

Read more about medicinal cannabis and the people who supply it.

Under the legislation, domestic cultivation and manufacture of medicinal cannabis products will be allowed.

An advisory committee will be established to review the rules for prescribing medicinal cannabis and to set minimum product quality standards. The government said this was to improve patient safety and boost confidence among doctors.

Labour has discovered in the sober reality of government that what some of us were saying for some time was true after all - there are not enough quality products available worldwide to meet emerging patient needs.

They have also discovered that pricing is controlled by international supply and demand. In the case of Sativex, the fact that it is not subsidised by Pharmac is because its manufacturers have never sought a subsidy for it, not because of government policy.

As to the Bill's actual provisions, the legal status of cannabidiol (CBD) was changed by regulations earlier this year, following a recommendation to me from the expert advisory committee on drugs a few months earlier, so the Bill's provisions appear cosmetic.

Again, it will not affect the supply of products because very few have been developed at this stage.

The compassionate use scheme sounds good but merely replicates existing police practice in the main. But it will put the courts in a difficult position: it will be a defence to use cannabis for a terminal condition (although no definition of a terminal condition is provided) but it will still be illegal to possess, purchase, otherwise procure or produce cannabis.

Many people believed Labour when it said it had a simple solution it would implement in its first 100 days. This Bill fails to do that.

It offers no solution or way forward and no patient suffering today will be any better off as a consequence of it.

No wonder the Greens refused to withdraw their own Bill. It was far from perfect and had flaws, but it nevertheless provided for a far more coherent way forward than the government's approach does.

*Peter Dunne is a former MP and was Associate Health Minister in the previous National-led government.

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