In a busy 24 hours for medicinal cannabis reform the Government’s bill was read for the first time in Parliament yesterday and the Green Party member’s more liberal bill is due to be read today.

Minister of Health Dr David Clark in presenting the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill to the house acknowledged that the bill’s proposed medicinal cannabis scheme would take time to develop and implement. He said the bill would make medicinal cannabis more readily available and would help bring relief to people suffering a terminal illness or those in chronic pain.

He also said the legislation would not please all of the campaigners for medicinal cannabis but that it “went further than any previous Parliament had gone” and was  a real step forward that all Government support parties were ready to sign up to.

“If Parliament wants to go further, it has the opportunity when it considers a member’s bill in Chlöe Swarbrick’s name,” said Clark.

Green Party member Chlöe Swarbrick’s Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis and Other Matters) Amendment Bill, due to have its first reading today, would allow anyone with a qualifying medical condition to grow, possess or use the cannabis plant or cannabis products for therapeutic purposes, provided they have the support of a registered medical practitioner. A relative or nominated person could also grow cannabis and supply it to the person under the Swarbrick bill that was first introduced by now associate health minister and Green Party MP Julie Anne Genter.

National health spokesman Dr Jonathan Coleman told the house yesterday that “although it (the Government bill) was a poorly designed, politically driven bill” this had to be balanced with the needs of terminally people and compassion had won out.

“National will be supporting this bill but we’re expecting to see some big changes, some big improvements, and we will have some very big questions when this comes to the select committee,” said Coleman.

Clark said because the proposed medicinal cannabis scheme would take time to develop the bill included a defence for people diagnosed with a terminal illness against being charged with using and possessing cannabis or a cannabis utensil.  The defence is not extended to people using cannabis for chronic pain or people supplying cannabis to the terminally ill.

“We want to keep the scope narrow as it’s intended as a compassionate measure until the scheme is established.”

He said the scheme – which currently has no timeframe – would include an advisory committee to review the current requirements for prescribing medicinal cannabis, setting minimum product quality standards to improve patient safety and give medical practitioners confidence, and allow for the domestic cultivation and manufacture of medicinal cannabis products.

More information on the bill is available on the Ministry of Health website.

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