Many patients will be disappointed that proposed changes to the medicinal cannabis legislation do not expand the legal defence of its use to a wider range of illnesses and to caregivers, the Drug Foundation says.
The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill passed it second reading in Parliament today with the support of coalition parties and the National Party, which reversed its previous opposition.
During its second reading, Health Minister David Clark announced changes would be made to the bill following talks between coalition partners Labour, the Green Party and New Zealand First.
The change means that the use of medicinal cannabis will be extended to all people needing palliative relief, rather than just those with a year or less to live.
The changes outlined by Clark will:
• Alter the eligibility for people who can use the statutory defence for the use of illicit cannabis so that it covers people in palliation (rather than limiting it to the terminally ill in their last 12 months)
• Set a requirement for the regulations for the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme to be made no later than a year after the law comes into effect
• Make clear that varieties of cannabis that are already in New Zealand can be used for medicinal products
• Make technical changes to the description of allowable THC thresholds in CBD medicinal products.
"The statutory defence for people who are nearing the end of their live to possess or use illicit cannabis is a compassionate measure to ease suffering and improve quality of life," Clark said.
National supported the Government's bill at first reading but then pulled its support in July with its own bill which it said set out a more comprehensive and well-researched regime for the use of medicinal cannabis.
But National's associate health spokesman Shane Reti told Parliament today National would now support the bill into the next stage, at which point it would require the smoking of loose-leaf cannabis to be replaced and the inclusion of some of its own legislation in the bill.
"This will allow all parties and the public to see debate and agree on the main features of a medicinal cannabis scheme. On these terms then we commit our collaboration and timeliness," Reti said.
The Drug Foundation said although the changes were welcome, they did not go far enough.
"Sadly, both the Health Select Committee and the government's Supplementary Order Paper fail to deliver on the overwhelming pleas of patients to expand the legal defence to a wider range of illnesses, and for that legal defence to protect their carers too," said Foundation executive director Ross Bell.
"The defence, which would protect patients until the full scheme is in place, originally only covered patients with a terminal illness and will now be expanded to patients receiving palliative care. But many patients and their advocates want that defence to cover severe and debilitating medical conditions, as well as protect support people and carers who currently supply and administer black market products," he said.
But he said the amendment that would require the Ministry of Health to create the medicinal cannabis scheme within 12 months was welcome.
"It would have been cruel to patients and their families to not have certainty on when this important scheme would be up and running," he said.