Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has written to medical and pharmaceutical groups to tell them to have an "open mind" about prescribing cannabis products for patients.

Dunne said he had now written to organisations which represent doctors and pharmacies after earlier criticising medical practitioners for an overly cautious approach to prescribing cannabis products, saying many avoided it because of "downright prejudice" and to avoid being labelled "Doctor Dope."

His letter included a list of available cannabis-based products which were appropriate for use as well as a warning that his "ongoing expectation is that medical professionals consider the prescribing of cannabis-based products with an open mind."

It follows Dunne's move earlier this month to require the Ministry of Health to approve patients' applications for the drug rather than a Government minister.


The letter was sent to the Medical Association, Medical Council, and Pharmaceutical Society last week. The Medical Association's chair Stephen Childs has previously rejected Dunne's claims doctors were motivated by prejudice. Childs said while they might be cautious about untested or new products, he would be surprised if doctors were refusing to prescribe effective, tested products such as Sativex, which is used for multiple sclerosis.

Dunne said good new products were coming onto the market such as Tilray in Canada but the list of cannabis-based products was short because of product availability and export restrictions on products from the United States.

"Unfortunately, Sativex, the one pharmaceutical-grade product that is available in New Zealand continues to be extortionately priced as big pharma continues to ignore the building resentment, both local and global, to the attitude these companies take to the sick and vulnerable."

Dunne said the issue generated significant interest: "not always accurate or reasonable, but passionate nonetheless."

He expected to make further steps on the issue of cannabis-based products soon. That would include a response to the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs' advice on the legal status of cannabidiol, an issue it was currently considering.

Some reformists wanted the role delegated to specialists or GPs but Dunne said that had not worked in the United Kingdom because the whole liability rested on medical practitioners. That made them more conservative and less inclined to prescribe.

The list of about seven products are those that are pharmaceutical grade or Good Manufacturing Practice certified and includes cannabis based products Sativex (a spray), Tilray products (an oral liquid) and cannabinoid-based medications such as Marinol, Cesamet and Syndros. Cannabinoids are made synthetically rather than from the cannabis plants.

Sativex is available in New Zealand but other products need to be imported.


All are non-approved medicines and require Ministry of Health approval to prescribe.