Health Minister Andrew Little wants drug-checking services to be widely and equitably available – but is yet to commit any Government funding to see this realised.
And in a speech to the Drug Foundation symposium in Parliament this morning, he said the medicinal cannabis market wasn't currently up to scratch and he would keep a close eye on prices.
After his speech, he told media that he would look into keeping the existing amnesty which currently gives palliative patients – and their suppliers - a legal defence if they're caught with a cannabis product.
But he stopped short of looking into widening the amnesty to include those who are chronically sick.
That means thousands of non-palliative people who use cannabis for therapeutic reasons will continue to be exposed to the possibility of criminal charges - unless they can afford legal products.
Currently legal products can cost $1000 a month, and when domestically-made products hit the market later this year following the passage of new regulations, they're still expected to cost hundreds of dollars.
Asked about this, Little said: "That's not what I've been told by domestic manufacturers."
This contrasts with the view of the NZ Medical Cannabis Council, which represents more than 30 licenced producers and distributors.
"Even the handful of legally-imported products that meet the quality standard by September will remain unaffordable for most patients," council chair Manu Caddie said.
"Only two cannabis products in the world have been through full clinical trials so we're some time away from Pharmac subsidies."
Caddie has previously asked the Government to consider options that would lead to lower prices, including a state subsidy or having the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standard apply only to cannabinoid ingredients instead of the whole manufacturing process.
He also encouraged the Government to review the issue of affordability now, alongside importers and manufacturers, rather than wait until there was a "fully functional market" - which could be well into next year.
"Sick people can't afford quality products and can't wait for the market to somehow make locally-produced, plant-derived pharmaceuticals significantly cheaper than imported alternatives.
"While one or two locally manufactured products may make it to patients in the next six to 12 months, manufacturers are likely to be focused on exporting initially as the domestic market is far too small to rely on."
Little said he wasn't looking at changing the GMP standards.
"The safety standards are what they are. They're recognised around the world. When I speak to domestic manufacturers, they say they're totally accepting of the standards."
Last night the Government introduced a bill to give drug-checking services legal certainty to operate if they were licenced.
A bill last year provided this legal certainty for the summer festival season, but it is set to expire in December.
Little said in his speech this morning that he wanted a drug-checking regime - "which has the potential to save lives" - to be available "across the community, all year round".
KnowYourStuffNZ, which provides a drug-checking service, welcomed Little's comments.
"In terms of the need for a nationwide service, we completely agree," managing director Wendy Allison said.
"But we can't be expected to fund that ourselves, and would be very happy to see those words backed with resources."
She has previously said that the organisation, which runs on volunteers, would need 12 more spectrometers at a cost of $600,000 just to have a presence at all festivals.
Little told media later that the Government had not decided whether it would provide funding for a nationwide service.
"We want to work with organisations to make sure there are services in more than just music festivals."