Medicinal cannabis to ease suffering 

Hon Dr David Clark

Minister of Health

20th December 2017

Media Statement


Health Minister Dr David Clark says making medicinal cannabis more readily available will help relieve the suffering of people who are dying in pain.

Legislation is being introduced today to deliver on the Government's 100 Day Plan commitment to make medicinal cannabis more available to people with terminal illnesses or chronic pain.

"Many New Zealanders will have watched a loved one struggling with a terminal illness.  Medicinal cannabis gives them another option to find relief and make the most of the time left to them.

"There is increasing evidence to support the use of medicinal cannabis. Just last week, the World Health Organization noted that cannabidiol could have therapeutic value and did not carry any addiction risks."

The Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill being introduced today will:

  • Introduce a medicinal cannabis scheme to enable access to quality products
  • Introduce a statutory defence for terminally ill people to possess and use illicit cannabis
  • Remove cannabidiol from the schedule of controlled drugs

"In time, this legislation will result in a greater supply of quality medicinal cannabis, including products made here in New Zealand.

"However, there will be people who can't wait. So as an interim measure the legislation will create a legal defence for possession and use of illicit cannabis for people who are expected by their doctors to be in their last year of life. This does not make it legal for the terminally ill to use cannabis, but it means that they will not be criminalised for doing so.

"New Zealanders are a compassionate people. Medicinal cannabis products can help ease suffering and we should make it easier for people to get them."

NOTE: David Clark will be available to answer media questions on the black and white tiles at Parliament at 1:30pm today.


Contact: Julian Robins 021 867 534


Background Information:

The medicinal cannabis scheme will 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
  • Allowing for the domestic cultivation and manufacture of medicinal cannabis products

Under the United Nations Drug Convention a government agency will be required to oversee the scheme. Further work to establish such an agency will continue into next year. 


Questions and Answers

What is the current process for accessing medicinal cannabis?

Currently, a person must have a prescription from their doctor, and for products containing THC, the doctor must apply to the Ministry for approval to prescribe (except for Sativex for multiple sclerosis). 

There are two combination THC and CBD products currently available in New Zealand.  One is the approved product Sativex; the other is a non- approved product. If an alternative product is required, the doctor (or a wholesaler or pharmacist on their behalf) must import the product.  An import licence from the Ministry is needed.  No products are funded.


How will people access products in the future?

When the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme is up and running, patients with a prescription will be able to access medicinal cannabis at a pharmacy.

The medicinal cannabis committee will provide advice about the prescribing process, and whether pre-approval from the Ministry to prescribe should continue.


Medicinal cannabis is expensive. Will PHARMAC subsidise cannabis products in future?

PHARMAC operates independently of the Minister and Ministry of Health. This independence means the public can have confidence in the impartiality of funding decisions. In 2015 PHARMAC's Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee considered funding Sativex for multiple sclerosis, pain and epilepsy. The Committee recommended funding be declined due to weak or no available evidence but will continue to review the evidence and may change its advice in the future.

How many people do you expect to see using medicinal cannabis each year?

There is a lack of good information about the demand for cannabis products from terminally ill people or other groups. We know that approximately 9000 people die from cancer each year in New Zealand but we do not know how many people who are terminally ill will want to use cannabis products.

As medicinal cannabis will be available on prescription, medical practitioners' assessment of research demonstrating the benefits versus the risk for their patients' medical condition will obviously also affect demand.


How will terminally ill people access cannabis once they are legally able to?

Terminally ill people are already able to access medicinal cannabis products from a doctor on prescription. If the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill is passed and comes into effect, terminally ill people with less than 12 months to live will not be prosecuted for accessing illicit cannabis.

This is a compassionate measure which legalises what some terminally ill people are currently doing.


Will it still be an offence to supply cannabis -even to the terminally ill?

Yes, it will still be an offence to supply cannabis to terminally ill people with less than 12 months to live, unless it is pursuant to a valid prescription from a medical practitioner.


Are any changes being made to whether possessing cannabis is a criminal offence for the general population?

Changes are NOT being considered to the general possession law for cannabis as part of the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme. The law may be reviewed after the referendum on recreational cannabis use is held.


How long do you think it will be before we see medicinal cannabis being manufactured and sold in NZ?

Based on the Australian experience, it is likely to take up to 24 months.

Last updated: December 20, 2017