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New Zealand permits CBD, but accessibility issues remain

New Zealand has lagged behind in making medical cannabis products available to their citizens. But Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has confirmed that the country will relax restrictions surrounding CBD, a prominent, non-psychoactive compound in marijuana. Kiwi doctors are now permitted to prescribe up to three months’ worth of CBD to New Zealand patients afflicted with selected, chronic conditions.

It’s been a long time coming

This news seems to have been taken with relief rather than excitement in New Zealand. CBD’s classification as a controlled drug has made access to the cannabinoid difficult, with the Ministry of Health having to approve every request. But a groundswell in public support for medical cannabis thanks to a slew of positive campaigns has forced change from the New Zealand government.

Trade unionist leader, Helen Kelly, has gone on record saying she used marijuana for pain relief, before she died from cancer in 2016. Kelly was a strong voice advocating for the legalization of cannabis.

Rose Renton, whose son Alex was the first New Zealand citizen permitted to use CBD prior to his death in 2015, has been another key figure in the fight for medical cannabis. While she is optimistic about the easing in restrictions, she remains grounded, knowing more work is needed to truly improve access and maximize the possibilities of medicinal marijuana.

Renton has submitted a petition to the New Zealand parliament, which is concentrated on widening access to medical cannabis, and making products affordable.

Government’s move welcomed

Dunne said that his stance changed on CBD after hearing the thoughts of an expert committee – he has expressed his delight at the Cabinet accepting his decision.

The changes mean that New Zealand doctors are now able to prescribe CBD as medicine, juts like they can supply prescription medication to patients.

But it might not be that simple – restrictions on importing CBD into the country makes getting products into New Zealand difficult enough, not to mention the lack of medical-grade CBD medicines that are currently on the market. Combined with other countries having tight laws on importing and exporting cannabis products, it seems that at best, New Zealand will have expensive access to CBD, if they can even get the drug into the country at all.

Encouragingly, there is one medical-grade CBD product being developed. This product is being manufactured to contain a maximum of 2% of marijuana’s other cannabinoids. While this prevents Kiwi cannabis users from getting the “entourage effect,” it would still be a start.

Difficulties remain

This announcement has made it somewhat easier for New Zealand patients to legally access CBD, but with few provisions in place to make CBD products available, the work is far from over. Ross Bell, executive director of the Drug Foundation, praised Dunne, saying he had made a “very good decision,” but echoed others in adding that more needs to be done.

After all, for New Zealand doctors to prescribe CBD to patients, they would still need to source a medical-grade product from abroad and have it imported. And with Pharmac not subsidizing CBD products, it makes the process even more expensive.

Furthermore, many doctors remain hesitant about prescribing medical cannabis – even non-psychoactive CBD – to patients. Since there is no way for New Zealanders to acquire CBD without a prescription, for many patients and potential cannabis users, this announcement changes nothing.

However, New Zealand had to start somewhere, and for the government to approve CBD medication for patients is a significant step. While there may still be stumbling blocks, Kiwi cannabis activists can be confident that they are winning the argument.

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