The government of New Zealand passed a law on December 11 that will allow the terminally ill to use cannabis. In addition, a national referendum is planned that, if passed, would legalize adult use.

The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill amends a 1975 law that provided penalties for cannabis possession ranging from a “$500 fine for possession to a 14-year jail term for its supply or manufacture.” Cultivation could “result in a 7 year jail term or an immediate 2 years jail term and/or $2,000 fine.”

The new law will:

introduce an exception and a statutory defence for terminally ill people to possess and use illicit cannabis and to possess a cannabis utensil; provide a regulation-making power to enable the setting of standards that products manufactured, imported, and supplied under licence must meet; and amend Schedule 2 of the Act so that cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD products are no longer classed as controlled drugs.

Dr. David Clark, the nation’s health minister, said that thousands of patients will be able to access cannabis and CBD products without running afoul of the law. “People nearing the end of their lives should not have to worry about being arrested or imprisoned for trying to manage their pain,” Clark said. “So as a compassionate measure we are also creating a statutory defence for people eligible to receive palliation so that they can use illicit cannabis without fear of prosecution.”

In addition, the new law will allow for a regulatory structure so that cannabis medicine meets quality standards. Clark said:

Today’s vote in Parliament clears the way for the creation of a medicinal cannabis scheme that will allow New Zealand companies to manufacture medicinal cannabis products for both the local and international market. Regulations, licensing rules and quality standards will be set on expert advice within a year of the law coming into effect. These medicinal products will be available on prescription. This will be particularly welcome as another option for people who live with chronic pain.

Before the end of 2019, the government plans to establish an oversight panel to guide the implementation of the medical program.

Full Legalization to Come?

The new bill’s passage is not the only indication that the legal status of cannabis in New Zealand is changing. A national referendum on adult use legalization is planned as well, and a recent poll suggests that the referendum stands a good chance of passing. According to the NZ Drug Foundation, which conducted the poll:

Two thirds of those answering the telephone survey want cannabis to be either legalised (35 percent) or decriminalised (32 percent). Only a third want to keep the status quo. Support for legalisation has grown 7 percent since the same question was asked in July 2017….People were strongly in favour of medicinal cannabis being readily available for both pain management and terminal illnesses. Only 10 percent want this to stay illegal.

When asked about the referendum on adult use, those polled were evenly split at 48% favoring and opposing passage. However, support for legalization has been climbing among members of all of New Zealand’s political parties. This support has increased substantially since 2017.

What do you think? Will New Zealanders approve full legalization? Will U.S. companies be able to enter the medical market? Leave a comment below.

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