The flag of New Zealand, where health officials have eased medical cannabis restrictions.

Christoph Strässler

New Zealand Health Officials Change MMJ Rules to Ease Access

Medical cannabis laws have been loosened in New Zealand as patients will no longer need to gain approval from the Minister of Health, according to a report from Stuff. Instead of patients having to bring their case all the way to the top, the Ministry of Health, as an agency, can sign-off on all applications.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne announced that the new rule takes effect immediately. The health ministry already had the power to approve a specialist’s application to provide Sativex, a cannabis-derived pharmaceutical drug. Last year, the Ministry of Health announced that it was no longer necessary for clinicians to file an application with the federal agency when prescribing Sativex to patients with multiple sclerosis and Dunne is considering allowing the same for six more conditions.

“As I stated in my delegation letter to the director-general, when applications first began to be received it was my view that the final decision appropriately lay at ministerial level, rather than exposing officials to risk, given the complicated and contentious nature of the issue – that is to say the buck stopped with me,” Dunne said in the report.

Julie Anne Genter, health spokesperson for the Green Party, who has led the push for medical cannabis access in New Zealand, said that while the decision removes “one hoop” patients have to jump through to access medical cannabis, “there are many more that need to go.”

“With the advice and support of their doctor, New Zealanders should be able to access medical cannabis as easily and as cheaply as they do any other prescription drug – the announcement today doesn’t allow that to happen,” she said.

The Ministry of Health has been reviewing potential changes to the nation’s medical cannabis laws for over a year.

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