Parliament has given a third reading to the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill.
The amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 comes into force on the day after it receives the Royal assent.
The bill introduces an exception and a statutory defence for terminally ill people to possess and use illicit cannabis and to possess a cannabis utensil. It also provides a regulation-making power to enable the setting of standards that medicinal cannabis products manufactured, imported, and supplied under licence must meet.
It also amends Schedule 2 of the Act so that cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD products are no longer classed as controlled drugs.
The bill inserts a new definition in section 2, which states that "a person requires palliation if, in the opinion of a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner, the person has an advanced progressive life-limiting condition and is nearing the end of their life."
The defence to cannabis possession or use states that in any proceedings for an offence in respect of possessing or using "any plant or plant material of the genus Cannabis, or any cannabis preparation, the defendant has a defence if, at the time of the possession or use, the defendant had been diagnosed by a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner as requiring palliation".
Another clause states that in spite of the prohibition on the use of cannabis in the Act, anyone who has a certificate from a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner certifying that they require palliation may possess or use cannabis or any cannabis preparation. People requiring palliation who do not have such a certificate would appear to still be liable to arrest and need to use the special defence.
A new section 37A allows the making of regulations to set up a medicinal cannabis scheme which extends beyond people who need palliation. There is a requirement for the Minister to recommend the making of regulations no later than one year after the Act comes into force.
Health Minister David Clark says the medicinal products will be available on prescription. He says the Ministry of Health will release a paper in 2019 for public consultation seeking feedback on the quality standards, licensing system and regulations required as part of the medicinal cannabis scheme.
A medicinal cannabis oversight panel will be set up to provide feedback and expert advice on the development of the medicinal cannabis scheme. This panel will include experts, such as medical professionals, and consumer and industry representation.
The bill was introduced by Dr Clark on 20 December 2017. The vote on the third reading was passed by 63 votes to 56.