A Government scheme aimed at making medicinal cannabis more accessible to patients who need it for pain relief isn't working, according to the medicinal cannabis industry.
By Laura Frykberg
The New Zealand Medicinal Cannabis Council says until the strict regulations under the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme are reduced, growers and manufacturers won't be able to access the lucrative international market, a $28 billion industry.
"Manufacturers and growers are bleeding money at the moment," Sally King, executive director of the New Zealand Medicinal Cannabis Council said.
"There aren't the sales yet."
The scheme, launched more than two years ago, aimed to improve the quality of products available to New Zealand patients and create a strong export market like wine.
But manufacturers are currently required to test in two jurisdictions, New Zealand's and the destination country. The industry says the extra red tape is costly and time consuming when medicinal cannabis is a perishable product.
"On a finished product we are looking at six months' stability and we have to do that on three batches, so that could delay us up to a year compared to our global competitors," Rua Bioscience chief commercial officer Andrea Grant said.
"That's a limitation and can make a New Zealand company less attractive than an overseas company that doesn't have a delay."
94% of New Zealand patients still access medicinal cannabis through illegal channels, according to the New Zealand Drug Foundation.
"It's simply unethical and untenable to continue to allow and force these patients onto the black market, they're living in fear," Sarah Helm, executive director of the New Zealand Drug Foundation said.
"These are people with cancer and arthritis and really concerning diseases."
According to Helm, the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme has been a failure and most New Zealanders are being forced to risk criminal prosecution to get the pain relief they need.
The Ministry of Health says it is reviewing the scheme after receiving inquiries and comments from the industry, and it will release a consultation document later this month.
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